Former WWE champion CM Punk signs with the UFC

In a shocking move announced during the UFC 181 pay-per-view on Saturday night, former WWE champion Phil "CM Punk" Brooks officially signed a multi-fight deal with the UFC and will make his mixed martial arts debut in 2015.

While rumors had circulated for weeks that the UFC was interested in signing the former professional wrestler, it seemed to be just speculation, even when UFC president Dana White said this week that he would be interested in talking to Brooks.

Brooks left his previous job at WWE several months ago and has been a big fan of the UFC for many years. He’s also been seen in several training videos working with Rener and Ryron Gracie while polishing his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu skills. 

Now he’s taken his hobby to the pros.

"I’d say my professional wrestling days are over. I’m sure I’m going to have to do plenty of wrestling in there. It’s awesome to be here," Brooks said to UFC commentator Joe Rogan.

"This is something that has been in the back on my mind for a very, very long time," Brooks said. "I have a background in Kenpo (karate), I’ve done Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu off and on for a very long time, but the idea of being able to step in the Octagon and find out what’s inside myself and test myself is an opportunity I was not able to deny myself. I don’t think I would have been able to live with myself if I didn’t give this a shot."

At 36, Brooks joins the UFC with no fight training experience. While he has definitely fallen in love with grappling over the past few years, Brooks has spent his career on the mats as a professional wrestler in organizations like WWE. 

It seems like a long shot that he’ll make a serious impact in the Octagon, but stranger things have happened. Many comparisons will be made to former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar because he also was a WWE star before transitioning to MMA. In Lesnar’s case, however, he was a former NCAA wrestling champion. 

Brooks says he’s taking this move very seriously and says this is "100 percent" his new career. He hasn’t decided which weight class he’ll fight in, but most likely will be a middleweight or welterweight. Brooks also stated that he has started to reach out to different camps about training, but hasn’t decided on any coaching staff in particular.

"It is now or never for me," Brooks said. "I have a limited window just like all fighters do and I fully intend to get in there and I’m here for a fight. I’m here to either get my ass kicked or kick somebody’s ass."

Welcome to the @UFC CM Punk! #UFC #WWE

A photo posted by Dana White (@danawhiteufc) on

White announced the deal during the UFC 181 pay-per-view show, making sure the promotion’s biggest fans heard about the move first. The year has been difficult at times for the UFC, with several injured champions, a crowded schedule and the extended absence of longtime mainstays, including Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre.

The UFC clearly needs new, marketable stars, and the loquacious Brooks will be must-see TV if he’s able to compete.

"We’re going to give him an opportunity," White said. "He’s been training a lot in mixed martial arts, and we’re going to give him a shot. This guy can definitely sell some units."

White believes Brooks will be ready for a fight in roughly six months. Brooks is curious whether he can cut weight to the 170-pound welterweight limit, but might start as a 185-pound middleweight.

Brooks recognizes the hubris inherent in starting an MMA career in his mid-30s, but the combination of the challenge and the UFC’s financial offer was irresistible.

"I respect everybody that’s stepped into the cage, and before I’m done here, everyone will respect me as well," Brooks said. "People close to me know how long I’ve talked about doing this. This isn’t so much about UFC. It’s about me, and what I know I have inside of me. I want to prove to people and to myself that this is something I’ve thought about for a long time and I want to do."

The UFC realizes the publicity value of signing pro wrestlers with a modicum of MMA skills. Lesnar became the UFC’s biggest pay-per-view star when he entered the promotion in 2008, bringing millions of fans from the staged entertainment to actual athletic competition.

Lesnar defeated Randy Couture and held the UFC’s heavyweight championship for nearly two years, defending it three times. After two losses and a bout with diverticulitis, he returned to pro wrestling in 2012, even "beating" Brooks in a WWE show last year.

"You hear positive and negative things about Brock, but if somebody is going to compare me to Brock Lesnar, I’ll gladly take that," Brooks said. "I think I’m a little cuter."

As for his decision to start in the UFC instead of honing his skills in a smaller promotion, as Lesnar did, the veteran showman is pragmatic about his value.

"The big business is your first fight," Brooks said. "Win, lose or draw, if I fought somewhere else, maybe a little bit of the luster would have gotten knocked off. This is very much a business as well as fighting. There’s both sides of it, and I think it merged perfectly. This is something that I’m doing for myself, to test myself. It’s not all about the money, but it’s also nice to get paid."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.