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From idol to rival, Mickey Gall promises ‘no mercy’ for Diego Sanchez at UFC 235

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Mickey Gall (right) faces Diego Sanchez at UFC 235.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

LAS VEGAS — Mickey Gall is no stranger to the man he’ll be facing at UFC 235.

Gall was just 13 years old when Diego Sanchez made his Octagon debut in 2005 with a thunderous win over Kenny Florian at the inaugural The Ultimate Fighter finale. Back then, Sanchez was the truest embodiment of the stereotypical MMA wildman, a savage whose unbridled heart and aggression made him an instant fan favorite. Later that year, as part of the 17-fight win streak that kicked off his pro career, Sanchez threw caution to the wind in a furious display against Nick Diaz at the second TUF finale. That’s the one Gall really remembers. The way Sanchez felt like the most terrifying man in the world’s most terrifying new sport — yes, that one was enough to make Gall go all-in on “The Nightmare.”

But the fight game is a curious place. And for Gall, the time to be a fanboy has long past.

“This is absolutely the one I wanted,” Gall told MMA Fighting ahead of UFC 235. “When the UFC floated me this name about a year ago, I was like: F*ck yeah. Hell yeah. I never in my life thought I’d be able to fight a legend like Diego Sanchez. I never in my life [thought I would]. He was a guy I grew up watching and shit, and now I’m going to get to put him out on TV. On ESPN. I’m going to get to fight him on ESPN and put him unconscious on ESPN — and I know it’s a weird thing because I do have a lot of respect for him, I do believe he’s a good person, but this is a dog-eat-dog world, it’s a dog-eat-dog sport, especially this sport.

“So I’m coming in there with no mercy. This whole camp has been ‘no mercy.’ I have no mercy. I have no time for it. I need to build myself for me and my people, so I’ve got to take Diego out.”

It’s a story as old as the fight game itself — the old cannibalistic cycle of the young up-and-comer finally standing face-to-face with a living legend 10 years his senior.

For Gall, there even is an extra pinch of motivation in his UFC 235 assignment aside from his chance to use a personal favorite as a stepping stone to greater things. Three years ago, Sanchez notched a win over another old warhorse, Jim Miller. Miller was a mentor to Gall ever since the young welterweight’s teenage days, a big brother of sorts, and Gall admits “that one hurt me.” The chance to get sweet revenge on Saturday at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena will simply be icing on an already delicious cake for the New Jersey native.

“I’m going to take him out,” Gall said of Sanchez. “I’m a big fan, but idols become rivals sometimes, and I’m chasing greatness and he’s a step on my path.

“He’s the vulnerable one going in there. I’m made of steel. I don’t see any spot where he’s better than me. From skills to the mind, I know who I am and I know what I can do, and I want nothing more than to show that. And I will perform.

“I wanted to do this fight about a year ago, but we’re doing it now. He’s a legend. Legends never die. So I’m gonna come in there and I’m gonna take out a legend.”

There is no doubt that Sanchez is a far cry from the youngblood who styled on Diaz all those years ago. At 37 years old, with a middling 7-9 record over his last 16 fights, Sanchez is most likely nearing the end of his run. Gall admits there is “definitely some wear on the tires” when it comes to his foe, but in many ways Sanchez is still the same feral wildman that he was over a decade ago when he made his Octagon debut. The murderous look in his eyes during UFC 235’s media day staredowns is testament enough to that.

But Gall isn’t worried. He’s readied himself for the storm to come.

And after competing just once in each of the past two years, and in the process, losing much of the momentum he gained from his blistering 3-0 rookie UFC campaign, Gall is prepared to make up for lost time and take one massive leap forward in 2019.

“Honestly, I want to be more active,” he said. “I’ve been vocal about wanting to be more active with the UFC. After my last fight, I wanted to fight in [Madison Square] Garden in November. I wanted to have two fights done by now.

“Hopefully you’ll see me more active here going forward. It’s just, sometimes it’s hard, you know? Just getting two people to sign a piece of paper. They offered me this fight in January, I accepted it, my opponent had to differ. I tried to get a new opponent for that fight, it didn’t work out. So yeah, I want to be hella active.”

And of course, it wouldn’t be a Mickey Gall fight if there wasn’t already a name on the tip of his tongue just waiting to be revealed, a post-fight callout for the next rung of his climb up the welterweight ranks.

He has a reputation to uphold, after all.

“You know I got a name in mind,” Gall said, grinning. “Yeah, absolutely.”