Phil Brooks, also known as CM Punk, is finally entering the Octagon to compete for the first time at UFC 203, 645 days after announcing his deal with the promotion, and his jiu-jitsu coach Daniel Wanderley expects the former WWE superstar to prove doubters wrong Saturday in Cleveland.
CM Punk had a long, long way to go before his professional MMA debut against 2-0 welterweight Mickey Gall. The professional wrestler joined Roufusport MMA in Milwaukee in January 2015, and had the hard task of being ready to compete in the biggest stage in a matter of months.
"It’s been exactly a year and a half since he entered the gym for the first time to train," Wanderley told MMA Fighting. "I’m not a WWE fan, so I had no idea who he was. When he came to the gym, people told me his WWE credentials, but he was very humble. He introduced himself as Phillip, his real name.
"He had little experience. I believe he trained two weeks with the Gracies after he signed with the UFC, but came here very green in the jiu-jitsu area. At first he didn’t like to put the gi on to train, but realized later that it was necessary to learn the basics of jiu-jitsu and evolve on the ground, and he has evolved a lot in the past six months."
Wanderley says he will be in CM Punk’s corner at UFC 203, and was shocked when he watched the welterweight’s evolution compared to his first sparring sessions.
"He trains three times a week, and it has been gratifying for us to see him learn," said the coach. "It’s hard for someone without experience to fight in the UFC, but he’s well prepared now. These past few weeks have been impressive. There’s a TV show on Fox Sports called ‘Evolution of Punk,' and watching his first videos of training, how green he was in MMA, and see him spar today, it’s impressive."
CM Punk had a lot of attention from MMA fans around him ever since he decided to join the UFC, and he quickly found out he had to be humble in order to learn every aspect of the game and become a real mixed martial artist.
"When he came to the gym he joined the professional team right away, but they were too ahead of him," Wanderley said. "We convinced him to move to the amateur team and take regular jiu-jitsu and kickboxing classes, and that’s when he started to evolve. In the professional team, they ended up helping him, letting him do things instead of just beat him, so he wasn’t actually learning. You have to achieve something in training. He changed, and then started training in both teams."
After a 3-0 record as an amateur, Mickey Gall stopped Ron Templeton in a local show in Philadelphia and called out CM Punk. UFC president Dana White gave him a chance in the Octagon, but he had to defeat MMA newcomer Mike Jackson in February to earn a shot at Punk. Gall needed 45 seconds to win in Las Vegas, and the CM Punk vs. Mickey Gall fight was set.
"Coach Duke Roufus is really excited for his debut," Wanderley said. "I’m excited, too, especially because he embraced jiu-jitsu and he listens to me as a coach. We know how hard it is to be there. Many people want him to win and many people want him to lose. Many people think he will put on a show, or the other way. We are focused and ready. He will win this fight. Gall is saying that he will win in 45 seconds, saying it’s an easy fight, but it won’t be like that. We will win this."
"Gall is young and hungry," he continued. "He did well in his first UFC fight, I liked his performance. He didn’t fight an experienced opponent, but he did well. He did a good job standing, but his grappling is his best weapon. He’s a purple belt in jiu-jitsu and probably, I don’t know, he will try to take (Punk) down. We’re ready for everything. I’ve watched some of his previous MMA fights and grappling matches, so I know his game a lot. He thinks it’s an easy fight because WWE is a fake fight where nobody actually hurts the opponent, but we will surprise him. Don’t underestimate our athlete, we’ll surprise you. He’s not expecting Punk to be so well prepared.
"(Punk’s) injuries were an issue because he had to stay away from training for a while to recover, but it was also good because he had more time to study the sport and watch more fights. After the second injury, he started using the gi more, and he started to understand the sport and learn the positions better. He couldn’t submit white belts before, and now he’s catching blue belts in the gym. Belts don’t win fights, but he has evolved a lot on the ground and standing. We believe in his punching power. He’s in great shape. His evolution makes me happy. He’s becoming a real martial artist."
The jiu-jitsu coach believes in CM Punk’s punching power, and predicts a TKO victory in Cleveland.
"My guess is he will surprise everyone with his boxing," Wanderley said. "He’s prepared for everything. His opponent will try to take him down right away, but Punk has heavy hands. I also see him taking him down and finishing the fight with some heavy ground and pound. We’re training that a lot. I see him finishing Gall with punches. A fight is a fight, but I see him knocking him out standing or stopping him on the ground."
CM Punk turns 38 years old six weeks after his UFC debut, and guarantees that he will fight again after UFC 203. According to Wanderley, Punk also wants to enter a jiu-jitsu tournament in the future.
"At his age, I don’t know if his goal is to have a long career in this sport, become champion or something like that. He’s really focused in this fight. One step at a time," Wanderley said. "He has a lot of pressure over him now so he’s not thinking about the future. He told me ‘coach, after I win this fight, I want to enter a jiu-jitsu tournament to deserve my blue belt. I want to show I’m a real jiu-jitsu fighter.’ It was awesome to hear that.
"He sees other fighter competing when they are not in camp, and that motivates him. He saw Brock Lesnar getting his blue belt, and he knows it’s not easy to get a belt here. You can win the UFC belt, but if you don’t train in the gi, you’re not getting a jiu-jitsu belt. I can’t talk about his future, but I’m sure he will want to do it again after he feels how victory tastes like. Once you fight, you want to test yourself against other fighters, so I believe we’ll see Punk again after this win."