Fighters and Trainers Answer: Is Phil ‘CM Punk’ Brooks Ready for His UFC Debut?

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Former World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) superstar Phil “CM Punk” Brooks makes his professional Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) debut on Saturday, at UFC 203. Now almost 21 months removed from this surprising career change, and with almost as much time spent training, finding an answer to the question; “Is Phil Brooks ready for his debut?” is readily available.

After his signing with the UFC, Brooks quickly chose to do his training with Duke Roufus, at his well-respected Roufusport gym in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It is the home of MMA stars like former UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis and ONE Championship welterweight kingpin Ben Askren.

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Recently, cable network Fox Sports 1 debuted a four-part series—The Evolution of Punk—chronicling his journey towards fight readiness. With that footage available, along with the knowledge we have of Brooks before training, we felt it was a good time to get thoughts from personalities within the industry. And see if he has had enough time to prepare for his bout on Sep. 10.

MMASucka: CM Punk has been training towards an MMA debut for the better part of 19 months (he missed two months due to shoulder surgery). In your opinion, is that enough time for his coaches at Roufusport to get him prepared for UFC-level competition? It should be noted Punk has had zero amateur bouts and has no notable ranking in a base martial art.

Colin Oyama (Owner and head coach at Team Oyama gym. He has over 18 years of MMA coaching experience): There is an entertainment value that the UFC wants, so that re-defines what “UFC-level” competition means. For example, in pro boxing any promoter can go out and find a “pro” to fight against any level of entry opponent. The UFC can probably do the same. But would he stand a chance against an average level fighter that’s competitive in the UFC circuit? I don’t believe so, not in 19 months.

Is Phil Brooks ready for his debut?

Anthony “2 Ton Tony” Ciampa (3-0 Amateur heavyweight, fighting out of American Top Team): Honestly speaking, even though he was a physical-performance athlete, I think that it takes more than 19 months to be ready for a shot at the big leagues.

Leonardo “Danger” Perez (Featherweight fighter based out of Bonebreaker Gym, with 14 amateur/professional bouts): I don’t think he has had enough time to be competitive in the UFC. He just hasn’t had the experience in the cage. Training and fighting are two different things and he is jumping straight into the big leagues.

MMASucka: Have you watched any episodes of “The Evolution of Punk,” the series following his training? If you have viewed the show, how do you think he has looked? And is his progression at a good enough rate to be competitive with Mickey Gall?

Oyama: Never watched the show, but I’ve seen clips that my guys have shown. Seems like they are trying to make this guy look worse than he really is. Because if he’s really that bad, he’s gonna get hurt. I highly doubt Duke and the guys at Roufusport are that crazy. They are high-caliber trainers and I’m pretty sure they know what they are up against.

Ciampa: After watching a few segments of the show, there hasn’t been enough physical evidence of improvement to be ready for such a game opponent like Mickey Gall. Mickey has put the work in and earned every respect to be a top martial artist in his craft.

“I highly doubt Duke and the guys at Roufusport are that crazy. They are high-caliber trainers and I’m pretty sure they know what they are up against.” – Colin Oyama

Paul Gavoni (Striking coach for American Top Team. Nearly 15 years of MMA coaching experience): It is clear that “CM Punk” has made progress. The problem is that it takes many, many, many repetitions to become an expert in something. This includes failures and mastery experiences so that “CM Punk” can build his skills and his self-efficacy.

Perez: I saw some of his training videos and some highlights from his show. He just doesn’t look like a complete fighter yet and he hasn’t found his style.

MMASucka: How valuable is being in amateur bouts before going professional?

Oyama: Ammy [Amateur] experience helps. Whether it’s boxing, wrestling, BJJ, kickboxing, anything. Normally we put our kids in stand up fights, BJJ tournaments and wrestling matches, so that provides most of our ammy experience.

Ciampa: I think anyone interested in competing in this sport should have to compete in the amateur divisions. I mean it’s safer for the fighter and also lets the coaches notice what needs improvement.

Gavoni: I would not recommend anybody turn pro without having amateur fights. I believe the experience is invaluable for not only strengthening a fighter psychologically, but it also allows the coach and fighter to analyze the fighter’s performance, then systematically build off of their strengths while targeting weaknesses for improvement.

Perez: Amateur fights help you see what you suck at or what you need to work on. So when you make the jump to pros you will be a better and more complete fighter. Jumping to the pros is a big difference and you can seriously get hurt.

MMASucka: Can hard sparring and simulated bouts in the gym make up for amateur bouts?

“While sparring is necessary to improve the fighter’s skills and self-efficacy, it still does not replicate the actual fight conditions that will occur.” – Dr. Paul Gavoni

Oyama: They can if you treat the sparring session like a fight. We have done that with our entry level guys. They make weight, and Saturday morning in front of their peers, they go at it. Is it as good as a fight? Probably not, but if they are out in those situations it’s better than nothing. Fighting gives you the experience of dealing with someone who doesn’t like you and is trying to hurt you.

Ciampa: There are too many variables missing to be considered as a valid substitution. He doesn’t know what it’s like to have to cut the weight before the fight, or the pre-fight jitters before being called to the cage. He’s just comfortable because he’s in his gym, getting ready to go out to another day of training or sparring.

Gavoni: While sparring is necessary to improve the fighter’s skills and self-efficacy, it still does not replicate the actual fight conditions that will occur. In other words, the buildup, the weight cut, the walk out, the crowd, and all the other pressures that occur with the actual fight. That being said I thought it was smart his coaches set up “CM Punk” to spar in front of a crowd of people to provide conditions that more closely mirrored an actual fight.

“I see him losing against Mickey Gall.” – Leonardo Perez

Perez: Hard sparring and drilling will help prepare, you but nothing like having your first fight! No one goes in there their first fight and just does exactly what they trained.

MMASucka: Do you think he can beat Mickey Gall at UFC 203? Gall is 2-0 as a pro and 3-0 as an amateur.

Oyama: The biggest advantage Gall has is the fact that he’s doing this to become a pro fighter, and obviously has sacrificed a lot to get to where he is now. I’m sure Mr. “Punk” has had to sacrifice a lot to make it in pro wrestling, but I’m not sure if the hunger is the same as a guy like Gall. I do know if it was one of my entry-level pro’s fighting against him, we would definitely have no reservations about fighting “CM Punk.” At some point in the fight “CM Punk” is gonna realize he is in a real fight, and then how he reacts from that point forward will determine his fate.

Ciampa: Phil Brooks is going in there with everything to prove, which can also take a mental toll. [Brooks could be thinking] I have to show all these people here that I belong. That in itself can be very draining, so it will be fun to see how he holds up under the pressure, and bright lights, of the biggest stage in all of MMA. So all in all I think this is going to be a fun match to watch either way!

“Phil Brooks is going in there with everything to prove, which can also take a mental toll.” – Anthony Ciampa

Gavoni: The answer is yes. However, the limited observations I’ve had of him and his opponent suggest to me that winning will be a very difficult task for “CM Punk.” He will likely lose. However, anything can happen. This is the beauty of MMA.

Perez: I see him loosing against Mickey Gall.

“I definitely see myself winning, and if I had to pick, I’d pick (T)KO,” Brooks recently said in a media call. And without a doubt, confidence is key towards success in any sporting endeavor. As for his opponent, he doesn’t have as much confidence in where Brooks will be at, skill-wise, going into the bout. “I’m not particularly impressed, just different things, the way he moves. I’m sure he’s improved tremendously since that footage [from the Fox Sports 1 series] but I know when he gets to the fight those bad habits tend to come out, and I know I’ll be able to expose those,” said Gall on the same media call.

For many outside of the Roufusport camp, the odds seem stacked against Brooks, and for good reason. He is taking on a challenge rarely seen at this steep a level of the sport. Even if he is not victorious in his debut, he will have earned respect from fighters, coaches, analysts and fans. He is living out a dream many others have had. And this story is so fascinating that the MMA masses will be glued to their screens to see how it all plays out at UFC 203.

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New York resident Jason Burgos is the co-host of the Fight Strength Podcast. He has written for lastwordonsports.com, pwpnation.com, bronxjournal.com, and SportsandPolitics.org. He is currently a senior editor for mmasucka.com.

Jason has a degree in journalism from Lehman College, and hopes to one day be a familiar name and face on your web browsers when perusing pro-sports sites.

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