Love it or hate it, by the end of April, the UFC may very well employ two of the WWE's biggest stars. Phil "CM Punk" Brooks stunned the fight world in late-2014 when he announced his intentions to sign with the UFC, following in the footsteps of former heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar. Lesnar, coincidentally, has less than three weeks remaining on his own WWE contract, and while the flirtation between he and the UFC appears to be mutual, Lesnar also has been a rock to help ease Brooks' transition from the ring to the cage.
"[Lesnar] offered his help," Brooks told MMAFighting.com. "He said, ‘Anything. You got a stupid question, you want to bug me, go for it.' So I do. I asked him what the hardest thing for him to do was, because obviously he's a freak athlete but something had to be difficult for him. And I find it's the exact same thing I'm having difficulty with, and that's learning to let go.
"Sparring is completely different. Somebody's trying to punch me in the face, I'm trying to punch them in the face. But often I'll find that I'm too light on guys if I'm rolling. My hips aren't heavy enough, because it's almost like I'm trying to work with them. It's like the old pro wrestling kicking in, and he had that same problem. So it's interesting to know that."
Brooks is now three months deep into his foray into MMA. Having entered the sport largely as a blank slate, he's made himself an ever-present figure at Milwaukee's Roufusport camp, training five days a week, multiple times a day alongside Ben Askren, Anthony Pettis, and head coach Duke Roufus in an effort to make up for lost time.
The advice from Lesnar, though, has been particularly helpful, as few others understand the shift from professional wrestling to mixed martial arts like the mammoth heavyweight -- and it's not lost on Brooks that Lesnar could very well be rejoining him in that transition soon.
"I'd love to see Brock back. I think it'd be good for Brock and it would just be fun to have him around," Brooks said.
"He kind of made the blueprint. He made, I think, it possible for somebody like Dana (White) to look at me and even make me the offer. So I'm thankful for that, for sure. He's definitely just a good person to know."
For now, Brooks refers to himself as the "low man on the totem pole" at Roufusport, a hard worker who does exactly what his coaches ask of him and has no delusions of grandeur about his role. He says he's been embraced by the gym with open arms, and he recently had his first official sparring session, complete with a walkout and a Bruce Buffer style introduction from Roufus.
Brooks admits his partner got the better of him that first time, but he's had numerous other sparring sessions since and is grateful for the time his teammates have been willing to invest in him. Considering the relative infancy of his skillset, Brooks remains unable to pin down an exact timetable for his UFC debut, though a date is slowly becoming clearer as he adjusts to his new day-to-day.
"I think I probably want to fight sooner than Duke and the rest of the coaches want me to, but that's just because I want to fight," Brooks said. "It's just something I want to do because it's so goddamn fun. But maybe at the end of the year? I think Duke says he'd rather have me wait so he can have me for one full year, which I think is just so he can feel more comfortable saying he had me for a year instead of nine months. But that's still kinda up in the air. We'll see. I have no pressure from anybody to fight at a certain date, so I'm just focused on training."
Much remains in the air about Brooks' debut, though that's to be expected given how unprecedented his situation truly is. Lesnar, at least, always had a vast wealth of Division I accolades to fall back on. Likewise for other past UFC experiments, like heavyweight boxing champion James Toney, who arrived with at least a practical base from which to start. The same cannot be said for Brooks, however, and it's that leap into the unknown which drove him to make the transition before it was too late.
"There's a lot of guys in pro wrestling who just kind of have this MMA fantasy, and they never act on it. So I'm acting on it," Brooks said.
"To me I've kinda already won. And I think that's why I'm so relaxed. I think there's people out there who think I'm crazy for doing this, but I think just the opposite. I'd be insane if I didn't do it. So in a way, I've won already. Now my job is just to put the work in so I'm prepared when I walk in that Octagon. I lose everyday in the gym so when I step in the Octagon, I don't lose. Everything is going to be 180-degrees from now until then, so it's a hard question to answer right now. I'll win my first fight, for sure, but just getting there, just walking in the Octagon, to me, I think is 100-percent a victory."
Regardless of whether he makes that walk later this year -- potentially at a year-end show also featuring Lesnar -- or in early 2016, Brooks understands the level of expectations and exposure that will come with his UFC debut, considering that more than few of those people will be watching only to see him fail. It's a strange thought, he admits, but it's one he expected when he signed on that dotted line.
"I knew what it entailed," Brooks said. "The guys who fight locally who have nine-to-five day jobs, I think they deserve a lot more of the spotlight. Because this is my fulltime job. I'm fortunate enough to be able to devote 100-percent of my time to this, and there's people in the gym who devote 100-percent of their time to it and then they go to work. It's not like I didn't know that didn't go on or exist, but those guys are f**king, those are fighters."