On paper, 23-year-old New Jersey welterweight Mickey Gall makes all kinds of sense as a debut opponent for professional-wrestler-turned-UFC-fighter CM Punk.
Punk – who has never competed in MMA at either the professional or the amateur level – signed with the UFC in December of 2014 but has yet to fight for the promotion. A shoulder injury has delayed his debut, but he is expected to fight this year against a fighter "who is 1-0, 1-1, 2-1, something like that" in his inaugural bout, according to UFC President Dana White to ESPN.
Gall is 1-0 professionally and 2-0 as an amateur. He also calls 170 home, the same weight class as the former wrestling star.
As a final splash into this matchmaking cocktail, White recently revealed plans to scout for CM Punk's first opponent through his recently launched reality series, Looking for a Fight. During the show's latest episode, which is currently hosted on UFC Fight Pass and YouTube, White traveled to Philadelphia, where he watched Gall defeat Ron Templeton via first-round submission at Dead Serious MMA 17.
"I found out [that White and company would be in attendance] a little bit less than a month before the fight," Gall told MMAFighting.com "Frankie Perez, who owns that series, called me, and I was like, ‘Dude, listen.’ I already had an opponent fall through, so I was like, ‘Oh, s--t. What is it? What?’ He goes, ‘Listen, big news. Dana White’s going to be there.’ And my heart kind of, I got excited but also nervous as heck right away. I was like, ‘Alright, man, cool.’ He said, ‘This is a big opportunity, blah, blah, blah.’
"Then he gets on the phone with me, and I’m like, ‘Oh. I’m going to call out CM Punk for sure.’ It was so obvious to me. That’s the only guy in the UFC for me right now, you know? They needed to find a light record. He couldn’t fight some 9-1 guy. So I go in there, I got a win. He’s 0-0. I’m 1-0. That’s a light record. The commission will approve that. I can fight that dude and make the most of that opportunity."
While White did not make a definitive decision on the spot, he did speak positively about the prospect of a Gall vs. Punk showdown, saying he was "interested" in the New Jersey product.
Gall, who trains at Miller Brothers MMA – founded and operated by UFC vets Jim Miller and Dan Miller – Gracie New Jersey Jiu-Jitsu Academy, and American Top Team Allentown, maintains that his call-out of Punk was not just made in the heat of the moment. He wants to welcome Punk to the world of competitive MMA, and he doesn't think Punk will like the beatdown that awaits.
"Honestly, man, I think that guy’s used to going into a ring and whispering to his guy, ‘Hey, let’s do a clothesline. Hey, let’s practice jumping off the ropes and this and that," Gall said. "I think when he gets in there and he has me coming at him looking to kill him, I don’t think he’ll be able to handle it. He’s a professional wrestler, and he’s great at that. He’s made himself a millionaire doing that. But now he’s stepping into a different world, and I think he’d be in a lot of trouble."
A brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu who has trained at Gracie New Jersey under the tutelage of David Adiv – a man who has been deemed "The Brain" by Rickson Gracie – since the age of 16, many might expect Gall to devise a gameplan centered around taking Punk to the mat and searching for the submission.
They'd be wrong.
"To be honest, I just think if I hit that dude in his face hard, I don’t think he’s going to react well with that," Gall said. "I like to punch people in the face real hard. Sometimes I use my jiu-jitsu because that’s just where it happens to go, but I think I hit that dude, and he’s not going to like it. I really see myself banging with him a little bit."
While Gall's jiu-jitsu background definitely forms his foundation as a fighter, he said he never practiced the sport in a pure Brazilian jiu-jitsu context. He always envisioned something beyond grappling in his future, and he honed his skills accordingly.
"From the get-go, I started jiu-jitsu with the intention of being an MMA fighter," Gall said. "Always in the back of my mind was, ‘Alright, how would this work in a fight?’ You see a lot of jiu-jitsu guys with the guard pulling and different stuff, but I always practiced striking and all that stuff as well for fighting. I always tried to think of the ultimate goal of fighting inside the cage.
"I trained at AMA Fight Club [in Whippany, New Jersey], and I would take the Muay Thai classes all the time. I’d do drills. I’d work with my friends, like my buddy [professional MMA fighter] Rich (Patishnock), and I’d kind of bounce around coaches."
Now, fully engrossed in the MMA lifestyle, Gall anticipates his big chance. He knows White showed up looking for an opponent for CM Punk, and he knows he fits the bill almost perfectly. Now it's just a matter of receiving the paperwork and signing on the dotted line.
"I haven’t heard from Dana White. I’m hoping. I’m around," Gall said. "I think they’re still trying to figure things out. Now I’m starting to get the buzz, and people are sending me these articles. My phone’s been blowing up with websites posting how I’m probably going to be his opponent. I only hope. I hope, man.
"I do [feel I’m ready for UFC competition]. I train with some of the best guys in the world. Just recently, I had the opportunity to go down to American Top Team and train. I do well, man. I can handle myself with anybody. I train with Jim and Dan all the time, and you’ve seen what they’ve done in the UFC. I hold my own. I do well. I know on any given day, I can beat anyone."