By the time Mickey Gall punched his golden ticket to welcome CM Punk into the UFC, Punk already had a feeling the date might be postponed. Unfortunately, he ended up being right. Punk, whose real name is Phil Brooks, underwent surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back less than a week after Gall's victory at UFC Fight Night 82, delaying the former professional wrestler's Octagon debut until later this year.
"Thankfully, the silver lining is that we didn't actually have a date," Punk said Monday on The MMA Hour.
"I felt like sh*t about it. I wanted to tell everybody, but it was also a case of let's just see where this goes and see what happens. I got the MRI Friday night and I was literally diagnosed Saturday, right before I walked out to watch Mickey and Michael Jackson fight."
For Punk, the confirmation of an injury represented both good and bad news. While it drastically reduced any hopes of him fighting in the summer, it also answered a lot of questions the 37-year-old had been dealing with for years -- questions which hampered his mixed martial arts training and often left him sidelined after basic tasks.
"It was certainly a bitter pill to swallow, but there is a flipside to the coin that I was trying to focus on," Punk said. "That, holy sh*t, I have a herniated disk and I have had this herniated disk. Who knows how long I've had it? I was relieved to get properly diagnosed and it was exciting almost to go, okay, we can take care of this, and then when I come back I'll be 100-percent. Because there's always little things.
"If I got taken down, sometimes that put me on the shelf for a couple days. So it was a relief to go, oh wow, remember when that happened in the gym? Or, remember when I did this? There's been things I omitted from training just because it bothered me. On days where I would work on kicks all day, it f*cked me up the next day. Now we took care of it and that won't happen anymore, so I was really, in that moment when I was watching the fight, just kind of excited for, oh man, let's fix this, and I'm not going to have that nagging -- literally -- pain in my ass anymore."
Punk, a former WWE champion who in 2014 signed with the UFC with no prior martial arts experience, is scheduled to visit his doctor again for a follow-up appointment on Tuesday. Six weeks have passed since he went under the knife, and although Punk doesn't yet have a timetable for his return to training at Roufusport, he is hoping to be cleared to begin that process soon.
While the road to his eventual UFC debut has been frustrating, Punk said that both UFC president Dana White and UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta responded to his latest setback in a way that differed greatly from his former boss, WWE head honcho Vince McMahon.
"(They handled it) wonderfully, in my opinion," Punk said. "I was in with Dana and Lorenzo, and we were talking, and Dr. Sanders just came up and he goes, ‘alright, here it is.' He laid it all on the table for us. Of course, Dana lets out this big sigh, and he's like, ‘ugh, we can't get a break.' So immediately I go into, ‘well, maybe there's a shot I can get? Maybe I can do cortisone? Whatever.' And Lorenzo and Dana stop me, and they went, ‘no, no, no, it is what it is. We just want you to get fixed and get healthy. We have shows every month, don't worry about it.'
"It's just, the timing sucked. I'm literally about to walk out and do this thing (at UFC Fight Night 82). And they were great. It's hard not to compare and contrast to where I used to work before. It was just a relief to finally have a boss who was like, ‘no, no, just get fixed, we want you 100-percent, we want you to be healthy,' not interested in throwing a band-aid on a bullet wound just to parade me out in front of people. So it was a relief, and it felt nice."
Punk's initial goal was to fight Gall on July 9 at UFC 200, however it appears there is only a "10-percent" chance of that now coming to fruition.
After giving target dates for his UFC debut in the past, and in turn receiving public flack for those dates passing without a fight, Punk was noncommittal when asked Monday when he thinks he'll fight in the UFC, stating only that it would assuredly happen in 2016.
"I don't know," Punk said. "Part of me, I've learned from my past mistakes and I'm not going to say a date that everyone's going to get married to, and then I'm going to have to hear about how I'm never going to fight. I'm going to fight. It's going to be this year. And like I said, I see the [doctor] tomorrow, and I'm going to talk with him about all kinds of other extracurricular things I can do to probably speed this along. See if I can start doing acupuncture again, things like that. In my mind, that card at [Madison Square] Garden (in November) would be a nice second fight, but I don't know how realistic that is, because again, I don't want to say things that people are going to be taking to heart.
"I have optimistic goals. I've always had optimistic goals and we're just going to see if my back can cooperate with that."
Punk knows his latest update will bring another round of vocal detractors out of the woodwork. It happens nearly every time Punk finds his name in the news, and while it is something he tries not to pay attention to, Punk acknowledged that he does hear the constant negativity online, and he is looking forward to the day he can put it to rest and just go out there and fight.
"I'm the kind of guy who focuses on positive stuff," Punk said, "because when you're alone and you're in your own thoughts, you can drive yourself crazy listening to the negative. But yeah, the negative stuff, the haters, that drives me. Proving people wrong is something I've done my entire life, and not only do I think I'm good at it, it's fun. When you get people who say, ‘oh, you can't do that,' it's less about me and it's more about their own insecurities. I really just want to show everybody the positive side of it. Like, yeah, f*ck you. We can do this, and it's for every kid out there who's ever been told, ‘no you can't do something,' and then they actually listen to that and they believe it. I've never been one who believed it.
"So if anybody can take anything away from it, it's that, hey, we all die. It's going to happen to all of us. Before it happens, just make sure you do everything that you possibly to make sure that your life is meaningful and fun."