Mickey Gall may have been an overwhelming favorite for his UFC 203 fight against CM Punk, but he also was stepping into the unknown.
With less than two years of mixed martial arts training under his belt, little was known about the skills of the former WWE superstar Punk outside of uninspiring training footage on the documentary series ‘The Evolution of Punk.' And Gall knew he had to be wary of underestimating the UFC rookie.
"He's an actor. He's a phenomenal actor. It could've been acting," Gall said at Saturday's post-fight press conference. "I knew my kill stuff was going to be more than his kill stuff. I know two-year guys. I beat up 10-year guys. I've been doing it since I was a teenager, so I knew what to expect. I knew I'd be able to dominate.
"I really wanted to show [my striking] off, but he just came in hot. He came in too hot. He came in too aggressive, so I just let my training take over and I knew I'd beat him in either spot. I knew I'd be better, so I just took him down."
Gall ultimately made easy work of Punk, shutting out the former professional wrestler en route to a first-round rear-naked choke finish.
Gall took Punk to the canvas in the opening seconds, then methodically advanced positions until finally taking the 37-year-old's back and seizing the fight-ending submission. The win pushed Gall to a perfect 2-0 under the UFC umbrella, and afforded Gall a chance to put the bizarre first chapter of his fighting career to rest.
"This is what I want to do, man," Gall said. "Since I was 16, every decision I made in my life was towards being here. I saw the path when I found out Dana White was going to be at my first fight. I'm a thinker. I saw the path and this is where I want to be. I want war with the best guys in the world. I want to climb. I want to be a UFC champion.
"I don't want to be disparaging, but I was fighting an amateur. So I 100-percent need to prove myself still. That's why I'm excited to get going now. Now the real work, now the real fights. Every fight is a fight, and he's training at Roufusport, a great place, (so) I do feel a sense of accomplishment, sure. I came in there, I loved seeing the crowd, all of that stuff, but yeah, I don't feel like I beat a great fighter. I beat a fighter, not a great fighter."
Like a grizzled veteran, Gall already had a new name in mind for his next opponent. Following his win at UFC 203, the 24-year-old called out fellow prospect Sage Northcutt for a showdown at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 12 at UFC 205.
Gall also echoed Punk's sentiments about the future, insisting that Saturday night shouldn't be the last time the mixed martial arts world sees the former WWE champion inside the UFC cage.
"I think he should take some time," Gall said. "I think there's still money to be made on him. He's still a big superstar, so I think he will have another UFC fight. A lot of guys are like, ‘the guy doesn't belong here.' Privilege doesn't rub people in a good way, but I think he's kind of earned that privilege by being obviously a talented guy in something else. I think he'll probably have another fight. I think he should really focus in and train for a little bit, but (then) get a chance at retribution."
Despite his relative inexperience, Gall impressed many with his poise both during fight week and throughout the long saga of his rivalry with Punk. His flair on the mic appears to be working wonders as well, as UFC president Dana White said in an official UFC post-fight interview that Northcutt's team called White after hearing Gall's callout and said "they want the fight, so we'll make it happen."
White backed off from making that announcement official on a subsequent interview on FOX Sports 1, however Gall appears confident that he made the most of an opportunity that no one could have seen coming.
"People know who I am because of this Punk fight now," Gall said. "Right? I'm fighting on the main card of UFC 203. Everyone wants to see him. I'm the guy who kicked his ass. So I don't think people are going to forget about me.
"I think I fight Sage next, I'm going to beat him up and then they're going to know me more, then I'm going to beat up the next guy and the next guy. The only reason I wanted to fight CM Punk, the guy who is a rudimentary fighter, he's early in his career, I said that just to get here. This is where I want to be. I want to be in the UFC. Now I get going with the UFC killers and I can prove myself."