Tag: UFC

CM Punk, Tim Tebow and the Differences in Sport Cultures

On Thursday morning, it was announced that Tim Tebow, the polarizing quarterback who hasn’t touched a football in any way that matters since 2012, signed with the New York Mets to play minor league baseball. Based on the early reviews of the move, it appears Tebow is no less polarizing as a baseball player.

In an unusual parallel, across the sporting landscape in a dark corner where fringe meets niche, a similar story unfolds on Saturday night: Pro wrestler CM Punk will make his professional MMA debut when he fights Mickey Gall at UFC 203, with no meaningful qualifications beyond fame and fandom of the sport.

The case of Tebow is one of a freak athlete and genuine cultural phenomenon looking to find a place deep in the minor leagues and work his way up. The online hate and hot takes he generates are much more about him as a guy—the bible thumping, the swagger, the passion of those who love him—than the athlete.

Physically speaking, he’s undeniable. A bear of a man with fast-twitch fibers to burn, toughness and leadership qualities, no one would ever suggest he’s not an athlete. They may not be sure he’s a baseball player, but he’s raw and toolsy, and if he was 10 years younger, he’d probably be taken in the earlier rounds of the MLB draft. He’s everything a scout looks at and salivates over.

The case of Punk, real name Phil Brooks, is grossly different.

Punk is 38 years old, battered and broken from years as a professional wrestler, and he’s not fooling anyone about being past his athletic prime. He’s almost entirely guts at this point, willing himself through two years of preparation just to see if he can win a fistfight at the highest level. Some people love him and others hate him, but it’s hard not to respect him.

But with all of that considered, people generally seem more open to Tebow as a baseball player than to Punk as a mixed martial artist. One can’t help but wonder why that’s the case.

If it’s not the athletic merits of the two, perhaps it’s the road each is travelling in their respective new careers.

Tebow, if he’s ever going to make it to The Show, will do so by proving he can hit at the minor league level and also adopting a position and fielding it adequately. Punk is already at the top of the game, essentially walking out of some hard training sessions in a Milwaukee gym and into the shark tank of the toughest division in the toughest sport in the world.

It’s not hard to see how some might ruffle at that.

If not the roads travelled, maybe it’s the level of respect each would have gotten in their prior athletic pursuits.

Tebow made his bones in America’s game, continually winning The Big Game at every level he played, often in the face of long odds and numerous doubters. Again, not everyone loves him, but no one would ever deny his athletic prowess and the legitimate decoration it’s garnered him.

Punk was, comparatively, a phony in the eyes of many. A fake. People see pro wrestlers and believe that a predetermined outcome cheapens the athletic feats of those performing. They ignore the nightly physical toll of the game, to say nothing of the baseline strength and agility it takes to perform at the highest levels.

Still, if one were committed to that comparison, you could see how they might make the argument.

And if it’s neither of those things? Well maybe it’s just the fans themselves.

Baseball is a game that’s so deep and so challenging that a team giving up a minor league roster spot to try out a celebrity vanity project is almost irrelevant—especially in September, especially for a team in the hunt for a Wild Card spot like the Mets are. Fans just can’t commit the energy to caring about who’s reporting to the Arizona Fall League, and outside of a guy who might be losing a roster spot to Tebow, the limited grumbling about the signing reflects as much.

MMA is newer; it’s more aggressively defended by those who love it. Most who do are still raw from notable public figures denying its merits, politicians muddying the waters of its legitimacy and mainstream media treating it as a sideshow. It was relegated to internet chat rooms long before it was a billion-dollar industry, and fans often still treat it as such. That an outsider like Punk could walk into the top promotion and call his shots is almost personally offensive to some of those fans who’ve been around since the dark ages.

Regardless of the stance a person is taking, though, in the face of all of this, the stories themselves are not grossly different from one another: A guy with a degree of athletic fame in another walk of life is looking for a fresh start in a new endeavor.

The rest of it, including how people react and why, isn’t that important. If the athletes themselves are happy and someone is willing to pay them for it, the differences in cultures surrounding the two sports and the backlash generated within those cultures should be the last thing on anyone’s mind.


Follow me on Twitter @matthewjryder!

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Phillies-Yankees: Yankees Win Series Rematch Opener

During his 12 years in Toronto, Roy Halladay was usually lights out against the Yankees. Now with Philadelphia, Halladay was looking to continue his dominance of New York Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees roughed up Halladay for six runs, including three home runs, and topped Philadelphia, 8-3, in the opener of a three-game series that is a rematch of last year’s World Series.

New York won their ninth consecutive home game, while Philadelphia suffered their sixth loss in their last eight games. Both teams started the season 24-13 and New York is 17-10 in their last 27 games. Meanwhile, Philadelphia is 8-17 in their last 25 games.

The game featured two of the best pitchers in their respective leagues. CC Sabathia (7-3) won his third consecutive start for the first time this season. It was also his first win against an opponent other than Baltimore since he defeated Texas on April 16. Sabathia allowed three runs on five hits with seven strikeouts and three walks over seven innings.

Halladay (8-5), who entered the game with an 18-6 career record and three shutouts against New York, allowed six runs on eight hits in six innings. He also struck out five and walked two. Halladay has allowed a whopping 12 earned runs in two interleague starts against Boston and New York this season.

New York opened the scoring in the bottom of the second. After Nick Swisher singled and Jorge Posada walked, Brett Gardner brought home both runners with a two-run triple to give the Yankees an early advantage.

The Yankees extended their lead via the long ball in the bottom of the third. Curtis Granderson led off the inning with his fifth home run of the season. It was the first home run Halladay allowed this season to a left-handed batter. After Robinson Cano doubled, Swisher, batting from the left side, deposited a ball over the right field wall for his 11th home run of the season.

Trailing 5-0, Philadelphia mounted a rally in the top of the fourth. The Phillies loaded the bases on a pair of singles and a hit batter. Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez delivered back-to-back RBI singles, and Ben Francisco added a run-scoring fielder’s choice to cut the Yankees lead to 5-3.

While Sabathia and two relievers kept Philadelphia off the scoreboard over the final five innings, New York extended their lead. In the bottom of the fifth, Mark Teixeira hit a solo home run that just cleared the right field wall. The Yankees completed the scoring in the bottom of the seventh on Francisco Cervelli’s two-out, two-run single.

New York and Philadelphia will continue their three-game series on Wednesday. Kyle Kendrick (3-2, 4.80) will start for the Phillies against the Yankees’ A.J. Burnett (6-4, 3.86). First pitch is set for 7:05 p.m.

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