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CM Punk Is Too Nice: The Former WWE Star Trains for His UFC Debut

VIDEO:CM Punk vs Tito Ortiz Full Fight action match is below

Bop, bop, bop!”

With every series of jabs CM Punk lands, his muay thai coach, Scott Cushman, annunciates the impact. Bouncing on his toes, Punk lunges forward for another combination into Cushman’s gloves. “Bop, bop!” This carries on for a few more minutes until a tiny digital timekeeper buzzes, signaling that it’s time to rotate and simulate a new series of strikes. When their hour-long session expires, Punk’s sweat-soaked Marvel T-shirt is saturated a new hue of blue.

“I’m always a little bit frustrated, because it’s just repetition to get muscle memory down so I’m not making the same mistakes,” he says, pausing to catch his breath and peel a banana, which is all he can really keep down during workouts. “I think it’s a lot harder than people realize. You’re re-learning this entirely new skillset and trying to condition your body to do things it wouldn’t normally do. It’s challenging and it’s fun.”

That’s good news for fans of the 36-year-old Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight rookie and retired pro wrestler, who haven’t seen him relish his work for some time. Toward the end of his nearly eight-year stint with Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment – during which he became arguably the promotion’s second-most widely recognized personality after John Cena – Punk (real name: Phil Brooks) was openly wary of his employer and always seemed close to walking out. Finally, after the company’s Royal Rumble pay-per-view event in January 2014, he did just that. Ten months later, he broke his silence with an interview on good friend and fellow grappler Colt Cabana’s Art of Wrestling podcast, in which he lashed out at WWE’s “lazy” medical staff for what he saw as a mishandling of his health and wellness (that appearance resulted in a still-ongoing defamation lawsuit filed against Punk and Cabana, aka Scott Colton, by WWE senior ringside physician Chris Amann). A couple weeks later, he stunned just about everyone by announcing he’d signed with UFC. And despite initial backlash from a contingent of wrestling audiences and requisite skepticism from mixed martial arts competitors and admirers, he couldn’t be more content.

“For the longest time [in] what I did, the competition wasn’t that clean-cut,” he reflects on his WWE tenure. “It didn’t matter if you were the best. There’s slimy backstage politics, there’s always somebody trying to undercut you. To me, there’s something romantic about just you and another guy locked inside a cage and the better man wins. In that time and space, nothing else matters. I definitely think it can be fucking scary, but I like embracing the things that scare me.”

And to most people, the dungeon-like atmosphere of Milwaukee’s Roufusport Mixed Martial Arts Academy, where Punk trains for several hours a day during the week, would be pretty damn foreboding. The facility itself – named for and co-founded by Punk’s head coach, kickboxing legend Duke Roufus – is tucked away inside an entrance across from a drive-thru ATM kiosk and down two flights of stairs. Whatever air makes its way into that basement gym is dense and odorous. Nineties hip-hop blares, and the décor is spare, to say the least. Workout mats, mesh netting, a practice ring and some punching bags are about all that spruces up the joint. Fliers for upcoming MMA fights and posters of Roufusport-bred success stories like local hero and former UFC Lightweight Champion Anthony Pettis sporadically adorn the walls as motivation. The trainees keep their waters, protein drinks, smoothies and salads in a modest fridge behind the reception desk, and there’s a break room/pro-shop of sorts to the far right, bedecked with folding chairs and Roufusport-branded equipment and apparel. It’s a far cry from the arenas Punk had grown accustomed to selling out, and there’s certainly no road crew building up and breaking down the space. He even helps spray down mats after workouts. They all do. It’s a communal environment, and Punk’s eager to pay his dues.

“I’ve thanked everybody for letting me train there, and they’re always like, ‘You’ve been here six months. You’re part of the team,'” he says appreciatively, between bites of an Asian salad with grilled chicken at his preferred Milwaukee burger joint following a rigorous Monday afternoon of fight prep. “To me, that means a lot, ’cause not a single person needed to be nice to me. I will maybe always feel like, ‘Eh, I’m kinda not [part of the team],’ so when I’m in that gym I try to be low-key, have my mouth shut and keep my eyes and ears open. But they’ve welcomed me with open arms.”

 

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