Q&A with former WWE champion & UFC’s new signee CM Punk
One month after former World Wrestling Entertainment champion CM Punk signed with the UFC, the 36-year-old found a gym to train at that wasn’t far from his Chicago home. Since January, Punk has spent the majority of his time at the mixed martial arts academy Roufusport, located in Milwaukee.
Following a recent training session, Punk sat down with FOX Sports Wisconsin’s Paul Imig for a lengthy Q&A, covering everything from his transition to UFC, to his thoughts about his time in WWE, to his new "Thor" comic book and much, much more.
FOX SPORTS WISCONSIN: Why UFC, and why now?
PUNK: Because I’m not getting any younger. I’m the kind of guy that jumps at an opportunity. I’m sure you’re going to ask, and I understand all the criticism levied towards myself and UFC, but at the end of the day I’m the one getting in there, I’m the one putting my neck out on the line. If I fail, I fail in front of the entire world. To me that’s the juice, it’s all about the action. I’ve been thinking about doing it for a very, very, very long time. The opportunity presented itself, so I’d be a fool to say no.
FSW: You hit on two things I want to ask you more about. So, you wish you would’ve done this at a younger age then?
PUNK: I do, but I certainly don’t live my life with any regrets. Obviously I carved out a pretty successful path and career for myself. But I’m kind of fascinated with, for lack of a better term, Renaissance men. And women. People who do a lot of different things. I believe you only have one chance on this earth, and I’m just trying to live my life and do what makes me happy.
FSW: The other part you kind of touched on that I was curious about: Have the majority of people been optimistic or pessimistic about the career transition? Do you believe some people are rooting for you to fail, perhaps?
PUNK: It varies. I don’t know if it’s 50-50, because when it comes to negativity I tend to tune it out. I believe in positive mental attitude. I believe whatever you put out in the universe will come back to you. So all my thoughts are positive. Every day I will learn something, every day I will tap out in gym so when I fight I won’t tap out. I visualize myself winning my fight. Are there people rooting against me? Absolutely. Does that drive me even more? You bet your ass it does. My entire life has been predicated on that, people thinking I’d fail. I think some people are like, plants are flowers, they do good when there’s positivity and you’re talked to and you’re watered every day, and people grow from that. I very much take that negativity while tuning it out, and it definitely fuels me.
FSW: You’re training to make sure it doesn’t happen, and maybe it’s part of your drive, but have you thought about what’s said about you and what’s written about you if you lose or don’t live up to expectations? Guys who are new to the sport, they might be afforded leeway that someone with your preexisting name recognition I assume won’t be given.
PUNK: I lose if I don’t try. I lose if I don’t take an opportunity. I’ll beat that horse to death: The only way I lose is if I quit on myself. And I’m not giving up on myself. I’m sure there are naysayers that once I fight, win, lose or draw, they will have respect for me. But that’s not necessarily why I’m doing it. I’m doing it for me. I’ve said this before, if the Chicago Blackhawks were suddenly like, "Hey, we want you to be our new center." Am I just going to say "No" because I’m not the greatest skater? No. I’m going to put my skates on every day three times a day and I’m going to skate my ass off, and I’m going to do my best to fill my role. This isn’t a team sport (in UFC). There’s very much a team here that’s training me and getting me ready, but when it comes down to it, I’m the only one stepping in the octagon on the night that I fight, and it’s all up to me.
FSW: After your scrimmage debut (on March 3), your . . .
PUNK: Sparring debut, yeah.
FSW: How did you feel it went? What’s your personal assessment of it?
PUNK: That it’s a baseline going forward to watch and review. And see what I did good at and what I did bad at. …
FSW: You have film of it to watch?
PUNK: Yeah, yeah, yeah. We taped it. I’m going to watch it and dissect it. People ask me if I was nervous. There wasn’t a single nerve, I wasn’t scared. It’s part of training. I wanted to do it a lot sooner than they allowed because I figured the sooner I’m doing it, the more often I’m doing it, the better I’ll get. Now we’ll know what I need to work on more. And to me, that’s what I love about MMA: Everything is different. I sparred with a tough SOB wrestler who’s a southpaw, and who’s to say when I fight if the guy is going to be a lefty, if he’s going to be a striker or a wrestler, you know what I mean? Every day I’m in here I’m growing leaps and bounds, and I tend to kind of leave that up to the coaches. People ask me, "How are you doing?" And I just kind of say, "Hey, I don’t know." All’s I know is I’m in there every day and I’m working hard. And I’m getting beat up in here so I don’t get beat up in the Octagon.
FSW: Maybe it’s too far in the future, and I’m sure people ask you this one, but when’s your tentative debut? Are we talking a year, two years, six months? How long is this process?
PUNK: I’ve been here for two months now. "Come in the door," I said to all the coaches, I said, "Whatever little I do know, forget it, and that I’m just a moldable piece of clay." I think Duke (Roufus) really liked that because I don’t have all the . . . say I’ve been fighting for four years and I was trained by somebody different, Duke would have to almost kind of reverse-engineer everything, get rid of some bad habits. And different camps teach guys striking in a different way. So I’m learning under Duke Roufus, so he wants me doing everything a certain way. So I don’t have any habits and I don’t have the attitude of, "Oh, well, no, I learned it this way," you know what I mean? I’m the most coachable guy here. I do what my coaches say. So it’s not really up to me anymore, 100 percent. I’m leaving it up to Duke (and the other coaches and trainers). The original idea was to come in here, train my ass off for six months and then sit down with all of them, have a little powwow and see where we’re at.
FSW: What month did you start here? December?
PUNK: No, I started here in January. In my mind, I’m shooting for the end of the year (to make my UFC debut). So, October at the earliest, December the latest. If they tell me I’m a whiz kid after six months and they think I’m ready; it might be earlier and it might be later, I don’t know. I know that’s a very vague answer, but I’m taking this extremely seriously. …
FSW: And having some type of deadline. Or goal.
PUNK: Yeah, and I just want to be as prepared as I possibly can be, but also there will come a time when you just have to . . . you can train and train and train and train, but eventually you just have to fight. You can hit mitts all day, but eventually you have to spar.
FSW: How many hours a day or week do you train? Is this your "full-time job" right now, or just one of many things kind of consuming your week?
PUNK: I definitely look at it as a full-time job. I’m here every day of the week. I take weekends off. But I’m here and I train with the pro team every day for two hours. Then some days I do two-a-days, so I’ll come back. I live in Chicago, so I’m driving back and forth. Or some days I’m staying up here. So on those days, normally two days a week I come back and do extra, or even when I’m at home I’ll do strength and conditioning, run. I’m very much all-in on this.
FSW: What is your commute time?
PUNK: Ninety minutes. I leave late enough in the day that I get no traffic. Leaving here I’ll hit a little bit of traffic, but it’s not that bad.
FSW: I think people feel like they know you more than they might know your average UFC guy because you’ve been able to show your personality and done other things, so I want to branch this out a little bit. I know you’re a "Walking Dead" guy, but what else is on your DVR? What do you watch on a weekly basis?
PUNK: Well, religiously obviously "Walking Dead." And "Better Call Saul." I’m so happy that it finally hit the air because "Breaking Bad", to me, is the best television show of all time. To have that on there, I love that show so much. I’ve been a fan of Bob Odenkirk since he was on HBO originally with "Mr. Show."
FSW: And a former "SNL" writer.
PUNK: Yeah. And it’s so well-written, the way they shoot it, the way they use the music. It’s such a brilliant show. So there’s that. And I watch a lot of hockey. A ton of hockey.
FSW: And not just Blackhawks, right?
PUNK: No, no, no. I watch everything. I watch everything I can possibly get my hands on. There’s a lot of crazy games. The other (week) in Florida, both their goalies got hurt, so they suited up their goalie coach. That stuff, only in hockey.
FSW: You don’t have season tickets for the Blackhawks, do you?
PUNK: Me? No.
FSW: Does the team hook you up?
PUNK: I know a few people, but I’m never really that guy. I don’t like to ask for much.
FSW: Since Jan. 2014, speaking of TV, how much WWE programming have you watched?
PUNK: None. I don’t watch wrestling anymore. I’ve tried to, but I have an aversion to it. You do something like that for however many years I did it, and it’s like a lifetime. I’ve seen enough.
FSW: How does that work with your wife (WWE’s A.J. Lee) still doing it? Does she tell you about it, given that you don’t want to watch it? Or do you watch her stuff?
PUNK: I will, yeah, I will watch her stuff. Chances are she’ll only tell me to watch when she’s excited about something. But, yeah, it’s my wife, she’s a grown-ass woman, she can do what she needs to.
FSW: No NXT for you then?
PUNK: No, no. I lived it.
FSW: So, a decade ago, and obviously correct me if I’m wrong, would that have been your dream job? Is that fair to say? With WWE. Back in like 2004, 2005.
PUNK: I signed in ’05. My dream job was always wrestling in Japan. I looked up to guys like Bruiser Brody, Stan Hansen. I was huge All Japan Wrestling guy, so a guy like Kobashi. I loved Eddie Guerrero, because they were stars in a foreign land. There’s something about that that appealed to me. I liked the style a lot better than American wrestling, or WWF at the time. That was my dream job. That’s what I always wanted to do, was go over there, wrestle for four weeks, come home for two weeks, go there for five weeks, come home for one week. That was the dream. But the way things work, your goals change and your priorities change and I had already gotten to a level where I thought I needed to prove that I could draw money. And the only way to do that, because foreigners aren’t really given a chance in Japan, was to go to WWE.
FSW: With the benefit of hindsight, when you look back on it, are you glad you signed with them in ’05? Did the pros outweigh the cons, ultimately?
PUNK: Well, yeah, of course. Like I said, I don’t live my life with regrets. I don’t even think there’s really situations where I wish I would’ve handled myself a little bit differently. I wish I would’ve punched one or two people in the face. But, no, I wouldn’t change a damn thing. Absolutely not.
FSW: Where do you think you’d be, what would you be doing today, if that contract hadn’t come up for you in 2005?
PUNK: Where would I be at now?
FSW: Yeah. And what might you be doing?
PUNK: (laughs) I don’t know. I have no idea. My life goes based off of where opportunities present themselves. I would’ve wrestled somewhere if that contract never came. I would’ve continued to wrestle. I probably would’ve done this (train for UFC) sooner. If I was still on the indies, I would’ve been wrestling maybe three days a week, picking up tours in Japan or whatnot. But I definitely would’ve had more time to start training and stuff like that. I think I’d be exactly where I’m at.
FSW: What do you remember most about those 434 days as WWE Champion?
PUNK: Working with Paul Heyman. That was the only thing that kept me sane. It was like a condition of, we get to work with each other because we don’t like anybody else. So, working with him . . .
FSW: But that was only a portion of it. That was later in the run, wasn’t it?
PUNK: About halfway through, yeah. But still, yeah, I was the bridge to get him back working there. I miss working with Paul. That’s really about it.
FSW: You’ve got at least two guys left there with Paul and Brock . . .
PUNK: I’ve got friends there. I’ve got plenty of friends there.
FSW: I’m going to ask you the flip side of this too, but: The best part of your nine years in WWE was what?
PUNK: Turning chicken(expletive) into chicken salad. I think that’s what the best workers always did. I think they took whatever idea they were given and they made it better. I think they take bad situations and bad ideas and make them palatable to the audience. I think they take bad material and shine it up and make it digestible. It was always a challenge because there’s so much content with them. There’s the three-hour Monday, there’s the two-hour Friday and now there’s NXT and there’s Superstars and there’s Main Event, and there’s all these shows, and just trying to stay entertaining and trying to be riveting and trying to reinvent yourself every night, just staying over with the fans. That was always at least, for the most part, creatively stimulating.
FSW: OK, so what was the worst part of your time there?
PUNK: The worst part of it? After a while, I would say the worst part of it was their not listening and not understanding, and not getting a break when I probably needed one. Because who’s to say where I’d be right now? They’re always looking for the next guy, so nobody is really bigger than the company. Not that I ever thought I was, but I thought I was a pretty healthy cog in the machine. I thought I could’ve been afforded a vacation here or there.
FSW: Chances you ever work there again? Ever.
FSW: On the list of cool things you’ve done, where does writing for Marvel Comics rank?
PUNK: I’m a pretty weird list guy. I’ve probably forgotten a lot of the things that I’ve told myself, "Wow, this is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done."It’s definitely probably top five coolest things I’ve ever done. I wrote a "Thor" comic book, you know what I mean? It just came out (on Feb. 25). If you told me I was going to write a comic book, I’d be like, "Yeah, I could do that." If you told me I was writing "Thor", I never in my wildest dreams would’ve been able to rattle off a "Thor" story off the top of my head. Top five, for sure.
FSW: I assume you’ve gotten your copy of it.
PUNK: Oh, yeah, I’ve got my copy of it.
FSW: Are you happy with it? How everything turned out?
PUNK: It’s not like I read it. I didn’t sit down and read it. I read it a long time ago when they would send me panels and pages as they got finished and stuff like that. I think the copy was more for my wife.
FSW: You want to frame that, don’t you?
PUNK: You assume I frame things. I have a bunch of stuff that I haven’t, and I don’t even know how to hang things up. (laughs) I’m here all day.
FSW: Of the things in life you seem passionate about, you’ve accomplished or participated in so many of them; wrestling, UFC, comics. You’re only 36, what else intrigues you down the road as your life goes on? What do you still want to do? What’s left?
PUNK: Well, obviously there’s this. I’m sure eventually I’ll do some movies and whatnot. I may or may not be working on a couple of things right now. But this right now is definitely my focus, so I don’t want anything to interfere with that. I’m passionate about a lot of things. I lived in a toxic bubble for like 10 years. I get to do all those things now. You’ll see a lot of stuff from me in the coming years. But a lot of them, I don’t want to be that guy who’s like, "I’m working on all this cool stuff," and then some of it never happens. So I just kind of keep things under wraps until they actually come into fruition.
FSW: Well, Ron Livingston’s character in "Office Space" said if he had a million dollars he wouldn’t do anything. Why don’t you . . .
PUNK: Why don’t I just do nothing?
FSW: You can’t ever do nothing, I assume.
PUNK: I don’t think so, no. For my honeymoon I went to Hawaii, I was like, "I’m going to do nothing." And that didn’t even last a day. We landed and I went and checked out the gym. I was like, "Wow, they have a great gym here, this is pretty rad." Then you wake up at 6 in the morning every day, and I’m like, "I’m going to go run on the beach every day." So, yeah, I don’t think I’m the kind of guy that’s going to sit around and do nothing. Unless it’s like on an episode of "Seinfeld", a show about nothing.
FSW: Or bring it back. He’s on Broadway now. Larry David is.
PUNK: I’ll do Broadway next. There ya go. I’ll record an album next.
FSW: Do you play music? I know you’re into it, but do you play?
PUNK: I have a drum kit. I’m no good at it. I know how to play the saxophone. True Renaissance man. I’m telling you, man, it’s happening. It’s going to happen. You’ll see.
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