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Point/Counterpoint: On the UFC's Signing of CM Punk

James Carlucci: Why do you believe that the perceived economic benefit of the UFC’s signing of CM Punk isn’t worth the ostensible damage to the organization’s integrity?

Michael Hutchinson: Let’s take Phil “CM Punk” Brooks out of the equation. I believe the UFC loses integrity as a major sporting league when they make a major announcement out of signing someone with no professional experience in any form of combat. He has no amateur or professional MMA fights, doesn’t have a college wrestling background, and has no experience in boxing, jiu-jitsu, or Muay Thai competition.

This was supposed to be the “surprise announcement” at the UFC’s ‘The Time Is Now’ press event. Imagine having all of those championship-level fighters at the press conference, fighters who have given their whole lives to the sport, just to be overshadowed by the signing of someone who has never fought before. The UFC might profit from this signing, but they take two step backs in trying to act like a major sporting organization, something Dana has been emphasizing as an important step for the company.

JC: I agree that this devalues the UFC in a meritocratic sense in terms of being the premier MMA league in the world. However, there are two things we should admit to ourselves: the UFC has already severely lowered the bar in terms of what it takes to compete in the organization due to the ever-increasing number of events it puts on, and its ability to become a “mainstream sport” is limited. The UFC is featured on a major network in Fox, is covered often by the world’s leading sports network ESPN (which sent out a news bulletin almost immediately regarding the Punk signing), and now has a uniform deal with a major athletic apparel manufacturer in Reebok. What more can we realistically expect?

As long as the bell-to-bell action is preserved, the sport’s integrity is intact. Punk isn’t being signed to fight for a title, or to compete against a top contender. He’s there purely to get eyes on the product, eyes on guys who eyes who have earned their spot. His presence doesn’t make any of the other fighters in the UFC better or worse. It does, however, get more eyes on the product and that is what the UFC’s chief goal should be.

MH: The UFC signing Punk doesn’t make fighters in the UFC better or worse, but what about the fighters that are working their butts off in other promotions, who have fought and trained for years to get their shot in the UFC, only to be looked over for someone with no experience?

CM Punk takes up a spot on a roster that Dana White has already admitted is too big. Fighters are constantly getting cut and legitimate fighters aren’t given a chance to compete due to a lack of roster space. Now both Punk and a person who is equally unqualified will take up two spots that other fighters deserve more.

JC: The UFC’s job is not to reward the fighters that work the hardest; it is too make the fights that the people want to see. Fighters make fans want to see them through either their skills in the cage, their personality outside of it, or a combination of the two.

The skill advantage those fighters possess over Punk is dwarfed by the advantage he has over them in terms of making people want to watch him fight. It is a fighter’s job to make themselves an asset to the UFC, not the other way around.

MH: I’ll agree that fighters need to sell themselves, but this signing proves that the UFC will always take marketability over actual talent. The UFC is supposed to be a place where the best fighters in the world fight, not the ones with the best personality.

JC: Well if you have a problem with that, you have a problem with not just MMA, but combat sports in general. Look at Pride, Kimbo, TUF. Hell, look at Bellator. The most-watched fight on television in 2014 was Tito Ortiz versus Stephan Bonnar.

The UFC isn’t dictating what the fans want, they are simply catering to them. Asking them not to do so is against every principle of business.

MH: The most popular fight of the last 52 weeks was undoubtedly Anderson Silva versus Chris Weidman II. That is because it was the greatest fighters in the world, not the two greatest personalities. Competitive fights with the world’s best fighters will always do good business in the long run.

JC: I never said fighting ability doesn’t matter. Yes, if you take the greatest fighter in the world and match him up against the man who ended his unprecedented undefeated streak, that will do great business. But the UFC has 40+ cards to fill next year, and it won’t have an Anderson Silva/Chris Weidma-caliber fight to book for every event. Ortiz/Bonnar proved there is still an incredibly viable market for fighters that market themselves as personalities.

The UFC is not bringing Punk in to present him as the best in the world, they’re bringing him in because he wants to fight and people want to see him. He is more valuable from a business perspective, in terms of the revenue he’ll generate and viewers he’ll attract, than an inordinate amount of top-ranked fighters and even some champions. CM Punk’s first fight does better business in every way than anything Demetrious Johnson has done.

If he can bring that championship-level business at the expense of a couple of on-the-cusp prospects not getting signed for the moment, that’s just good business. As another professional wrestler once said, the cream will rise to the top Those who truly belong in the UFC will make it there regardless of Punk’s signing.

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