NEW YORK >> CM Punk’s body looks like the comics he loves to read, illustrated from chest to feet with so many tattoos he’s lost count.
For a guy known for moving the needle in WWE, it turns out his favorite spot to stick it is right in his own skin. His latest tattoo is one of his favorites: the Chicago-made superstar had the Stanley Cup and No. 13 inked on his left Achilles as a tribute to his beloved Blackhawks. There’s also an inscription at the base of the Cup, “My Summer Vacation.”
Punk had nothing but time this summer to add to his ink-stained collection after a nasty fallout with World Wrestling Entertainment — where he was one of the biggest stars in the company’s history — left him bitter at how his career unraveled and unsure of exactly what was next. Punk knew he needed time to recover from a series of injuries suffered from the daily grind of wrestling without a break and a mental respite from the constant clashes with WWE management.
Rest is over. Check your watch, it’s clobberin’ time once more.
At 36, Punk is refreshed, focused and confident he can make the gutsy transition from the big stage(d) fighting of pro wrestling to a mixed martial arts career inside the cage for Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Like Brock Lesnar before him, Punk could become the next WWE champ-turned-UFC pay-per-view box office heavyweight.
“I have bitten off a chunk of greatness that a lot of people perceive is too much for me to handle,” Punk said. “Those people don’t know me. They don’t even know what I can handle. I do.”
UFC is in the entertainment business just as much as the WWE, and it’s counting on those 4 million viewers that watched Punk wrestle every Monday on “Raw” to follow him during his PPV debut. UFC president Dana White announced the deal earlier this month, a needed jolt for a company that clearly needs new, marketable stars.
“He’s been training a lot in mixed martial arts, and we’re going to give him a shot,” White said. “This guy can definitely sell some units.”
Known as the “Best in the World” in WWE, Punk is just another rookie in UFC. But he’s skipping some steps along the way and a few notable fighters have lashed out at the special privilege afforded him. Punk is out to prove he can earn a spot on the card on his talent.
“If anything, I might create a spot for somebody,” Punk said. “Whoever gets to fight me, now’s your chance.”
Punk is faced with more questions than answers right now as he preps for a 2015 debut. Punk has been bouncing around the mats in Chicago and was still on the hunt for a training camp. At a media tour in New York, Punk said he had only a fall target date for his first bout. Punk wants to fight as a 185-pound middleweight (his MMA strength is jiu jitsu) and expects ring announcer Bruce Buffer will introduce him as Phil “CM Punk” Brooks.
“I’ve come this far with CM Punk. That’s what people know,” he said. “I’m trying to stick with that. I’m not shying away from it. I’m not ashamed of it.”
Punk walked away from WWE in January after a miserable final two years, with time left on his contract. On the outside, Punk appeared to have it all to die-hard wrestling fans. His 434 days with the WWE championship was the longest reign since Hulk Hogan in the 1980s. And he had feuds with stars like The Rock, John Cena, Undertaker and The Shield. At the same time, Punk had grown deflated on the road, unhappy with the grind, injuries that piled up and his spot as the champion who rarely had a spot in the main event.
“Imagine if UFC took Conor McGregor and they just put him on Fight Pass prelims, and they wouldn’t let him main event the big PPV or a big show,” Punk said. “That’s how I felt. I was the main event on all the house shows, I was the only guy that was touring live every single day. When it came time for the PPV main event, oh, someone else is coming in.”
Punk finally unloaded the details of his acrimonious departure from WWE on pro wrestler Colt Cabana’s “Art of Wrestling” podcast on Thanksgiving. Punk said WWE fired him on his wedding day to fellow wrestler AJ Lee. He also said WWE pressured him to return to the ring following surgeries, said a company doctor misdiagnosed a staph infection in his back, ignored concussion symptoms and accused one wrestler of carelessly breaking his ribs in a match.
“I share some of the blame because I had that mentality of the wrestler,” Punk said. “I have to go out there and wrestle to get paid. I have to tough it out. Whatever it is, I’ll tape it up. That’s just the wrestlers mentality. But at some point, you go over the line.”
WWE issued statements wishing Punk well in UFC and that the company “takes the health and wellness of its talent very seriously.” Punk also said the WWE has been “commendable” in its fair treatment toward Lee since he departed.
Punk said he will never return to WWE.
“They didn’t like me long before I left and there’s no reason to pretend there needs to be any kind of working relationship,” he said.
Punk has found bliss as a blossoming comic author and his “Thor Annual No. 1” under the Marvel Comics banner is set for a February release. He’ll write a tale of “Strange Sports Stories” next year for the DC Comics Vertigo imprint.
From comic con to the octagon, Punk is ready for what’s ahead.
“Part of the reason I’m doing this is just to maybe inspire one kid, one kid who’s told he can’t do something,” he said. “If I try and fail, at least I’ve tried. And a true failure is not trying.”