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31 Days of Wrestling (12/22/16): Brock, Punk, and their Gall to Hunt in MMA (UFC 200, 203)


Welcome to the 31 Days of Wrestling, ladies and gentlemen. It's that time of year again when we take a look back at the past 11 months of pro wrestling (and as much as possible, the last month as well) and cherry-pick one match a day for each day of December from a list of bouts that defined the year in our beloved sport. Most matches will be good, while some may not be; what matters is that they helped build the perception and reputation of the kind of wrestling this calendar year produced for us.

Today, we tackle what happens when worlds collide



2016 has proven to be a year wherein one of the most hotly debated questions have been answered:

“Can a pro wrestler make it in MMA?”

Of course, there have been numerous instances wherein pro wrestlers have made the jump from the squared circle to the cage. In general, however, these wrestlers have had significant backgrounds in amateur wrestling or other forms of martial arts before venturing into MMA. Brock Lesnar, Bobby Lashley, and Alberto Del Rio (click on the names to watch each man's debut match) were all high-caliber and highly-decorated wrestlers, with the latter two poised to compete in the Olympics, but were sidetracked for one reason or another. Dave Bautista did not have a martial arts background prior to entering pro wrestling, but did earn a purple belt in BJJ before he became an MMA fighter.

"Is this where you turn heel on me, Dave?"
"Oh, Coach *nervous laughter*"

There’s no denying that MMA and pro wrestling borrow heavily from each other, with promoting fights and colorful personalities becoming an integral part of a successful career. However, the fact still remains that a practitioner of one does not just jump to the other without going through the proper training. This has become clearly evident with two highly promoted fights in the UFC this year, Brock Lesnar vs. Mark Hunt, and CM Punk vs. Mickey Gall.

Image result for brock lesnar
"Who wears 4XL gloves and will smother snuggle the life out of you? This guy."

Brock Lesnar is a beast, an amazing physical specimen born not just with power in his body, but also agility. This made him one of the most feared opponents on the mats, going 106-5 in his four years of college. With his size, speed, and strength, it wasn’t that far of a stretch for him to excel in most sports, MMA not being far behind. He eventually became the UFC Heavyweight Champion, suffering losses only to high-caliber opponents. He was forced to walk away from MMA after suffering through diverticulitis in 2011. A comeback fight against Alistair Overeem ended in a loss, as he was still affected by the disease, but was also controversial in the sense that Overeem was found to have tested positive to banned substances.

The irony was yet to come, however.

Fast forward to UFC 200, a monumental event for the company, which also sparked a one-off return fight for Lesnar against the dangerous knock out artist, Mark Hunt (Smark Henry Preview here). It was a clear striker-against-grappler bout, drawing heavily on who could impose their game better. Turns out, it would be Lesnar’s win in the end as he repeatedly took down Hunt with his superior wrestling, negating the power in his opponent’s fists to claim a record $2.5 million payout. With the win, he claimed another notch against the Samoans. However, post-fight drug testing later revealed the presence of an estrogen blocker called clomiphene in his systems, which resulted in the win becoming a no-contest.

It was at that moment that Mark knew... he was f***ed.

CM Punk, on the other hand, had very little martial arts background prior to his decision to fight in the UFC. In fact, he was signed to a multiple fight deal without having any formal competition experience. This drew ire from the MMA community, seeing it as an insult to the sport. Not that a pro wrestler made the jump to MMA, but that he was signed on to the biggest stage of them all without paying his dues in the amateur promotions first. To his credit, Punk did train in the Roufusport MMA Academy, home of current and former MMA champions in various organizations (Smark Henry Preview here).

Weeeee'll (try) to make a champ... out of youuuuu

However, two years of training is nowhere near enough for someone to make it in the UFC. This would be made abundantly clear in his only MMA fight to date at UFC 203.

Punk made his UFC debut against Mickey Gall, a brown belt in BJJ with two professional fights under his belt, both of which ended via rear naked choke in the first round. Punk was quickly taken down, where he was pummeled and put in a side mount, which he surprisingly managed to get away from. That would be his only highlight, however, as Gall would eventually take his back and submit Punk. Again, via rear naked choke, and again, in the first round.

Image result for gall chokes punk
"Must... reach... cage..."

Punk later stated that he had no regrets in his decision to fight, with Gall clearly having the advantage of both youth and experience on his side. It was an interesting scenario, but one undeserving to be in the main card of a UFC PPV. UFC president Dana White made the announcement that it would be Punk’s last fight in the UFC, as it was clearly not the level wherein Punk should be competing. Gall would later on improve to 4-0 with another RNC finish over Sage Northcutt just this past weekend.

"Well, clearly, having two hands is not enough"

Well, there you have it. It’s safe to say that MMA and pro wrestling is no joke. One does not make the decision to join the grand stage of either one and expect to make it big without, at the very least, working your ass off for years. Even then, there is no guarantee for success. There is a price to pay that the top guys in either area have done so for years, which is a testament to why they deserve to be where they are right now. 2016 showed that, and more, and that's why we're declaring these rare MMA-to-wrestling transitions as two equally iconic moments that defined the year.

*****

31 Days of Wrestling is Smark Henry's way of celebrating the matches that helped define wrestling in 2016.

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