With 2018 off to a rocky start, expect the UFC to go all-in on CM Punk

The year 2018 is off a rocky start for the UFC

UFC 221, which goes down next weekend in Perth, Australia, has barely looked like a pay-per-view since UFC middleweight champ Robert Whittaker was forced out of his main event title fight with Luke Rockhold and replaced by by Yoel Romero.

UFC 222, which is scheduled for March 3 in Las Vegas, Nevada, was recently broken beyond repair, as UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway was forced out of his main event battle with Frankie Edgar.

Last weekend’s UFC on FOX 26, which was widely lambasted for its lack of big-name fighters, posted the lowest viewership numbers ever for a FOX card.

The UFC’s biggest stars are all indisposed or occupied with ventures outside the cage. Conor McGregor is currently weighing his options from a throne made of money. Ronda Rousey is now officially a full-time pro wrestler. Jon Jones is awaiting his fate after his latest collision with USADA. Georges St-Pierre is battling ulcerative colitis and may never fight again. Brock Lesnar is back with WWE, and is still suspended by USADA anyway.

The promotion’s list of troubles goes on and on and on…

Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom for the UFC. There are some big fights pencilled onto the calendar, as Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov are set to scrap at UFC 223, and Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier will shake the foundations of the Octagon with a heavyweight superfight at UFC 226. From the looks of it, the promotion is also very close to finalizing showdowns between TJ Dillashaw and Demetrious Johnson, and Cris Cyborg and Amanda Nunes. And of course, its still got CM Punk…

Despite an absolutely disastrous MMA debut back at UFC 203 in September of 2016, which saw him mauled by the young Mickey Gall, the former pro wrestler CM Punk remains a legitimate and lucrative attraction, and the UFC is likely to cash in on him again soon.

To remind, its estimated that CM Punk’s presence on the UFC 203 bill nearly doubled the card’s pay-per-view sales.

In advance of UFC 203, Dave Meltzer, who is an expert on the pay-per-view business, spoke with Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour and offered some interesting insight into the card’s potential buy-rate.

“This is what I’ll say: Anything over 270 [thousand PPV buys] is because of Punk,” Meltzer posited on the show. “Because I was looking at this and I was thinking this is probably, you know, 250-300ish [buys], right? Probably below 300 when you take Punk out. So if it does 400, then Punk was a hell of a draw. … If somehow it does 500, then I completely underestimated the pro wrestling audience.”

This estimate from Meltzer was based on the pay-per-view numbers achieved by UFC 198, which was headlined by a heavyweight title fight between Stipe Miocic and Fabricio Werdum – both of whom fought at UFC 203 – and was, overall, a more stacked card. This Miocic-Werdum headlined event raked in roughly 350,000 buys.

In the end, UFC 203 actually ended up doing almost 500,000 buys, clocking in at about 475,000. If Meltzer’s opinions are to be trusted (they are), this success can be attributed to Punk.

Today, Punk is undeniably less of a draw than he was before he was mugged by Gall, but he’s still likely to significantly boost the sales of any pay-per-view he’s featured on, and the UFC knows this. In fact, the promotion seems to be building a pay-per-view just for him.

Mere weeks after UFC President Dana White confirmed he’d give the former pro wrestler another shot in the Octagon, the promotion announced that UFC 225, which goes down June 7, will occur in Chicago – Punk’s hometown.

If the combination of White’s recent comments and the announcement of a pay-per-view in Chicago isn’t enough to convince you the UFC is working on a second CM Punk fight, then surely the pro wrestler’s reaction to this Chicago pay-per-view is.

Sometimes, an emoji is worth a thousand words.

CM Punk is not Conor McGregor or Ronda Rousey. Putting him on the UFC 225 bill won’t guarantee a million pay-per-views sales. It will, however, guarantee a nice boost in those sales, and at a time when the UFC can’t seem to catch a break, its sure to squeeze every penny it can out of the former pro wrestler. There was a time not all that long ago when Dana White suggested CM Punk would never fight in the UFC again, and now, the promotion seems to be gearing up to thrust him back into the limelight.

That is definitely a sign of the times.

This article first appeared onBJPenn.comon 2/4/2018.

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