CM Punk on taking real punches: I'll be OK

Fair or not, one thing many will remember about Brock Lesnar's time in mixed martial arts is that he didn't like to get hit.

The professional wrestling star-turned-UFC champion did not react well to getting punched in the face. That's an appropriate way to say it. He did remarkably well anyway, winning the UFC's heavyweight title in his fourth professional fight, but the memory of that blinking, panicked look Lesnar couldn't hide in the Octagon after taking a shot remains strong.

As CM Punk, birth name Phil Brooks, prepares to make his UFC (and MMA) debut in 2015, comparisons to Lesnar are inevitably rampant. Another WWE star looking to prove himself in MMA -- inside the UFC, no less.

There are a million questions surrounding the 36-year-old Brooks. He's trained karate and Brazilian jiu-jitsu but has no tangible competitive background in either discipline and no amateur MMA experience. He doesn't know when or whom he's going to fight, nor does he even know where he'll prepare to do it.

How about the most basic question, though: Can he take a punch?

"I suppose the easy answer to what Brock's shortcomings were that he probably needed to spar more," Brooks told ESPN.com. "Everyone always likes to say Brock hated getting hit in the face. I don't know who likes getting hit in the face, but I guess he did need to work on his stand-up defense.

"You get punched in the nose, your eyes water. When it happens, will I turn around and run? No, that's not going to happen. I'm going to do my best to avoid that punch, but if it lands, I'll be OK."

Brooks has ran his body through the meat grinder that is professional wrestling. Whether he's willing to take physical punishment isn't the question.

But in an MMA contest, it's not necessarily about whether one can take a punch -- it's more about how one reacts to it.

Brooks says he knows that's a question many will wonder until he gets into a cage for real, but says he's already confident in the answer.

"I definitely think it is a gut-check moment for anyone," Brooks said. "When you get smashed in the face for the first time, whether it's in the schoolyard or a sanctioned boxing match, I think you find something out about yourself. Some people run. Some people will stand there. Some people will say, 'That wasn't bad,' while others will say, 'That was awful,' but they'll still stand in the pocket.

"I think it's about finding out what's inside of you. I've already had it in the schoolyard, in the gym, in the ring. It's happened a lot."

Brooks has, for lack of a better term, "punched in the face" experience -- whether he has professional athletic experience is a question he doesn't know the answer to.

During his long stint in the staged wrestling game, Brooks says there were times he felt as though what he was doing was a professional sport. Other times, not so much.

"That's a fascinating question," Brooks said. "I think it varies. Some days, I felt like, 'Yeah, what we do makes us athletes.' And then there were situations when I'd feel pretty silly about what I was doing -- if you've got to dress up like Santa or you're getting beat up by Santa. You're watching part of the show, thinking it's a little suspect.' Overall, pro wrestling is no joke, though. Everybody in it is an athlete to some degree.

"You'll find comparisons [to the physical needs] between the two. Cardiovascular speaking, that was my shtick. I was never going to be the biggest or most chiseled, but nobody was ever going to make me tired in the ring. Endurance is something I definitely have. There are a lot of similarities in that aspect. It's go, go, go. I think there is a friendly competition between the wrestlers to see who the best is. Who can blow the other one up cardiovascularly. That was always kind of fun."