Time flies. How fast? It’s been over five years since pro wrestling superstar CM Punk made his UFC (and MMA) debut against Mickey Gall at UFC 203 in Cleveland.
For Gall, it was his second trip to the Octagon, and only his third fight as a pro. And yet, if the New Jersey native someday wins a world title, we may still look back at his 2016 bout with Punk as the most important of his career. So there were some nerves.
“Oh, for sure,” Gall said. “I knew that if I lose the fight, I gotta find something else to do. (Laughs) I gotta pick a new career. I even put more pressure on myself because I was like if I let him do one good, positive thing, then I consider myself a failure.”
There was also the part where he went into the fight with a cut on his eyebrow that he received three weeks before the bout, and the endless stream of media attention that would have made any UFC rookie a deer in the headlights.
“I was enjoying all of it, I really was,” he said. “It was my first little taste. I had a blast with all of that - every part of it. I was a young kid living my dream. I wanted to be a fighter, I wanted to be a UFC fighter, I wanted to be a UFC champion. I was getting my first little step in there and I was getting it with all the glitz and the glam and all that fun, shiny stuff. So I enjoyed it. I was happy people wanted to talk to me about what I love to do. It was cool to me.”
Another type of “cool” was the operative word for Gall on fight night, as he took just two minutes and 14 seconds to submit Punk. A little more than five years later, Punk has returned to the ring as a member of the AEW roster, while Gall is still on the UFC roster, a welterweight with nine Octagon bouts under his belt. And he won’t turn 30 until this January.
“Even though I am still this young kid, I feel like a veteran,” Gall said. “I've had nine fights in the UFC, this will be my tenth and I knew when I started training in this sport that I had to get as good as I can as fast as I can. Then stuff came even faster than forecast. I probably should have just been getting in the UFC a couple years ago, beating up the regional scene and making my way up that way. But this is the way it went, and it accelerated that process. Myself and my team, we've all benefited from that. We've all come up on an accelerated course and it's cool to look back on it. And looking forward, I see a lot of special things still to come. I feel like I'm not even halfway done.”
That tenth UFC fight will take place this Saturday in Las Vegas as Gall faces off with surging Texan Alex Morono. It’s the kind of fight that many believe could put the winner in the Top 15 at 170 pounds, but Gall isn’t in a rush. He just wants the win. The rest will figure itself out.
“I think it puts me Top 20-25,” Gall said of a win this weekend. “I don't think they'll give me Top 15, but after the next one, maybe I get someone in the Top 15 or right on the bubble of being in there.”
Regardless, a win for Gall on the heels of his July finish of Jordan Williams, moves him forward.
“I believe so,” he said. “I've obviously watched a lot of him (Morono) and he's a tough kid. He's good and obviously he's got a win over (Donald) Cerrone, he lost to (Anthony) Pettis, but he's fought some tough guys and he's a tough dude. I think me being me, I whup him ten out of ten times. This could be a Fight of the Night and Performance of the Night for me. I'm hoping for two extra checks. I'll take taking him out in the first, but if it goes long, I think we're gonna put on a show. He's scrappy, he's tough and he comes in there to fight and I'm gonna be doing the same, and even better.”
This confidence has always been there for Gall, even back when he was calling to UFC President Dana White for a shot at Punk and got it. And even though he’s had his ups and downs over the years, it hasn’t waned.
“I'm more confident now than ever just because I've been continuing to hone my craft and get better,” he said. “I've always had confidence, even when I was first getting in there. I remember people saying that I shouldn't be as confident as I am as a 1-0 fighter, 2-0 fighter, 4-0 fighter. And I get that even more now, but I just know who I am, I know what I'm capable of and I'd be bulls**tting if I wasn't confident.”
It’s a funny thing, because if a fighter is confident and vocal about it, he or she is ridiculed in some circles. But if they’re not confident, why are they even competing in this – or any other – sport?
“They're right to a degree,” Gall said of the critics. “And I think you have to have an almost delusional confidence. But who doesn't want to be a UFC champion? I think anyone would want that, but I believe I can do that. I understand the numbers and the odds and stuff, but I know what I can do, and I know who I am. I just know I can do it, and anyone who thinks they're tougher than me, I got an issue with. I want to show that I'm gonna be tougher.”
They do call it “Jersey tough” for a reason. And Mickey Gall ain’t going anywhere anytime soon.
“I'm in the UFC, I've been in the UFC, I want to keep going in the UFC, I want a belt with the UFC,” he said. “There's gonna be a lot of bad mother**kers that I'm gonna have to beat up on my way there and I'm ready for that. I'm embracing that, I've been embracing that, and it's gonna happen. It's what I have to do.”