On Monday night, Fox Sports 1 aired the first episode of the new UFC documentary series The Evolution of Punk, chronicling Phil “CM Punk” Brooks’ long, difficult journey from WWE to the Octagon. As many fans know, his UFC debut has been pushed back again and again. Now he’s finally set to fight Mickey Gall at UFC 203 and so we’re getting a look at this documentary series, which has a fair share of revelations due to its all-access nature.
A lot of the background content, of course, was nothing new to longtime WWE and CM Punk fans, particularly those who have seen Punk’s Best in the World DVD. But this is a really wonderfully-made documentary that pulls no punches in admitting that Punk is completely out of his league and is likely setting himself up for epic failure — which is seemingly something that MMA and wrestling fans alike are actively rooting for.
His training is intense, and it is frustrating
As Punk has been quick to point out, he drives three hours a day from his Chicago home to his Wisconsin training camp. Of course, as he is also quick to point out, he is no stranger to long drives due to his years in wrestling. Compared to his indie days, a daily three-hour drive is pretty much a walk in the park.
What isn’t so easy is his actual daily training. We get an all-access look at said training, starting from just a few weeks in at Roufusport. We meet head coach Duke Roufus and striking coach Scott Cushman, both of whom work with Punk extensively, along with a team of others. He trains for hours a day. And as we see early on, he often gets tied up in his own head, overthinking things and getting strikes and blocking backwards, driving himself up the wall with his failure to grasp things right away.
Punk says the good thing about not training extensively previously is that he doesn’t have bad habits he has to unlearn. Of course, what’s left unsaid is that since he hasn’t previously trained extensively, he has to learn absolutely everything from the ground up, much, much later in life than most MMA fighters.
He’s a good husband and his home life is totally normal
We see a lot of AJ Lee, credited as “April Brooks.” She was also acknowledged as being a three-time “Women’s Champion,” which is nice that that branding is carrying over to WWE. Either that, or they were unwilling to acknowledge the “Divas” label, even though they showed the old Divas Championship belt.
We first see her when Punk brings home a bag full of donuts when arriving home from training. They’re both clearly nuts about each other and spend a lot of time stealing adoring glances at one another and canoodling on the couch watching television. It’s so aggressively normal and wonderful that it’s completely heartwarming. Unless you hate Punk’s guts, of course. Then your heart may not be warmed.
He’s already getting the crap beat out of him
Punk is getting hit in the head a lot during sparring, because he’s still learning striking and striking defense. He’s also learning grappling, and takedown defense, and submission defense. It’s not going well, as you can see in this clip from his first sparring session (at Week 8 of his training!), where he gets tapped out twice, while looking incredibly sad and frustrated.
I certainly wasn’t expecting this documentary to be quite this warts-and-all, including tragic music under his failures and reaction shots from disapproving fellow fighters. But this is clearly the story: Punk is a fish out of water and everyone is expecting him to fail, if not get outright embarrassed.
He’ll never get away from wrestling
Punk, of course, is desperate to separate himself from the pro wrestling world that brought him fame and prove himself as a “legitimate” athlete, but he’ll never be able to truly put pro wrestling behind him. We see Punk at a signing session at Challenger Comics in Chicago, putting his autograph on scads of photos, action figures and mementos from his life in WWE. He met his wife in wrestling. He made his name there.
And his sparring partners aren’t afraid to remind him where he came from, either, like Ben Askren cheekily giving Punk a Stone Cold Stunner during a training session.
He may have mellowed out since he left WWE
During the segment where he goes to his autograph signing, Punk talks about how if he has inspired one person to do something they didn’t think they could do, that’s what it’s all about. It seems like it might just be lip service, but it’s definitely wonderful and surprising to see him smiling and hugging fans and gabbing with grinning kids. It’s certainly something we never saw or heard about much when he was in WWE, and if this is all genuine, I’m extremely happy for him and glad that he’s either found peace or is closer to finding it.
Of course, his numerous interviews since leaving wrestling have been just as bristly as ever, but one would imagine he’s used to the same questions and the same condescending attitude from people who think he’ll never be able to stick as an MMA fighter, or people who are expecting him to be an embarrassment to two entirely different sports.
This is going to be a fascinating series to watch — almost as fascinating as his first fight will almost certainly turn out to be.