CHICAGO — A lot of people would consider gaining the top prize in the world’s No. 1 pro wrestling promotion the pinnacle of their lives; not CM Punk, who has held that prize.
The former WWE champion and Chicago native says that preparing for a fight means more to him than being told he would win.
“Oh, yeah,” Punk told Sporting News ahead of his welterweight bout Saturday at United Center vs. Mike Jackson at UFC 225. “One, someone said, ‘Hey, you’re going to win this.’ When I win, it’s going to be because of hard work and dedication from my coaches, my teammates and myself. I think anything you do on your own, so to speak, I think, is worth more than something that is maybe looked upon as gifted to you or handed to you.”
Punk (0-1) will be fighting in his hometown almost seven years after he defeated John Cena here on July 17, 2011, for his first WWE belt. He’ll be in the Octagon for the first time since making his UFC debut 21 months ago, a loss to Mickey Gall by first-round submission at UFC 203.
After that loss, observers expected the 39-year-old to pack his bags and return to wrestling. Instead, Punk returned to training at Roufussport in Milwaukee.
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The difference between now and almost two years ago is night and day in Punk’s mind.
“I’m just better all around,” he said. “There’s more curveballs and they throw more at me. I also think physically, I’m in better shape. I fought Mickey maybe four or five months after back surgery. As much as I would have liked to tell you that I felt great back then, I feel even better right now. Everything is firing on all cylinders. The workload, they mentally gave me more to work with the second camp, and physically, I was just sparring more. I was just doing more of everything.”
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Punk wrestled thousands of matches in Chicago for WWE and various independent promotions. The fact he’s competing in another discipline, and with a chance to again make history, at home is something he holds dear to his heart.
“I look forward to it,” Punk said. “I think it’s going to be fun. I think it’s challenging and exciting. There’s good energy here from the people in Chicago. I know everybody isn’t going to like me. I just love this city so damn much. It’s the people in this city that laid the foundation for me having success on any level of anything I’ve ever done. I just draw from this place and the people that live here. I’m happy. It’s just something about this place that I’ve always just been drawn too. I’m fortunate to come from here. I will rep it until I’m done.”
Steven Muehlhausen is an MMA and boxing writer and contributor for Sporting News. Subscribe to his You Tube channel here . You can email him at email@example.com and can find him on Twitter @SMuehlhausenMMA .