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Ben Askren changes tune on CM Punk: 'He's been outstanding in the gym'

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Ben Askren criticized the UFC when the promotion signed CM Punk in December. He has a different view of the former WWE star now.

Askren told at the Fighters Only MMA Awards in Las Vegas that he is impressed by CM Punk's attitude in training. Punk, whose real name is Phil Brooks, began training at Roufusport in Milwaukee with the likes of Askren and UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis in January.

"I was just talking sh*t on Twitter," Askren said. "It's what I do. He's been outstanding in the gym. He's been in there every day. It's not like he came in here and said, 'I'm a superstar, I'm going to get preferential treatment.' He just acts like one of the guys, just working out. It's outstanding."

CM Punk, who has never fought in MMA but has experience in jiu-jitsu and kempo, came to Askren right away when he arrived at Roufusport in an attempt to squash a potential beef.

"He came in the gym and said, 'There's no issue here, is there?'" Askren said. "I said, 'Of course, there's not.'"

Askren, the ONE Championship welterweight champion, has an ongoing issue with UFC president Dana White. When Askren was a free agent, White said the UFC didn't want to sign him because he didn't have enough experience -- even though he was the reigning Bellator welterweight titleholder. Askren signed with ONE FC instead and there has been sniping back and forth ever since. Askren used the CM Punk signing as another way to tweak White, tweeting that it was an "amateur move."

CM Punk, 36, still does not know for sure when he will fight, but will need at least six months training at Roufusport before figuring out a timetable. He also has not decided on a weight class, but Askren speculates he could get down to welterweight because of all the pounds he has shed with vigorous training already.

Askren has developed a newfound respect for Punk over the last few weeks.

"Some people who come from high levels in other backgrounds where they're used to being the best or used to being on a kind of pedestal, it's hard to kind of lower yourself again and just be one of the grunts," Askren said. "I kind of enjoyed that challenge in MMA. When I walked into any wrestling room, I was like the guy and then when I switched to MMA, then I'm just another guy and I don't have a lot of skills. He's probably even more so than me, because he was huge in WWE."

Tyron Woodley told last month that Punk has been working as hard as anyone at Roufusport, doing private lessons almost every day along with classes. Askren reiterated those facts.

"This is a physical sport where you fight people every day in the gym," Askren said. "It's been awesome to see how he's just come in and worked hard and isn't really worried about anything else."

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