Originally published by The Australia Times Sports.
With CM Punk (aka Phil Brooks) now fully immersed in his first training camp ahead of a potential UFC debut later this year this appears to be an appropriate time to examine his history before moving onto speculating on some potential opponents.
Punk has previously stated that from a very early age he was a fan of professional wrestling and in 1999 made his debut for a backyard wrestling federation known as the Lunatic Wrestling Federation. Later that year he would go on to get professional training at the Steel Dominion by Ace Steel, Danny Dominion and Kevin Quinn.
After completing his training Punk and fellow trainee/friend Colt Cabana would then be catapulted onto the independent circuit either working together as the Second City Saints or against each other. Their feud in IWA:Mid-South in particular, along with standout matches against fellow notable names such as AJ Styles, Chris Hero and Eddie Guerrero, would capture the attention of many fans and promotors alike around the United States leading to Punk signing the the top independent promotion Ring of Honor (ROH).
During his time in ROH he had multiple memorable moments, all of which are still highly touted to this day, that would spark WWE’s attention. The most notable of these were his three match series with Samoa Joe, two 60-minute time limit draws the second of which was the first US match in seven years to receive a five star rating by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter followed by Punk winning the 3rd match. Following this Punk was given a tryout for WWE in May 2005 which resulted in him signing a contract, however he was allowed to finish out his dates with ROH which saw the first “Summer Of Punk” begin.
During the first “Summer of Punk” he would win the ROH World Title in June at Death Before Dishonor III and immediately begin teasing taking the title with him to WWE. Punk would even go so far as to sign his WWE contract live in front of an audience on top of the title. Punk would then go on to finally lose the title in a four corner elimination match consisting of James Gibson, Samoa Joe and Christopher Daniels with Gibson coming out the victor. Punk’s final match would be against his long time friend Colt Cabana in a two out of three falls match, where Punk was seen to be visibly crying before losing and being showered with streamers (a sign of respect on the independent circuit) whilst posing in the ring afterwards.
It has been stated in multiple documentaries and interviews that during his time in WWE’s developmental territory Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW) he was never truly viewed as a viable main event talent by most of the creative department/executives, except for Paul Heyman who wanted to use him as the main “babyface” (good guy) on the revamped Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW). During this time Punk’s exceptional in-ring ability and straight edge persona resonated with fans and saw him become ECW’s biggest drawcard.
At Wrestlemania XXIV Punk would win the Money In The Bank match guaranteeing him a World Championship match in the ensuing twelve months, which he would successfully use during his first appearance on Monday Night Raw on June 30 2008 after being “drafted” a week earlier. He would go on to hold the title until September 7 when he would be forced to forfeit it after not being able to participate following a storyline backstage attack, in the ensuring months he would slip back into the midcard before being moved across to Smackdown in 2009 where he would be given a greater opportunity to shine.
Capitalising on this opportunity Punk would go on to become one of the most hated “heels” (bad guy) in the company whilst feuding with fan favourites Jeff Hardy, The Undertaker and Rey Mysterio and forming the Straight Edge Society. The Straight Edge Society would amplify Punk’s own straight edge beliefs and suggest he was better than the fans because of this. With this new side to his character being explored the crowd reactions were phenomenal forcing management to give him another shot in the spotlight.
This would lead to WWE’s version of “The Summer Of Punk” in June 2011 with the now infamous “Pipe Bomb” segment in which he would lift the curtain back slightly and expose some of the inner workings of the company and appeal to the hardcore internet wrestling community instantly switching him back to a fan favourite. Punk would eventually win the WWE championship from John Cena at Money In The Bank in Chicago (Punk’s hometown) on his “final night under contract” and walk out on the company in a storyline move, he would then be held off all events for Summerslam in August. Returning at Summerslam to defend the championship Punk would initially be successful but would then be attacked by Kevin Nash allowing Alberto Del Rio to cash in his Money In The Bank opportunity.
On November 20 2011 Punk would recapture the championship and go on be the longest reigning WWE champion of the modern era (6th of all time), holding the title for 434-days until January 27 2013 when he would lose the title to The Rock. Punk would never return to the title picture going on instead to face The Undertaker at Wrestlemania before leaving the WWE the following year.
During his time in the professional wrestling industry Punk would accumulate a number of accolades ranging from being a seven time World Champion (ROH & ECW 1x, WWE World Heavyweight 3x, WWE Championship 2x), multiple five star matches and matches of the year, wrestler of the year twice in 2011 and 2012 (along with most hated in 2012 and most popular 2011).
Despite having a limited background in MMA Punk has been a longtime fan of the sport even using the limited off time he had whilst under a WWE contract to undergo training camps exclusively with Rener Gracie in Kempo Karate and Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.
Punk has stated that “this is my new career 100-percent” and is considering both the Middleweight and Welterweight divisions, with a definitive answer to be made following a test weight cut. He currently walks around at around 205 pounds after losing 15 pounds recently as he transited to MMA training.
During his time with WWE Punk was able to train with Rener Gracie in multiple two week intensive camps roughly six months apart and according to Gracie has progressed extremely well and he is “in the top-tier of students as far as retention, athleticism and ability to train for long periods goes.”
Since announcing his arrival in UFC Punk has gone on to begin training as of January 5 with Roufusport which is led by Duke Roufus and is also home to UFC lightweight champion Anthony “Showtime” Pettis and ONE FC welterweight champion Ben Askren.
Roufus has been quoted as saying “Punk is going to surprise some people”, potentially even teammate Askren who was rather vocal on social media following the announcement of Punk to UFC.
“The nice thing is I have so many different stages of athletes at the academy that he can work his way up the ladder to each type of athlete. It could be six months to a year before he is ready but what I don't want to do is put him in there too fast and ruin his confidence. Confidence is everything in the fight business and that is what I am going to do: build his confidence. I have a huge resource of great coaches, great teammates and great students. I have a lot of longtime students who know how to properly spar with people that will bring him along well. I'm going to do a lot of sparring, myself, with Phil, just because I have the experience of control. I've been in martial arts since I was four, I have such control that I can help him learn the sport and not get hurt at the same time.” Rufus said to MMAmania.com.
Ideally UFC President Dana White will be hoping that Punk will mirror the success of Brock Lesnar when he made the transition over from professional wrestling to MMA. The biggest contrast with between the two is most certainly their experience background while Punk’s is rather limited Lesnar was a highly successful NCAA Division One amateur wrestling champion. AS demonstrated by his time in WWE though Punk is not afraid to overcome hurdles and defy all odds.
The biggest concerns for Punk will be his age, he will be 37 in October, and also his physical condition. His injury history is widely documented from knee and elbow concerns to multiple concussions all of which would likely be targeted by potential opponents.
White, Roufus and Punk have all stated that his first opponent will be somebody with a similar experience level and professional record, which immediately rules out some of the more spectacular names that have been floating around such as Michael Lisping, Nick Diaz, Damian Maia and Patrick Cote. Realistically the more likely candidates are either as White said someone new with a “1-0, 2-0, 2-1” record or an older established name slightly past their prime and potentially on their way out.
With the money Punk is earning on his contract with UFC it wouldn’t make much sense to put him in their with an easy beat the first go around because fans could instantly sour on the idea. So the idea of an established name begins to look more likely with the likes of Dan Hardy, Rich Franklin and Matt Sera all rising to the top. All three men are well known by the fans and a victory over them would immediately establish Punk as a credible fighter whilst a loss would hurt less as they are much more experienced.
A final intriguing option could be to explore the more entertainment headline making path with the likes of Jason David Frank, best known as the Green Power Ranger, calling out Punk. Frank has a 1-0 professional and 3-0 amateur MMA background so could be the ideal candidate in terms of experience and ability to attract PPV buys.
A second option in the category could be longtime UFC commentator Joe Rogen. Whilst this may seem far fetched Rogan has trained in MMA extensively and whilst not holding an official fight record would be an able opponent which would undoubtably garner interest.
At the moment however this is all speculation as there is yet to even be a date announced for Punk’s debut fight so we will have to continue to wait and see how events unfold.