Since signing with the UFC in late 2014, Phil Brooks — aka CM Punk — has heard nothing but reactions from fighters and fans about him leaving the world of professional wrestling for the chance to compete inside the Octagon.
For the past three months, Punk has spent five days a week training in Milwaukee under the guidance of coach Duke Roufus and his team as he learns the art of fighting to hopefully make his UFC debut in either late 2015 or some time in 2016.
While the fight community has spoken out quite loudly about Punk signing with the UFC, there hasn’t been nearly as much chatter from the pro wrestling world, outside of a few comments shared around the time the move was announced.
Punk says he’s heard nothing but positivity from the friends he’s stayed in touch with since leaving World Wrestling Entertainment, although there was some general concern about his health and safety while engaging in a real fight.
"I don’t think I talked to anybody who would have a negative opinion about it," Punk told FOX Sports in Dallas during UFC 185. "It’s not like I had anybody texting me, ‘Hey, (expletive) you, I hope you get knocked out!’ I got a lot of positive comments on it. Some people were concerned but I think they’d be concerned whether I was driving a NASCAR or God knows what else. This is just something I wanted to do."
I’d love to see Brock back. I think it would be good for Brock, and it would just be fun to have him around.
— CM Punk
Punk knows that many of the wrestlers in WWE are big MMA fans, and if times and salaries were different, he believes a number of them might have given fighting a try instead of turning to sports entertainment.
One person on the WWE roster who opened the door for Punk to even get a shot in the UFC is former heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar.
Lesnar has been a good friend to Punk over the past few months as he makes his transition from the ring to the cage, and the two stay in regular contact, especially if the UFC novice has any questions about his development in preparing for his debut.
"He kind of made the blueprint. He made it possible for Dana to look at somebody like me and even make me the offer," Punk said. "I’m thankful for that, for sure."
Lesnar came to the UFC with a huge amateur wrestling background that included an NCAA championship before he decided to go to the WWE for several years. Punk knows he’s got a much longer road to travel than Lesnar did when he joined the UFC, but the former heavyweight champion has been an invaluable resource whenever Punk has needed advice.
Despite his athletic pedigree, Punk says even Lesnar struggled at first making the transition to MMA, and Punk is undergoing many of the same growing pains during his training sessions.
"I asked him what the hardest thing for him to do was; he’s a super freak athlete, but something had to be difficult for him. I find it’s the exact same thing I’m having difficulty with, and that’s learning to let go," Punk explained. "Striking, sparring is completely different. Someone’s trying to punch me in the face, I’m trying to punch them in the face.
"But often I’ll find I’m too light on guys if I’m rolling, my hips aren’t heavy enough, it’s like I’m trying to work with them like the old pro wrestling kicking in, and he had the same problem, so it’s interesting to know that."
As Punk turns his focus to MMA full time, he says he no longer watches professional wrestling at all outside of a few rare moments when his wife, WWE superstar AJ Lee, appears and tells him about something he should see. Otherwise, Punk hasn’t watched anything since he left the promotion in 2014.
"Nope," Punk answered when asked whether he ever flips on WWE programming. "She’ll tell me when I should watch something, like something she’s excited about it, but she never does."
When asked whether he ever misses wrestling, Punk quickly answers back saying, "No, not at all" — although he would enjoy it if one of his friends from the WWE would join him on the UFC circuit in, say, three weeks or so.
"I’d love to see Brock back," Punk said about Lesnar returning to the UFC. "I think it would be good for Brock, and it would just be fun to have him around."
Lesnar is less than a month away from free agency, and at that point he will decide whether his future lies with the WWE or in a potential return to the UFC, where he was one of the most popular attractions in the sport.
Punk would like nothing more than to see Lesnar come back, and then maybe the two of them could fight on the same card. Needless to say, the UFC wouldn’t scoff at that possibility either.