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CM Punk’s First UFC Opponent Should Come From the Pacific Northwest

Friday, December 19, 2014


CM Punk via Wikimedia Commons

Nearly two weeks have passed since the UFC announced the signing of former professional wrestler Phil “CM Punk” Brooks. The multi-fight deal will likely put Brooks in the Octagon in mid-2015. For Brooks, this signing is the start of a new career that needed to happen sooner rather than later, since at 36 years old, Brooks is beyond his athletic prime. Brooks has stated that he has a background in kempo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but even with that experience he will be well behind the curve with regard to the talent inside the UFC. Many fighters have criticized the UFC for signing Brooks and pointed out that the move does little to help legitimize a sport that is still growing. However, it is hard to deny the drawing power a well-known personality like Brooks can bring to the table. At his height, Brooks was one of the longest reigning WWE champions of all time, and over the last five years, Brooks has grown a legion of very dedicated fans. Because of this resume there has been no shortage of mixed martial artists willing to call out Brooks since his UFC deal became official. 

Dana White told ESPN.com that the UFC won’t “throw the kitchen sink” at Brooks right out of the gate. With Brooks having a record of 0-0,White said it is more likely that Brooks’ first fight will be against “a guy who is 1-0, 1-1, 2-1…something like that.” With that being made clear, the question becomes, where will UFC matchmaker Joe Silva look when he is searching for the first man to face CM Punk? If he is looking for young up and comers with good upsides he should look no further than Portland, Oregon. The Pacific Northwest has long been a place that promotes local MMA fights regularly. And many top-level fighters, included former UFC champions, have come from this region. Mainstay gyms in Portland like Team Quest, Rose City FC, Straight Blast Gym, and ALIVE MMA are continuing to breed young talent at high levels. With a great fighting community like that, it shouldn’t be too hard for Silva to find a young up and coming pro willing to take on the challenge of squaring off against Brooks. 

I recently had an opportunity to talk with two young pros from Rose City FC, Ryan “Iceman” Walker and Jake Smith, who are both lobbying to take on Brooks in his first professional fight. Ryan Walker is a driven young fighter who has been training in MMA since he was just 18 years old. Now 25, Walker has built a solid foundation in the sport and could really bring an exciting dynamic to the fight should the UFC match him up against Brooks. Walker is 2-1 as a professional and seems to fall in line with what the UFC is looking for, so I asked Walker what made him the right man for the job. 

“I've trained with UFC veterans Chael Sonnen, Mike Pierce, and Pat Healy on a daily basis at Rose City FC, so I know the level you have to be at to fight [in the UFC]. I believe matching a blue collar fighter [like myself] who came up through the sport in a traditional way against a celebrity who's fighting on name value alone sounds like a movie plot and would be very marketable. This is the kind of opportunity that makes America great. It's up to Joe Silva and Dana White whether or not they want to put CM Punk in the danger zone.”

Continuing with Walker I asked, as a fighter who came up traditionally did he have a problem with Brooks entering the UFC with no prior fight experience?

“I personally don't have a problem with the UFC signing him but I can see how other MMA fans and fighters do. The bottom line for the UFC is sales. I don't know how popular CM Punk is, but you can bet WWE fans are going to buy tickets and [pay per views]. But people will also pay to watch Punk get destroyed by someone, so it's all about sales.”

Punk springboarding off the ropes via Wikipedia Commons

After talking with Walker, it was clear to me that he is a professional through and through. His approach to the sport is serious and his attitude reflects a man who is a professional in and out of the cage. While Walker seems to be all business, his teammate Jake Smith keeps things lighthearted. That’s not to say Smith doesn’t mean business when he trains and fights, he most certainly does, but Smith likes to have fun and one thing he does for fun is bang it out in cage with another fighter. Smith is 2-0 as a pro and might be tailor made for a matchup with Brooks. Smith is a the type of fighter who is always looking for the knockout and his exciting, aggressive style is going to get the attention of fight fans right out of the gate. I asked him to tell me why thought he was the man who should fill the slot against Brooks. 

“Man, I would love nothing more then the opportunity to fight Punk. [The UFC has stated] they want to bring him up slowly against a 1-0 or 2-0 type of opponent. BOOM! That's got me written all over it! I train at arguably the top gym in the Pacific Northwest. I mix it up with fighters like Pat Healy and Mike Pierce [regularly] so I know what I'm capable of…My record clearly shows that look I'm a dude who is just down to straight scrap, and I think that's what the UFC wants in a fighter. You best believe I'm gonna start a campaign to try and make this fight happen, Twitter, Facebook,,,I'm gonna make the case as much as I can.”  

While Smith clearly wants this fight he also expressed to me his concern with the UFC’s signing of Brooks.

“People who aren't familiar with our sport already get MMA confused with fake wrestling. [The UFC] isn't helping our case by having these fake wrestlers with no experience join the UFC. This isn't [sports] entertainment; MMA is a real sport. Winners and losers aren't predetermined, there's no story arch here. I just worry that the average Joe is gonna get [MMA and professional wrestling] confused with each other.” 

After speaking with Smith it was clear to me that he wanted this fight and if I had any doubt at all, that was all brushed aside when Smith reached out to remind me that he was going to call out Brooks on the next episode of his podcast. So tune into Smith’s podcast, 3 Men and a Bottle, available on iTunes if you’d like to hear him make his plea. 

Time is ticking for the UFC as they search for CM Punk’s first opponent. With a slew of talented fighters on the rise in the Pacific Northwest it seems like a logical place for Joe Silva to turn to as he narrows his search. In Ryan Walker and Jake Smith, Silva will find two hungry young fighters who have the support of a great team behind them. So as the clock ticks, I will be keeping my fingers crossed for a local talent to get this extraordinarily unique opportunity and I hope you do the same. 

GoLocalPDX partner Oregon Sports News: Since 2011, Oregon Sports News has provided entertaining, hard-hitting local sports news & commentary every weekday. To read more from this author, check out Oregon Sports News by clicking here.


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