CLEVELAND -- C.M. Punk loves a challenge.
Punk has never shied away from testing his skills and pushing his limits, and rather than run from adversity, he has learned to embrace it head on during a 20-year career in sports and entertainment, first with World Wrestling Entertainment and now, the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Although Punk has never fought in MMA and has only been studying for 22 months in a sport where athletes dedicate years of their lives to the craft, he looks at his career change at the age of 37 already as a victory ahead of his UFC 203 bout with fellow welterweight Mickey Gall at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland tonight.
“I feel like there’s a lot of victories here,” Punk said. “Just doing this, I won. At least I got a bunch of free Reebok stuff out of it. The goal, obviously, is to get your hand raised. I think if you walk in there with anything less than that as your train of thought, you’ve already lost. I belong here, my team belongs here and I’m confident in my preparation, but just stepping foot in The Octagon, that’s a victory.”
Regardless of the challenges that come with a UFC fight, including weight cuts, extended training camps and nagging injuries, like the shoulder issue that required surgery delayed his MMA debut, Punk is embracing everything that comes with being a professional fighter.
“It feels good, even just grappling in front of people,” Punk said. “I don’t know why anybody wants to watch that. I find the open workouts kind of funny sometimes, but I feel amazing. This is a lot of fun. I’ve seen the process. I’ve heard stories. I’ve seen nightmare weight cuts, and I’m just trying to enjoy this entire week, even the bad stuff.
“I’ve been staying away from the social networks just because I’m so singularly focused on Saturday. I don’t need to read anything positive or negative. Either way, this is about being around my coaches and my team, my wife, just enjoying the week and having a good time.
“I try not to think about it. I imagine there are going to be some people who have never seen MMA that are going to be tuning in on Saturday and we appreciate that. Hopefully, they’ll become lifelong fans because I truly think this is the greatest sport in the world.”
A former WWE champion, Punk admittedly “got burnt out” by the lifestyle of being on the road for more than 200 days a year, and found a new outlet for his passions and pursuits, training with Duke Roufus in Milwaukee.
At first, Punk was making the drive to Milwaukee every day, and as the fight with Gall drew closer, he moved, along with his wife and dog, up to Wisconsin to fully commit himself to the craft.
“I think that’s the biggest difference,” Punk said. “For anybody looking for a comparison, do a full fight camp, but fly to a different time zone every night and sleep in your car every once and again because there’s a Lego convention in a small town that you didn’t know was there and all the hotels were booked. Travelling sucks.
“No matter how frustrated, beat up, bad of a day I had at the gym, I can always go home, see my wife, see my dog and sleep in my own bed, take a shower in my own shower, you know what I mean? Not having to rifle through a bag to find something that’s relatively clean to wear, it’s a world of difference. This is for me, man. Sleeping in my own bed every night.”
And as for how this new-found peace will impact him in The Octagon, Punk believes he has everything it takes to win in his debut bout.
“I’m cool as a cucumber,” Punk said. “I’ve stated before that I’m sure I’ll have pre-fight butterflies, but I’m actually looking forward to feeling that again. It was a long time that before I’d go through a curtain, I’d just sit there and be like, ‘They’re not coming. They’re not going. They’re gone, and they’re gone for a long time.’ I’m glad they’re back.
“I’m coming in there to win. I don’t care how it happens. I’m going to win, but how and when? It honestly doesn’t matter to me. I visualize every, single scenario.”