CM Punk mixes love for hockey with UFC training

Friday, 01.22.2016 / 9:16 AM
Mike G. Morreale  - Staff Writer

NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils defenseman Damon Severson didn't know what to think when CM Punk hopped on the ice wearing a pair of skates and clutching a hockey stick in his bare hands after an off-ice strength and conditioning session at Prudential Center on Wednesday.

Punk, born Phil Brooks, was one of five mixed martial arts fighters, all representing the Ultimate Fighting Championship, invited to participate with Devils strength and conditioning coaches Joe Lorincz and Jaime Rodriguez on Wednesday and Thursday as part of the UFC's cross-training program.

"When CM Punk skated onto the ice with no gloves, people were saying it was going to be an MMA match on the ice so I wanted no part of that," Severson said. "The only advantage I had was that he said he hadn't been on skates in 20 years, so maybe he was a little rusty. But I wouldn't want to get in the ring with any of those guys."

Punk, a fan of the Chicago Blackhawks, laughed when told of Severson's comment.

"I already threw the gloves off and there were no referees to penalize me so I was looking at someone to swing at," he said. "But Damon is a super, great kid. An up-and-comer in this League."

Punk, who retired from wrestling and signed with the UFC in December 2014, is scheduled to make his UFC debut in June or July. In the meantime he's been in training. On Thursday he joined other UFC members Corey Anderson, Chris Wade, Jessica Eye and the retired Forrest Griffin, along with UFC manager of athlete development Chris Provino, at the home of the Devils.

Punk said he feels NHL players are the closest athletically to MMA fighters.

"Just the grind and explosiveness, the short bursts," he said. "We've got five-minute rounds and they have 30-to-40 second shifts. But when it comes down to crunch time and the nitty gritty, that's when I find the champions and that's very much hockey as it is MMA."

Wade (11-1) recently scored a first-round submission win during a preliminary card Sunday and is awaiting his next opponent. The Islip, N.Y., native grew up a big New York Rangers fan despite the fact most members of his family are fans of the New York Islanders.

He said he would take some of the exercises he learned from the Devils trainers and use them in his workouts.

"I'm seeing a lot of things that coincide with what my strength and conditioning coach does, but there are some things that the Devils guys do that we don't so I'm excited to bring that stuff back to the gym and incorporate it," Wade said. "Some of the lateral footwork drills for changing direction and power I've never seen before. Some of the sled work we did, moving horizontally, was also very good."

Rodriguez said he was glad to see the MMA fighters take the workouts seriously.

"I think they really embraced it and did a really good job in training and it was a lot of fun because they generally want to get better in things they weren't as good at," he said.

Lorincz said Griffin might have been the most complete of the fighters, but said each had their own strengths. Griffin is a former UFC light-heavyweight champion who was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame on July 6, 2013 shortly after retiring from MMA competition with a record of 19-7.

"The UFC athletes don't have that high-level professional strength coach so that's a piece of the game that's missing for some guys," Griffin said. "We think improving upon that will cut down on our injuries."

Griffin said he misses fighting, but that he's excited about what the future holds for CM Punk.

"I've gotten to hang out with him a couple of times and he's a really likeable guy," Griffin said. "I wish him the best. Obviously it's good for us because people will pay to see that guy fight. And at the end of the day that's all that matters. I'm impressed with him physically. But can he turn that around into fighting? We'll see."

Punk, a big fan of Blackhawks forward Steve Larmer as a teenager, said he has the drive and determination to make it in the UFC.

"Success is defined by the individual; look at the Blackhawks and players like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa; they still have the drive to get better. They know they can be better even though they've won three Stanley Cup titles in six years. I'm always striving to be better than I was before, to be in a better place than I was the year before. I kind of felt stagnant [in wrestling] and didn't have the passion for it anymore so that's why I came to the UFC."

The training sessions with the Devils provided a memorable two days for Punk.

"It's been fun, like fantasy camp; I got to be on the ice with some of the Devils," he said. "I know things rapidly change whether it's an off day, or game day. But to me it's all about respect. I love everyone who laces up a pair of skates and gets on the ice."

Prudential Center, the home of the Devils, will host UFC on Fox 18 on Jan. 30, a card headlined by a light-heavyweight fight between top contenders Anthony Johnson and Ryan Bader.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL

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