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CM Punk Starts Over: Inside His UFC Reinvention

Spend a day with the former WWE champ, as he trains for his UFC debut and learns how to fight for real

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Former WWF Wrestler, CM Punk (Phil Brooks) photographed at his apartment in Milwaukee.

Sara Stathas

Phil "CM Punk" Brooks has heard all the criticisms – that he's too old to step inside the UFC Octagon, that his former career in WWE has afforded him undeserved status in the world of mixed martial arts, that he can't take a punch – and he could care less about any of them. He didn't sign with fighting's premier promotion just to make a quick buck, and he's not worried about what will happen when he finally faces off against an opponent prepared to inflict actual harm upon him. He's here because he feels he has something to prove…to himself.

Though he's yet to set a date for his UFC debut (or reveal just who he'll be fighting), Punk's been in training for months, and recently moved to Milwaukee to do intensive work at the Roufusport Mixed Martial Arts Academy, the gym founded by famed kickboxer Duke Roufus. Late last month, Punk offered Rolling Stone a glimpse of his new life, giving us unprecedented access to his fight preparations, inviting us into the home he shares with his wife – former WWE Divas Champ April "AJ Lee" Mendez-Brooks and even allowing us to tag along as he walked his dog, Larry Talbot.

For a guy who's not exactly known for his openness, Punk was more than willing to talk about walking away from his WWE career, silencing his many detractors and preparing to punch – and get punched. "The entire reason I'm doing this isn't about the fight," he says. "It's literally all about the journey."

Here's a look at that journey.

cm punk

Sara Stathas

Breakfast of Champions

Punk preps for a day of training at the Milwaukee loft he's moved into with his wife, April "AJ Lee" Mendez-Brooks. "I think, fundamentally, the core of everything I do is punk rock," he explains over his breakfast of kale, eggs, almond butter and toast. "[People ask], 'Why do you wanna fight? You have this great wrestling career. Aren't you worried you're gonna lose?' Well, if I was worried about losing, I would have never done anything in life."

cm punk

Former WWF Wrestler, CM Punk (Phil Brooks) enjoys his morning coffee at his aparment before a long day of training at the gym.

Sara Stathas

Punk’s Not Dead, He’s Just Resting

A rare moment of relaxation before heading out to Roufusport Mixed Martial Arts Academy, where it's all business, all the time. "I don't waste time when I'm in here," he says of his training. "I don't play grab-ass and I don't fuck around. Every day I'm walking out the door, I feel, 'That's a good workout and I gave it my all,' but I also can't wait to get back in there, because there's so much more I need to work on."

cm punk

Sara Stathas

Preparing to Put in Work

Punk stretches at Roufusport before beginning sparring. Though he wrestled for more than 15 years, he's a relative rookie when it comes to mixed martial arts. "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. "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."

cm punk

Sara Stathas

Punk Wraps Up to Throw Down

"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,'" Punk says of his time at Roufusport. "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."

cm punk

Sara Stathas

Punk Starts Punching

Though he admits he's more comfortable with mat wrestling, Punk says he's looking forward to hitting someone – and getting hit: "Everything I did prior to me training here full-time was to protect the other guy, to put them before me," he explains. "People get so mad at me when I say this, but [pro wrestling] was fake. This is not. When we do jiu-jitsu, you're getting hit. That changes everything drastically. When we're in those situations, I'm too nice. I'm just wired that way, and I think it will work its way out."

cm punk

Sara Stathas

Fighting His Way to the Top

Punk is just one of several MMA fighters currently training at Roufusport, and he's happy to be part of the team. "Part of me thinks doing this will hopefully get some eyes on the fighters I train with who deserve to be where I am already," he says. "Duke [Roufus] and I have the same philosophy of a high tide raises all ships, so whatever good I can bring anybody's way, I look at it as a positive. I know this is a piece on me, but where I train and who I train with is a big part of my life."

cm punk

Former WWF Wrestler, CM Punk (Phil Brooks), walks to his car after his workout at Roufusport Gym and MMA Academy in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Sara Stathas

The Champ Packs His Bags

Punk heads home after another day of work at Roufusport. Though his training has been rigorous, and the hours long, he says he's enjoyed it more than anything he's done in years, regardless of how his first UFC fight goes. "The entire reason I'm doing this isn't about the fight. It's about learning martial arts, as well as something about myself. It's literally all about the journey."

cm punk

Sara Stathas

Punk’s Best Friend

Punk takes his dog Larry Talbot (named for Lon Chaney Jr.'s character in the The Wolf Man) for a walk. Though he's mellowed slightly, he can't say the same for his canine companion. "If you recognize that I'm walking my dog, don't sprint at me from across the street. My dog is going to bite you," he says. "I'm always amazed that people are shocked when their despicable action causes an equally despicable reaction."

In This Article: sports, UFC, WWE

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