Ever since his signing was announced in late 2014, CM Punk's tenure in the UFC has faced intense scrutiny.
Other than dabbling in jiu-jitsu, the 37-year-old former World Wrestling Entertainment star has no mixed martial arts background of which to speak, yet he will be making his debut at the pinnacle of the sport against Mickey Gall at UFC 203 in Cleveland on Saturday night. Many aspiring fighters have to toil for years on the regional circuit to receive such an opportunity, so it’s no surprise that Punk’s initial Octagon foray is not well-received in all corners of the MMA community.
Still, there’s no denying that Punk vs. Gall -- not the heavyweight title fight atop the card -- has generated the most interest heading into UFC 203. UFC President Dana White has never cared much for naysayers, anyway, and in the case of Punk, sometimes it’s all in who you know.
“I don’t think there’s any defending the matchup,” White recently told Cleveland’s ”The Fight Life.”
“I’m friends with CM Punk. It’s been his dream to fight in the UFC forever. He wanted to do this, so I gave him the opportunity.”
While White’s relationship with Punk may have given the ex-professional wrestler an inside track to the UFC, it isn’t the first time the Las Vegas-based promotion has put on a fight of this nature. And White also believes that Gall is an opponent with legitimate talent.
“The thing is when we do fights like this, there’s no gimmick fights. Even when Brock Lesnar came into the UFC, we threw the kitchen sink at him,” White said. “This is no ‘Oh let’s bring CM Punk in and let’s give him a setup.’ This kid Mickey Gall that he’s fighting is nasty.
“So he’s fighting a real guy. He’s been training real hard for a year and a half with Duke Roufus, one of the most respected guys in the business. And they all respect how hard this guy’s been working. There’s no gimmick. This is a do or die. We throw these guys to the wolves.”
Gall initially attracted White’s attention when he called out Punk following a win on the regional circuit, footage that later appeared in the UFC president’s reality show, “Looking for a Fight.” The 24-year-old New Jersey native then submitted Mike Jackson in 45 seconds at UFC Fight Night “Hendricks vs. Thompson” to earn his desired shot at Punk. While nobody is confusing Gall for a UFC-ready prospect, his resume, which includes two documented amateur wins, is far more complete than his more famous opponent.
Even White isn’t sure exactly what to expect from Punk when the Octagon doors close.
“He’s a guy who has the heart, the determination and the guts to step in there in front of the whole world and put in on the line,” White said. “He’s that guy. How talented is he? How gifted is he as a fighter? We’re gonna find out on Saturday.”