C.M. Punk taking on new challenge, critics in UFC

Former WWE champion C.M. Punk will make his UFC debut in September.

It’s been a while since C.M. Punk made any significant noise in the pro wrestling world, but the former WWE champion is finally poised to test his skills in an MMA ring.

The controversial and outspoken grappler will make his long-awaited UFC debut when he faces Mickey Gall in a welterweight bout at UFC 203 on Sept. 10 at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena — coincidentally the same venue he walked out of in his final WWE appearance in 2014.

Punk, who signed with UFC later that year, is cautiously optimistic entering his first fight. Many critics have questioned the 37-year-old Punk’s transition to the Octagon and the extended wait — partially due to shoulder and back injuries suffered during training — for his maiden outing. Some even suggested that he would never go through with stepping into the hallowed eight-sided, cage-link enclosure.

“If you don’t want to watch me fight, don’t watch me fight,” Punk defiantly addressed detractors last year. Mimicking a sector of combat sports purists — “Oh, this is terrible for the sport, we hate him. We’re not going to support it,” Punk responded: “Yeah, you’re going to watch it. And they want to watch it, that’s the funny thing about it. They can say it’s a PR stunt, they can say whatever. I know I’m going to get my day in the Octagon, and I’m going to have fun doing it.”

Even UFC head honcho Dana White acknowledged some fans’ reservations over throwing out the UFC playbook and signing an inexperienced amateur fighter with no real MMA background.

“Some people love it, some people hate it … Every fight that we do isn’t going to be everybody’s thing, but there will be people who want to watch him and those that don’t,” said White.

Punk, whose real name is Phil Brooks, dismisses the doubters.

“I think there’s probably something seriously wrong with me. Everyone is trying to figure out why I would want to do this. I’m a guy who gets bored easily and I have goals and there’s things in life I enjoy. It’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey,” Punk said on a recent MMA podcast.

There’s no denying that Punk was one of the most notable UFC signings in recent years. While he enters the sport as a largely unknown quantity, Punk’s charisma and success in the wrestling business make him an intriguing prospect.

“There’s something pure about it that nobody outside that cage can touch. Do I think that I’m ruining the sport? No, absolutely not,” Punk told Fox Sports. “Do I know that there are people that are going to say that? Yeah, absolutely, but I don’t have to see them on a daily basis, and when I want to shut them off, I just don’t read my Twitter.”

The unheralded Gall, who has only two fights to his credit, will be in a similar situation on Sept. 10. While the 24-year-old newcomer has won both of his pro bouts so far, including an impressive 45-second submission win against Mike Jackson in February, his UFC career could be short-lived if he falls to his older and less experienced opponent. Early betting odds have favored Gall.

That’s not a concern for Punk. Not only is he out to prove he can earn a spot on the card on his talent, but Punk firmly believes he can be a credible title contender if he can put three or four wins together. Despite the controversy, moving from WWE to UFC was a logical transition.

“I’ve been getting beat up for most of my adult life … it put me in a good position,’ Punk told Rolling Stone magazine.

Noted for his infamous 2013 “Pipe Bomb” promo and his abrupt and acrimonious departure from WWE, Punk recently told Fox Sports radio host Colin Cowherd that he had considered transitioning to MMA when his WWE contract was initially up in 2011.

He opted instead to remain with WWE, winning the world title in his hometown of Chicago on the final night of his contract at the Money in the Bank pay-per-view.

“Back in 2011, my contract was up and they were trying to re-sign me, and they were trying to re-sign me for low-ball figures. That’s what they do to the guys. They’re indentured servants. They try to pay them the smallest amount of money you can possibly pay them, there’s no health insurance, you’re responsible for your own travel, hotel and food on the road, and home once a day, maybe. And I did that 10 years to get to WWE, and then I did it 10 years there. My gas tank was empty in that regard.

“In 2011, it was kind of hanging in the balance there. I made the decision to re-sign. It’s not that I regret that decision. It’s just that if I did not re-sign, I would have dedicated myself 100 percent to this. That chapter of my book is over with. And now I one hundred percent dedicate to this. It’s just later than I anticipated. And it’s a bitter challenge now because I’m older.”

If Punk’s scathing spiel several years ago was indeed a “pipe bomb,” his parting shot after bolting WWE in 2014 could have been characterized as a “nuclear bomb.”

Punk, who cited creative, financial and physical frustrations with the company, leveled damaging claims regarding WWE’s concussion testing, wellness program and employment practices. Punk also revealed that WWE fired him on his wedding day to fellow performer AJ Lee, and he claimed that the company pressured him to return to the ring following surgeries. He accused one wrestler of carelessly breaking his ribs in a match and said a company doctor misdiagnosed a staph infection in his back and ignored concussion symptoms.

It was a “toxic environment,” claimed Punk, one that inevitably led to him leaving the organization.

Punk was sued by WWE physician Chris Amann over incendiary comments he made during his no-holds-barred appearance on Colt Cabana’s “Art of Wrestling” podcast in November 2014 about Amann’s treatment of Punk while in WWE. Cabana (Scott Colton) also was named in the defamation of character suit.

Punk, who became one of the most polarizing figures in the wrestling business during his final run with WWE, recently told Cowherd that he had become bored and tired of wrestling. His creativity had been stifled.

“I didn’t have the best relationships with my bosses. It kind of went sideways there at the end, not that it was ever a bed of roses.”

Like in most cases, one side is not completely justified, nor is one side completely wrong.

Punk, after all, did make the most money in his career during his WWE run. He did hold the WWE title for a modern-day record of 434 days. And he was arguably booked better than all but a select few major talents on the roster.

Several years ago, he told GQ magazine that he made WWE socially relevant again.

“I was surrounded by a lot of old-timers on the independent scene before I went to WWE,” said Punk. “They were always like, ‘Kid, you gotta get out. You gotta get in to get out. You can make a stupid amount of money, but you stick around, you wear out your welcome, something bad is going to happen.’ Curt Hennig told me that. Harley Race told me that. Guys that were legends in the sport and made their money until they didn’t get out. So, I said I’m going to listen to the old, wise sages and get in to get out.”

It could be the same exit strategy that Punk utilizes if his UFC experiment turns out to be a bust.

The 15-year wrestling veteran knows that time isn’t on his side. He’s 37 and his body has absorbed a lot of damage. It’s a bigger challenge now that he’s older. But he marches to the beat of his own drummer, and he’s determined to prove the naysayers wrong.

“I’m somebody who constantly wants to challenge himself, evolve and grow,” Punk told Rolling Stone. “Because if you don’t, you fade. You become stagnant. I’m somebody who tries to remain positive and looks forward to setting goals and reaching them. But that’s easier said than done. When it’s all said and done, my actions will speak for me to help define me.”

At the very least, Punk’s debut in the Octagon should generate some excitement among pro wrestling and MMA fans, all of whom remain thirsty for new, marketable stars.

Even if he loses, Punk says it will all be worth it, since it’s a dream that he’s chasing.

“If I try and fail, at least I’ve tried. And a true failure is not trying.”

Jerry “The King” Lawler was reinstated by WWE on Friday after charges were dropped in his domestic violence case.

Assault charges against his fiancee, Lauryn McBride, also were dismissed in a Memphis courtroom.

The 66-year-old Lawler and the 27-year-old McBride were arrested several weeks ago after police came to their West Memphis home following an altercation between the two. Police arrested both of them as they couldn’t determine who was the primary aggressor.

Lawler’s attorney said after Friday’s court hearing that the incident was “a big misunderstanding and won’t happen again. We are happy with the outcome.”

WWE released the following: “Jerry Lawler’s legal matter has been resolved and his suspension has been lifted, effective immediately.”

Lawler is expected to return on the Tuesday night Smackdown tapings in Toledo, Ohio.

Former WWE star Carlito will make his first Old School Championship Wrestling appearance on July 31 at the group’s “Summer Heat Wave” event.

Known for spitting an apple “in the face of people who don’t want to be cool,” Carlito (Carly Colon) was a mainstay in WWE for six years.

Son of legendary Puerto Rican wrestler Carlos Colon, Carlito debuted in WWE in 2004 when he defeated John Cena for the U.S. title in his very first match. He also won the Intercontinental title during his run with the company that ended in 2010.

Earlier this year, Carlito won the Puerto Rico-based World Wrestling Council’s Universal Championship.

Brothers Primo and Epico (Primo and Eddie Colon) currently work as a tag team in WWE.

Also featured on the July 31 bill are former WWE star Gangrel and PWX champion John Skyler.

BCW will hold a show at 2 p.m. July 9 at Frothy Beard Brewing Company, 7358 Peppermill Parkway, North Charleston.

Tickets are $7 and can be purchased the day of show or at Frothy Beard Brewing Company.

The crowning of the first BCW heavyweight champion will highlight a six-match card.

Reach Mike Mooneyham at bymikemooneyham@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter at @ByMike Mooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.