The Ultimate Question:

Text by Dan Severn (As Told To Louie D)

Since CM announced that he was joining UFC, many people have asked me how I think he’ll fare inside the Octagon. To be completely honest, I don’t really know CM Punk all that well, so when people ask me that question, I can’t necessarily give them a detailed answer.

One thing I do know, though, is how to succeed in both UFC and professional wrestling, and as Punk starts his preparation, he has two key advantages in his favor, the biggest of which is simply his history as a WWE superstar of great magnitude.

I’ve fought all over the world, winning more than 100 fights inside a cage and multiple major championships inside the squared circle, and I know what it’s like to fight six or seven times a week. Punk does, too, and in the current MMA scene, his background can only help him, especially as it relates to conditioning.

When someone fights only a handful of times a year, he’ll have the ability to properly train and prepare for 15 minutes of maximum effort. However, what you might not realize is that Punk, like all professional wrestlers, is used to working hurt and doing so more often than not, so if and when there’s a time—in training or in a fight itself—where he’s less than 100 percent, he can draw upon his past in dealing with it.

Truthfully, of all the disciplines I’ve competed in, I’ve been hurt worse during my amateur wrestling career than I ever was in professional wrestling or in cage fighting. In fact, out of those three disciplines, Ultimate Fighting was the easiest for me to do! That may seem like a contradiction given the nature of that beast, but it’s true.

The other advantage that wrestling may have given Punk is what you’d call being a “ring general.”

To me, there are techniques and there are tactics in cage fighting, and I was one of the first to utilize the tactic of using the cage wall in my favor. You were allowed to grab the fence when I was fighting, so whenever I’d get into a cage, I’d always inspect it to see how solid it was. The posts were obviously the hardest, but I would test the wall to see how much it would give and where (and how) I could best use the cage to my advantage.

You can’t grab the fence anymore, but current fighters are starting to utilize that cage wall again. Whether it’s as a springboard—stepping up on it to throw head kicks, superman punches, or flying knees—or as a defensive tactic to get into position for a submission, it’s all the same. In a way, it’s almost like using the ropes in a wrestling ring as an offensive advantage instead of a boundary, and Punk should be very adept at that.

Now, with all that said, Punk of course faces some key disadvantages, too. There are two big ones in my mind, one of which is something many have already brought up: age.

Punk turns 37 in 2015, and in his defense, I was 36 years old myself when I first competed in UFC back in 1994. But if I can be honest, I felt like I was almost a decade past my prime as an amateur wrestler when I started in UFC; I consider that era “Dan Severn residue,” because from 1984-86, I ruled the world as an amateur wrestler, and by the time I got to UFC, I thought I’d already be retired.

Age can be overcome, but I think the game has changed so much since the beginning of UFC, and the quality of athletes has risen so much that, honestly, he’d have had a better chance in the early days than he does now. UFC in its beginnings was like the Wild West, with multiple disciplines clashing, no weight classes, and only two rules. But whether you were a grappler or a striker, you quickly learned you had to be adept enough at both to succeed. With limited experience in one realm and limited time to make up for it, can Punk do that on the fly? Maybe, but in a young man’s game, he’s behind the eight-ball already.

His other big disadvantage, one you may not realize, is a three-letter word: WWE.

For one thing, because people have seen the success that Brock Lesnar and others have had in the Octagon, Punk instantly has an unfair comparison to live up to. See, most of those guys were heavyweights, and in MMA, like in boxing and wrestling, there’s a big difference in fighting styles among different weight classes. People like to see the heavyweights, but it’s the lighter weights who are exerting the most energy and it’s in that middle ground where there’s the most competition, so Punk’s facing a double-edged sword there.

And, because of his wrestling success, Punk is an “outsider” and will have a bull’s-eye on his back. I remember in my amateur days seeing some of the better guys wearing pink singlets, because they knew it was a blow to your ego to lose to a guy in a pink singlet. In Punk’s case, opponents may put in a little more effort when fighting him because they don’t want to be the guy who lost to a wrestler.

In summation, I really can’t predict just how well CM Punk will fare in UFC. I do, however, hope that he truly understands what is in his grasp and is willing to put in the work it takes to succeed.

He’ll only be as successful as he prepares himself to be, and what he gets out of his UFC career will solely be determined by how much he puts into it. In the end, only he can make or break himself.

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