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Duke Roufus: CM Punk is a ‘natural striker,’ and that ‘makes me happy’

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Two months into Phil Brooks’ training at Roufusport in Milwaukee, he’s coming along in the mixed martial arts. Or so says his coach Duke Roufus himself, who is helping convert CM Punk the pro wrestler into CM Punk the viable UFC fighter.

Roufus appeared on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour and said that the highest profile, zero-experience UFC fighter going is more than just a block of moldable clay. He’s a guy who can put aside his ego and get his nose dirty in the gym on a daily basis.

"He’s putting his work in, he shows up every day," the 45-year old Roufus told Ariel Helwani. "He has a great attitude. He didn’t become successful in the WWE by accident. It’s because he was a worker and he was a value to the organization, not only in the front as a face, but in who he is. People get behind people that are easy to work with, and he’s so easy to work with. It’s awesome.

"That being said, he came in with Gracie jiu-jitsu. The natural thing he’s good at, which makes me happy, is striking. He’s a natural striker. When he did a scrimmage last week, he was pretty comfortable in the fire. He didn’t freak out, he didn’t panic. That’s what I’m looking for in new fighters. It’s not necessarily skill. You can teach skill, but you can’t teach will. Are they going to run and break during a fight, or are they going to get in there and survive the fire? And that’s what I was impressed with. I think in time, all his skills are going to advance, but if he has the mindset and the will, he’s going to do great."

Brooks trained jiu-jitsu for a couple of years sporadically with Rener Gracie in Los Angeles around his hectic travel schedule in pro wrestling. He’s long been a fan of mixed martial arts, to the point that speculation began to grow that he was considering a transition into the literal realm of fighting long before the announcement. In December, Brooks made it official during the UFC 181 pay-per-view telecast.

That announcement, of course, was met with both excitement and outrage from the MMA community. The star power versus actual merit debate. MMA gyms, however, were rolling out the red carpet for the 36-year old CM Punk to come join their teams.

As a native of the Chicago area, Roufusport -- just 80 miles away -- was a comfortable fit. And with names like Ben Askren and Anthony Pettis in place to help bring him along, Brooks didn’t have to sweat his decision.

Roufus has heard the criticism towards CM Punk, and reiterated on the show that A) the fight game is about star attraction, so the UFC’s decision to sign him was a no-brainer and B) he’s not going to let CM Punk fall on his face, as so many people expect.

"Part of fighting is marquee value," he said. "Unfortunately, other sports are about being the best. The neat thing about fighting, it’s about how many butts can you put in the seats and marquee value. That being said, I will not let Punk go out and make a mockery of himself or our sport. I love this sport. He’s putting serious work in, he’s putting serious training in, and what I love about him is the attitude. He’s so hungry, and you know what, he doesn’t expect to be treated like a prima donna. He’s running towards the fire instead of running away from it."

In assessing where Punk is after two months, as well as how far he can go in the sport, Roufus didn’t want to put undo expectations on his new charge.

"I don’t know if he’s going to be a champion or a contender, but a lot of guys in the UFC aren’t champions or contenders -- but they’re popular," he said. "They bring fans. They’ve been in the organization for years. Guys like Clay Guida. Guys like Gleison Tibau, they’ve been in the organization -- Cole Miller. They’ve been there a while. Everybody wants to be the champion, but that’s the cool thing about the UFC, it’s so hard to be the champion. That’s what makes it special. If you do contribute to the organization, you’re always going to have a job and fight for the UFC. Even a guy like Donald Cerrone who is closest to the belt I think he’s ever been, but we’ve always loved Donald Cerrone because that’s Donald Cerrone. You know you’re going to have a show when Cerrone shows up."

As far as when he thinks CM Punk will make his UFC debut, Roufus wasn’t sure. He didn’t speculate as to whether it would be in 2015 or not, but did say that taking the appropriate amount of time to prepare was beneficial to all involved.

"I would like a year, honestly," he said. "Because I want him to be the best product for himself, for the organization, and for the industry. I mean, I want him to go out there and put on a great fight and do great things. Again, the value…his fans are amazing. I just think that his fans…his fans are just going to elevate out sport to a whole new level. MMA is big, but we can always get bigger, and I’m a firm believer that high tide raises all ships.

"What I like about the high tide is it’s helping a lot of people chase their dreams. I’m a firm believer that the big names can help all names in our industry, which I believe doesn’t help in boxing."

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