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Hitting the Ropes: Don’t Judge Me
By David Buckler

I came home from watching Saturday night’s UFC show and as usual I had a good time. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing for me – I wanted to see CM Punk…err…Phil Brooks…on the show. Brooks has become the most interesting subplot for me in MMA right now (although the recent drug issues of Jon Jones are fascinating, not because an athlete is struggling with addiction, that’s not so unusual, but rather that he was allowed to fight even though he tested positive before the event).

Ever since it was announced that Brooks was joining the UFC I have flip-flopped between “intrigued”, “dismissive”, and “extremely fascinated”. Not so much in actually seeing Brooks fight, because who knows if he’ll be any good, but rather in the way he conducts himself after the match.  In UFC, there is no one to blame but yourself if you lose. It’s literally man-on-man, a “may-the-best-man-win” environment. That’s quite different than professional wrestling obviously. In UFC nothing is scripted (or so we hope). I am certainly not suggesting that pro wrestlers aren’t “tough”…but UFC fighters are dealing with a different level of violence.

Phil Brooks likes to call himself “The Best in the World”, but who really decides that? Being a champion in pro wrestling is an honor, no question, but is WWE world champion definitely the top prize in the sport? Some other promotions would argue that, especially in other countries. A lot of us drink the Vince McMahon Kool-Aid (me being one of them) but there is a bigger world out there than just WWE.

So who knows, Brooks can make all the broad proclamations he wants but his bravado is impossible to validate. He’s very good. But the best? Guess Brooks is ready to officially prove that.

That’s what I like about UFC. The Octagon reveals your true character with the outcome sometimes turning on the opinions of three judges. That’s what interests me, because judging by his behavior in WWE, I’m sure the judges will be to blame if Phil Brooks loses a unanimous or (God forbid) a split decision.

After all Brooks always seemed to be complaining about his spot in WWE.

Brooks’s unhappiness with Vince McMahon is well-document. After scrapping and clawing his way to the top of WWE he still couldn’t find solace. His CM Punk character wasn’t headlining WrestleMania, so he threw a fit. He had the privilege of wrestling the Undertaker with the “streak” on the line…and he was admittedly disinterested. Brooks didn’t like the “part-time” aspect of some WWE stars such as the Rock and Lesnar, so he complained.

I have zero sympathy. I even wrote a previous column about this.  I know CM Punk had a grueling climb through the territories, working small show after small show, until he finally started to get national recognition. But in fairness, almost EVERY superstar has a tough journey to get signed by WWE. Even someone like Randy Orton, a second generation star, had to work his ass off to become good enough to warrant his position in the company. Maybe Orton had a smoother path to the top, but staying there is admirable.

So, yes, CM Punk had to grind it out to climb to the top. But then he made it and CM Punk to date has had a hell of a WWE career. He created a character that will always be remembered, winning championships and wrestling in famous matches all over the world. Punk is amazing…Punk is interesting…Punk is talented…Punk is beloved in some circles…Punk is hated in some circles, which is just fine because that’s the end goal for pro wrestlers, who really only care that there is SOME kind of reaction. If they’re not makin’ noise for you, then you have a problem.

I really enjoyed Punk’s year-long WWE title reign and partnership with Paul Heyman. In this era of professional wrestling it is hard to hold a title for a month yet alone longer than a YEAR. CM Punk makes me want to watch WWE programming. CM Punk is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, as long as he hasn’t burned too many bridges in the WWE front office.

That’s my point. Why throw this all away? I understand if Phil Brooks was (or still is) mentally and physically burned out. Maybe he needed to step away from the ring to find some balance. That’s fine. Ask Vince for some time off. However, given Brooks’s apparent distain for “part-time” performers it is unlikely he would’ve asked for what would seem like preferential treatment. That’s unfortunate because nobody would begrudge him a week or two or three to rest and recover. He had been a true stalwart for WWE.

But to leave on such an acrimonious note just to prove a point? That doesn’t show any respect to the fans that have supported him (and YES in pro wrestling that does matter. NBA players can ascend to the highest levels of basketball without any public support…but pro wrestlers need to show bookers that people will pay to see them.) How are we supposed to feel when it was so easy for Brooks to walk away from us?

I don’t understand why Brooks seems to hang on to the sarcasm and bitterness when talking about the pro wrestling industry. Phil – you made it! Now, celebrate all of your accomplishments and be a leader. Others want to be inspired by you, not belittled by you.   We want to cheer you because there are so few interesting performers in sports. Sadly you won’t let us do it in the wrestling ring anymore.

Is the Octagon the next best thing? We’ll see.

In recent photographs Brooks looks happy and healthy. Congratulations to him on his marriage to the adorable AJ Lee. They make a nice couple. Maybe the time away from the grueling travel is refreshing him, and maybe he is invigorated by a new challenge, something new to train for and to dedicate his athletic gifts. And maybe this will work out. We’ve certainly seen this cross-over before with Brock Lesnar, Ken Shamrock, and others.

Right now there are still so many unanswered questions. Brooks is tough and has guts, but does he have UFC-level fighting skills? In the past he had problems with Vince McMahon. Will he have problems with Dana White too? Sometimes I wonder if there COULD be a bias towards Brooks based on the public’s, and perhaps, the judges’ perception of him. I doubt it, though, because the UFC is not for choir boys, but who knows?

So when Phil Brooks finally does step into the Octagon I hope he wins clean…or loses clean…because I don’t want to hear his excuses or bitching.

Phil Brooks, our beloved CM Punk, is now a mixed martial artist. His UFC fights will be interesting and I’ll definitely watch.  I hope for his sake this works out because where would he go next? Brooks can always go BACK to pro wrestling someday, but in my mind, once you lose a legitimate fight you’re never really seen in the same light. I saw Brock Lesnar get punched out in UFC and it definitely changed how I felt about him. Of course he is still a monster but is he the “beast incarnate”? Guess that depends on your point of view.

Boxing? Nah, they have judges too.

Better make this count Phil! One way or another it does change your legacy in pro wrestling.

— David B. (@dlb19338), OWW editor-in-chief