Mickey Gall recognised a golden opportunity and he grasped it with both hands.
After making a successful professional debut, lots of fighters probably have thoughts of sweet UFC contracts dancing in their heads, but few will begin actively campaigning for one right away.
Gall was different however.
Not only did the New Jersey native happen to have UFC president Dana White sitting cageside when he opened his pro account last November, he also realised that there existed a rare opportunity in the world’s premier MMA promotion for someone lacking extensive professional experience.
CM Punk, a former WWE superstar, had been signed by the UFC in late 2014 without a single MMA bout, amateur or professional, to his name. His debut had been touted on numerous occasions but hadn’t yet happened. Gall knew that company officials weren’t going to feed Punk to a veteran member of the roster once the time for his long-awaited first bout did arrive. They would have to sign somebody with limited credentials to act as a foil for the man born Phil Brooks.
So the Gracie jiu-jitsu brown belt grabbed the microphone and took a shot.
His daring initiative caught White’s attention.
Either that, or the company had already been in contact with Gall and told him exactly what to say after the fight. That’s a legitimate possibility too. This scene played out in front of the cameras for a ‘reality TV’ show after all.
Whatever the truth of the matter is, Gall was granted an opportunity. At UFC Fight Night 82 back in February, he faced professional debutant Mike Jackson for the right to battle Punk at a later date. He won via submission in just 45 seconds.
The youngster got exactly what he wanted, but he may regret that fact in the future.
When Gall mauled Punk and choked him into submission after just 134 seconds at UFC 203 last month, everybody was in agreement – Punk’s prior fame had proven detrimental to his MMA aspirations. Had he not been a big name in the world of faux combat for so many years, the Roufusport representative would likely have had his first pro bout against a lower-level opponent and in a low pressure environment. This would have aided his development as a fighter.
Instead, Punk found himself completely out of his depth.
Following his victory over the 37-year-old novice, Gall finds himself in a strangely similar position.
Like Punk, Mickey landed in the big leagues for unusual reasons. It wasn’t that he had earned his spot through consistently convincing performances, he was simply an ideal opponent for Punk’s first foray into the octagon. Gall was inexperienced enough that the bout wouldn’t have the stench of an obvious mismatch in the build-up but seemingly talented enough that it wouldn’t look as though the company was presenting their new star with easy prey either. He was also well-spoken and personable enough to feature in high-profile promotional vehicles.
As a result of this concoction of attributes, with his one ‘gimme’ bout out of the way, Gall now finds himself in a position where he will have to face real, deserving UFC fighters even though there is little to suggest that the 24-year-old is capable of competing with such a high calibre of opposition.
Gall has had just three professional bouts and all three came against fighters with no prior experience in the paid ranks. He has spent a total of just 5 minutes and 52 seconds in the cage since turning professional.
This is not the resume of someone who is ready for a stint in the UFC.
Possibly making matters worse is the measure of fame and marketability that Gall acquired through his association with Punk. This seems to have inspired UFC matchmakers to grant Gall’s latest wish – for a match-up with fellow young gun Sage Northcutt.
It’s an attractive fight because both are charismatic, high-profile young fighters who were discovered through Dana White’s ‘Lookin’ for a Fight’ show. However, Northcutt has three times the professional experience of Gall and has competed against much better opponents. He has his detractors, but ‘Super Sage’ is undeniably talented and the 20-year-old has already won three times in the UFC, suffering only one setback along the way.
There are certainly fighters on the roster who would have provided Gall with a less stern test.
However, whether it’s Northcutt or anyone else in the UFC’s welterweight division, Gall is going to be facing a more proven fighter than himself – that much is a guarantee.
Maybe it won’t matter. Maybe Gall is a really special talent. But with his level of experience, he will have to be. Otherwise his development as a fighter is likely to be badly stunted.