One once stood where he stands, and the other is hoping to follow a path similar to the one he's taken, so pro wrestling star and WWE champion CM Punk has a pretty good understanding of the respective mindsets of Dave Bautista and "King Mo" Muhammed Lawal.
Bautista, who spent several years in the WWE as a major draw, made his mixed martial arts debut last Saturday night. The 43-year-old has by all accounts made loads of money, and he's dabbled in acting, but mixed martial arts has been a passion of his for some time, and he followed through on a promise to try it out.
His performance, while uneven, got the job done, as he earned a first-round TKO win over journeyman Vince Lucero.
Of course, afterward, there were critics, as though he was expected to be a more complete fighter after a relatively short time training. Unlike other former pro wrestlers including Brock Lesnar and Bobby Lashely who made the move, Bautista had no amateur wrestling experience. Because of that, Punk says that Bautista deserves some leeway.
"It's definitely a bucket-list kind of thing," he said on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "I think it’s awesome, too. Dave just wanted the experience. He wanted to fight even if it was just one time. It was something that he wanted to do. He loves it so he put his mind to it and did it, and I think that amazing. I don't think anybody can criticize that. He has no delusions of grandeur. He's not trying to get a big, fat UFC contract. He's not trying to coast on his name from the WWE. He's just fighting because he wanted to experience it."
Having watched the fight, Punk acknowledged that Bautista looked "really nervous" but was impressed by how he overcome the butterflies to achieve victory.
That, he said, should be the ultimate takeaway from someone fighting for the first time, instead of in-depth criticism of what he did or didn't do well.
"The haters, if you’re doing something right you’re going to get criticized. I don't think there's a whole lot of people who can do what Dave did, and those are the ones that are going to criticize him. To me, those are the funniest ones. They say funny stuff. They make the funniest comments and they’re fun to laugh at."
As a pro wrestler, Punk is used to having to these dual reactions. On one side are the legions of pro wrestling fans who rabidly follow the goings-on and treat the stars as heroes, and on the other are those who turn up their nose at the entertainment form and write it off as juvenile.
That makes it all the more interesting that former Strikeforce light-heavyweight champ "King Mo" Muhammed Lawal would try to go in the other direction, from a career as world-ranked pro fighter into wrestling.
In May, Lawal signed deals with both Bellator and TNA wrestling, and just last week, he made his debut with the latter. He'll try to simultaneously take part in both worlds, something that has never been done until now.
Punk said it was inevitable, noting that there have been many crossover stars over the years, and that several Japanese promotions tried to blur the lines between wrestling and fighting.
That won't make it any easier for Lawal, he said.
"It definitely is [a tall order]," Punk said. "Both jobs are full-time jobs. This is the evolution of our sport. MMA is so huge, and there's a lot of fighters that are fans of pro wrestling and there's also a whole lot of pro wrestlers who are huge MMA fans. This is just the next step. I think somebody was going to do it or try it eventually."
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