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Wrestler CM Punk set for real fight game with UFC debut

December 23, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) — CM Punk had nothing but time after his nasty fallout with World Wrestling Entertainment — where he was one of the biggest stars in the company’s history.

That left him bitter at how his career unraveled and unsure of exactly what was next. Punk knew he needed time to recover from a series of injuries suffered from the daily grind of wrestling without a break and a mental respite from the constant clashes with WWE management.

Punk’s done resting now. At 36, he is refreshed, focused and confident he can make the transition from the staged clashes of pro wrestling to the brutal mixed martial arts fighting inside the cage for Ultimate Fighting Championship, which has exploded in global popularity in recent years.

Punk could become the next WWE champ-turned-UFC pay-per-view heavyweight, like Brock Lesnar before him.

“I have bitten off a chunk of greatness that a lot of people perceive is too much for me to handle,” Punk said. “Those people don’t know me. They don’t even know what I can handle. I do.”

UFC is in the entertainment business just as much as the WWE, and it’s counting on those 4 million viewers that watched Punk wrestle every Monday on “Raw” to follow him during his pay-per-view debut. UFC president Dana White announced the deal earlier this month, a needed jolt for a company that clearly needs new, marketable stars.

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

UFC knows how to sell mix-martial arts, a blend of kickboxing, jiu jitsu, judo, wrestling and other forms of fighting. According to an antitrust lawsuit filed last week, UFC now controls about 90 percent of the revenues derived from live elite professional MMA bouts, with revenues estimated at about $500 million a year.

Punk, known as the “Best in the World” in WWE, is just another newcomer in UFC. But he’s skipping some steps along the way and a few notable fighters have lashed out at the special privilege afforded him. Punk is out to prove he can earn a spot on the card on his talent.

Punk is faced with more questions than answers right now as he preps for a 2015 debut. At a media tour in New York, Punk said he had only an autumn target date for his first bout. Punk wants to fight as a 185-pound (84-kilogram) middleweight (his MMA strength is jiu jitsu) and expects to be introduced as Phil “CM Punk” Brooks.

Punk walked away from WWE in January after a miserable final two years, with time left on his contract. Punk appeared to have it all to wrestling fans. His 434 days with the WWE championship was the longest reign since Hulk Hogan in the 1980s. And he had feuds with stars like The Rock, John Cena, Undertaker and The Shield. But Punk had grown deflated on the road, unhappy with the grind, injuries that piled up and his spot as the champion who rarely had a spot in the main event.

Punk finally unloaded the details of his acrimonious departure from WWE on pro wrestler Colt Cabana’s “Art of Wrestling” podcast on Thanksgiving. Punk said WWE fired him on his wedding day to fellow wrestler AJ Lee. He also said WWE pressured him to return to the ring following surgeries and said a company doctor misdiagnosed a staph infection in his back and ignored concussion symptoms. He accused one wrestler of carelessly breaking his ribs in a match.

“I share some of the blame because I had that mentality of the wrestler,” Punk said. “I have to go out there and wrestle to get paid. I have to tough it out. Whatever it is, I’ll tape it up. That’s just the wrestlers mentality. But at some point, you go over the line.”

WWE issued statements wishing Punk well in UFC and that the company “takes the health and wellness of its talent very seriously.” Punk also said the WWE has been “commendable” in its fair treatment toward Lee since he departed.

Punk said he will never return to WWE.

He has found bliss as a blossoming comic author and his “Thor Annual No. 1” under the Marvel Comics banner is set for a February release. He’ll write a tale of “Strange Sports Stories” next year for the DC Comics Vertigo imprint.

Now Punk is ready for whatever lies ahead.

“Part of the reason I’m doing this is just to maybe inspire one kid, one kid who’s told he can’t do something,” he said. “If I try and fail, at least I’ve tried. And a true failure is not trying.”

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