CM Punk: 'If I set foot in the Octagon, I've already won'

— -- This shouldn't come as a shock, considering his former line of work, but it usually doesn't take Phil Brooks long to make an impression.

Take UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, for example. He first met Brooks, better known as former pro wrestler CM Punk, in January 2015, and thanks to pure coincidence, the two joined Roufusport martial arts academy in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, around the same time.

Punk, 37, was brand new to the sport at that point, signing with the UFC the previous month despite having no experience. Woodley was a veteran who, as it would turn out, was just 18 months away from winning a UFC title.

Unlike some of his peers, Woodley never took issue with Punk's fast track to the UFC. He wasn't necessarily a fan either. He was indifferent to Punk's story at first, but quickly came to respect him, even learn from him.

"One of the first conversations we had, we were talking about the WWE, and he told this story about early in his career, a guy came down from the big circuit and asked if anyone knew how to ride a motorcycle," Woodley said. "Everyone in the room started answering, 'No, no, no.' Punk stood up and said, 'I can ride a bike.' The guy said, 'Cool, we're pulling you up for this show.' After he left, everybody was like, 'Man, you're so lucky. If only I knew how to ride a bike,' and Punk said, 'I don't know how to ride a bike, but I'll learn between now and then.'

"He was telling this story like it was funny or a joke, but it was inspiring to me. Just that mindset: You don't have to have it all figured out."

It has taken longer than some originally expected, but that same mindset has carried Punk to his Octagon debut against Mickey Gall (2-0) at UFC 203 on Saturday inside Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena.

The impression Punk will ultimately have on MMA might take longer than the one he made on Woodley, Then again, maybe not. Perhaps Saturday will mark the start and finish of Punk's career, or maybe he'll fight into his 40s. It's hard to say.

A celebrity with no experience making his MMA debut in the sport's top promotion, against a 24-year-old opponent who was hand-picked during an internet mini-series -- there's no precedent for something like this.

At the very least, one would assume there's pressure on Punk to look respectable Saturday. Many view him as a privileged star who has been gifted an opportunity he doesn't deserve. Punk is not a fighter but has been afforded the luxury of the UFC's promotional muscle. He's taking attention away from the real athletes in Cleveland, and probably earning more than them. Those who see it this way want Punk to lose, badly -- enough that he'll never venture close to a cage again.

Punk and his team claim he's not feeling that pressure though. As trite as it sounds, he just wanted to get in a fight, and it isn't more complicated than that. Placing it under a spotlight only made sense, but it's not the main reason behind it.

"Punk gets hounded by people, but they're not seeing it from his perspective," UFC lightweight and Roufusport teammate Erik Koch?said. "Punk never asked to fight in the UFC. He said, 'Hey, this is something I'd like to try,' and when Dana White heard that, he jumped all over it. Punk said, 'I'd feel like a jackass if I turned this opportunity down. People kill for this opportunity.'

"I think a lot of people are under the impression there's this pressure on Punk, and in a way there is, but he's doing this to have fun. He's doing it because at the end of his life, he wants to look back and say, 'Hey, I did that s---.'"

In the last year, Punk uprooted his life from Chicago to Milwaukee to eliminate the daily drive to practice. At the peak intensity of his training, he was in the gym three times per day.

He has been a teammate to former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis during a championship fight week. Earlier this year, Punk and Koch went to a movie theater in Milwaukee while Koch was in the process of dropping weight. Instead of popcorn, Koch brought what he thought were hard-boiled eggs as a snack, but mistakenly grabbed raw ones. When he cracked an egg all over himself in the theater, Punk nearly died laughing. In recent months, Punk has gone through the process of trimming weight himself.

In the fight itself, anything can happen, and although he has hinted at fighting beyond Saturday, nothing is guaranteed. After UFC 203, though, Punk will have experienced the life of a professional fighter. In that sense, he's already comfortable with the outcome.

"I don't think it was ever questioned whether physically I could handle the training camp," Punk said. "I think mentally was the question, but now we all know.

"[Regarding naysayers], if I set foot in the Octagon, I've already won. I'm doing something that a lot of people thought I couldn't do. At the end of the day, I don't want to walk in there and lose. I want to show up. I want to beat Mickey. There's so many different variables, everything has to line up on that one perfect day, you know, and I'm looking to that on [Saturday]."