Mickey Gall wanted to get the victory for himself at UFC 203, to be certain. But he was also thinking beyond that, to everybody else in the sport of mixed martial arts. Gall wanted to be something of a symbol as he competed against former WWE star CM Punk.
"I 100 percent felt a strong obligation to make an example out of him," Gall told Ariel Helwani on Monday's episode of The MMA Hour. "I felt indebted to my sport, to the veterans of my sport — everyone in my sport — to go in there and dominate every second of this fight."
Gall, 24, certainly got the job done efficiently, finishing Punk by submission at just 2:14 of the first round. Gall took Punk down right away, as Punk came aggressively across the Octagon, and landed punches from top position before taking the former pro wrestler's back and eventually cinching in a rear-naked choke.
"I kind of expected it," Gall said. "I had a feeling he was gonna feel like, ‘I have something to prove, I'm a fighter. I'm gonna come in there and be a tough fighter.' Once I get in there, I let my training take over. I'm not thinking in there. He crossed the line in my head of how far he should be. I wanted to keep him at a certain range. When you come in that hot, I'm gonna take you down."
Gall, who is a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, said he wanted to stay patient on the ground and not overcommit to anything. It worked. Gall kept the pressure on and got the choke.
Punk, 37, had no formal mixed martial arts training before early 2015. Outside of some Brazilian jiu-jitsu lessons from Rener Gracie and some kenpo karate as a youth, he had very little training in any martial arts discipline. The ex-WWE top star signed with the UFC in December 2014, months after leaving pro wrestling after a dispute with management. He trained for the last year and a half at Roufusport in Milwaukee, coming back from multiple injuries in the process, including back surgery.
"I figured he'd be tough, man," Gall said. "Those wrestlers, they're tough guys. They're slamming themselves around and stuff. It was pretty much what I expected. I knew once he got in there with me, I was gonna be able to just dominate him."
Gall (3-0) said he wasn't looking to take Punk down. He wanted to show off the striking he has been working on obsessively at his gym in New Jersey. But Punk pushed the pace and Gall said he just let his instincts flow.
"I've been ruthless," Gall said of his training. "I've just been really committed and I've been really smart about it. I saw the videos of him and I would have liked to have knocked him out. I wanted a knockout. That was the plan."
For himself and all of his MMA peers.