“It oddly helped me focus because it forced me to compartmentalize everything,” Punk said.
CM Punk is ready for redemption in the Octagon.
The 39-year-old Phil Brooks—better known as CM Punk—is now all in for his UFC 225 fight this Saturday after a jury ruled in his favor earlier this week in the defamation lawsuit filed by WWE doctor Chris Amann.
The lawsuit was centered around Punk’s Nov. 2014 podcast with Colt Cabana in which Punk was critical of the medical treatment he received from WWE. Although Punk only mentioned Amann by name once, the doctor sued Punk and Cabana in February 2015, seeking roughly $4 million in damages for the disparaging remarks that he believed were accusations of medical malpractice.
The trial was an odd convergence of the legal system and the nuances of professional wrestling. One portion dealt with a spot in the 2014 Royal Rumble where a Kofi Kingston clothesline concussed Punk. Punk angrily refused to come out of the match and eventually Kane was sent out to eliminate him. It was Punk’s final WWE match. On another day, Punk testified under oath about the origins of his ring name.
Punk equated discussing the intricacies of the Royal Rumble match under oath in front of a courtroom to being trapped inside a Twilight Zone episode.
“The Twilight Zone is a good way to put it,” said Punk. “That would have been about the time I starting doing my best to not cry on the stand. I was forced to watch myself get a concussion over and over again. It really, really sucked.”
The trial concluded only five days before Punk’s second UFC fight, coming up this Saturday at UFC 225 in his hometown of Chicago against Mike Jackson.
Punk lost his first MMA fight in convincing fashion to Mickey Gall at UFC 203 in September of 2016. He has since dedicated the ensuing 21 months to proving his worth in the world of mixed martial arts, but his only way to establish that he belongs is to defeat Mike Jackson this Saturday in Punk’s hometown of Chicago.
Although the court proceedings could have derailed his training regimen, Punk instead used the case as a tool to narrow his focus.
“It made me hyper-focused,” said Punk. “It oddly helped me focus because it forced me to compartmentalize everything.
“If I woke up every morning and looked at my day, I would just spaz out and go, ‘Oh no.’ Instead I woke up and was like, ‘OK, I’m up, I’m alive. Alright, that’s a good start. OK, I’ve got to walk my dog, I’ve got to do sprints, and then I’ve got to put a suit on. I literally would take every day step-by-step. Once I got the court out of the way, I would try to find a small bit of joy of, ‘OK, I’m done for the day. Now I get to go home and I get to do something that I actually enjoy doing, and that’s training.’
Punk’s willingness to battle through the court case only strengthened his message of authenticity. Instead of public complaints or pleas to move his fight date, he beat on, boats against the current, and has fought through each situation.
“Sometimes things don’t go your way, but you get up and keep going,” said Punk. “That’s been a detriment to me, but it’s also what got me here more often than not. That is just who I am.”
Punk will oppose Mike Jackson in the Octagon, but his biggest challenge remains the man that stares back every time he looks in the mirror.
“That’s what it’s always been about,” admitted Punk. “I don’t measure myself against my coaches, I don’t measure myself against my teammates. If I’m doing jiu-jitsu for sport, I don’t measure myself against the guy I’m rolling with or whatever belt he is or how many stripes he has on his belt.
“I measure myself every day against the guy I was yesterday. Or the guy I was at noon as opposed to the guy I am at 9 p.m. at night. That’s what this has always been about, and that’s what Saturday is about.”
Punk’s pairing with renowned wrestling advocate Paul Heyman was mutually beneficial on-screen, and he also made a sage decision in choosing the widely respected Duke Roufus as his MMA corner man and coach.
“I think Duke is the best coach, hands down,” said Punk. “I think one of the reasons he’s the best coach is he doesn’t care if anybody else thinks he’s the best coach. He cares about his fighters, he cares about the well-being of his guys. That’s his focus. Everything else is just kind of noise.”
Although the two fields do not share an abundance of similarities, both pro wrestling and pro fighting are team sports often misconstrued as individual endeavors. A wrestler needs his opponent to help make his work look realistic, while a fighter depends on his coach and team to prepare him for a fight.
“Any praise goes to my coaches and my teammates,” said Punk. “I have the easy part of waking up and going to the gym. They’re the ones that have to break my bad habits and teach me new things. They’re literally my everything. In my personal life, it’s my wife, and in my professional life, it’s my coaches and my teammates. That’s it. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them, and I want to show them that the tools they have given me—and the means to sharpen them they taught me—are there and that it was worth all the time.”
Punk’s shot at redemption takes place this Saturday night, live on pay per view, with his UFC career hanging in the balance.
“This is it,” said Punk. “I know what I have to do. The trick is doing it.”
Punk also generated headlines when he agreed to an autograph signing with the Chicago-based Pro Wrestling Tees company on August 31, right in the shadow of the Sears Centre, the venue that will host Cody Rhodes’ and the Young Bucks’ transcendent All In wrestling show the following day.
While Punk and WWE no longer intersect, with a reunion as likely as Daniel Bryan casting a presidential vote for Donald Trump, Punk still remains grateful for those who have stood behind him.
“Absolutely, and I think that was evident before I got to the WWE,” said Punk. “I’ve always had an extremely passionate fan base.
“I jumped to the WWE and the perceived notion was I became more successful. I got to touch more people’s lives and influence more people and perform in front of more people, and that was a great thing. I’ve done things, sometimes foolishly misguided, because I wanted to give back to the fans.
“The entire reason I did a podcast explaining my departure from WWE is because I wanted them to know the story. I had a company going on television trashing me every chance they got and I was being quiet because I was being professional. Here we are now, finally out of the woods. I do recognize the opportunity that there will be a lot of wrestling fans from all over the world coming to Chicago to see a wrestling show, and I can do something to meet some of them, if they want to, that we’d never have the chance to do otherwise. I think that’s going to be a fun weekend.”
Punk is aware that speculation for his presence at All In will run rampant the moment his UFC fight ends, but right now, that is not his concern. The only thoughts crossing his mind are his team, his coach, the cage, and a chance to prove that, even if he is not the best in the world, he does belong.
“There is no Sunday,” said Punk. “For me, it’s all about Saturday.”