Given the long shadow New York City casts, New Jersey tends to be an afterthought on the national stage. Considering the New York Giants and Jets play their home games across the Hudson River in East Rutherford, that’s not breaking news.
But it’s in part why UFC 217’s Mickey Gall, of Green Brook, New Jersey, doesn’t mind the idea of beating up Queens resident Randy Brown at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.
“I guess Jersey is kind of the little brother in that New York-New Jersey relationship,” Gall told amNewYork. “We’ll win one for Jersey.”
Having grown up in the metropolitan area, Gall (4-0, 3-0 UFC) appreciates the opportunity to fight at the storied midtown venue in front of friends and family. If he’s intimidated by the stage, he’s not showing it.
“I’m gonna tear the roof off that place,” Gall said.
Not even two years into his pro MMA career, 25-year-old Gall has quickly made his mark on the sport’s main stage. The welterweight scored a high-profile win over former WWE superstar CM Punk last September in the latter’s real-fighting debut. Three months later he knocked off heavily-promoted prospect Sage Northcutt for his fourth rear-naked choke submission in as many fights.
But Gall’s profile has been on the rise as much for his charismatic post-win interviews as his budding success in the cage. He wasn’t always accustomed to public speaking, he said, but feeds off the adrenaline of victory.
“Whenever I get those tinglies, that feeling, I ride that wave,” Gall said. “I step up for it. That brings the best out of me.”
After beating Punk, Gall capitalized on the opportunity to pick a fight with Northcutt, telling fans, “I think that boy’s corny. I want to punch the spikes out of his hair.”
Both Gall’s mic skills and martial arts game are fun to watch. Although the brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under David Adiv, Gall gained his edge while striking with Northcutt, whose base is kickboxing. Northcutt won most of the kickboxing exchanges, but a Gall right hand about a minute into the second round dropped the young Texan. Within eight seconds, Gall had his back and finished with the choke at 1:40 into the frame.
“People sleep on my striking. They’re like, ‘Oh, Mickey’s a grappler,’ ” Gall said. “... I was trying to grapple with Sage. He cut my [eyebrow] and I’m like, ‘F this, I’m gonna hit him.’ I hit him with one shot, and now he’s shooting in on me [for a takedown].”
Gall said he’s used the nearly 11 months since that fight to grow in all facets, especially in striking and strength. He describes himself as the “same animal, different monster.”
“I’m really proud of what I did with this time,” Gall said. “I’ve put in so much work. I’ve basically put in three or four fight camps.
“And the fact that I’m young ... I grow so much in a month. What I pick up in a month, some guys probably pick up in a year.”
Like Brown and Northcutt, Gall was discovered on the YouTube series “Dana White: Lookin’ for a Fight,” in which the UFC president scours smaller promotions for young talent. But his profile rose exponentially after beating Punk, who was one of pro wrestling’s biggest stars before walking away to become a professional fighter in his late 30s.
Gall says he is still the same person he was before victory, which came in the co-headliner of a pay-per-view event in Cleveland, even if he’s recognized more now as “that dude who whooped CM Punk.”
“To some people, the WWE fans, the perennial fans, I don’t know if I’ll ever shed that [label],” Gall said, “but I don’t really care.”
Gall notes the greatest challenge Saturday’s foe presents is his length — 27-year-old Brown, whose base is striking, possesses a four-inch reach advantage and stands one inch taller.
“A long guy can hit you where you can’t hit them,” Gall said, “but I’ve got a million tricks for him, and I don’t see him giving me many problems at all.”
Gall foresees the fight going “violently and dominantly for me.”
“I get in there, I lay my hands on him, he’s not gonna like it,” he said. “I just see myself hurting him — hurting him bad, hurting him quick.”
Although he’s tasted more of the limelight than most fighters with his limited experience, Gall understands his wins are not over elite 170-pounders. He envisions himself around three or four fights away from being a ranked fighter.
“But,” Gall said, “I’m definitely going to be a UFC champion.”
Gall vs. Brown is slated for 8 p.m. on Nov. 4, 2017, on Fox Sports 1, two hours before the pay-per-view portion of the event headlined by three title fights. Middleweight champion Michael Bisping defends his crown against Georges St-Pierre, the longtime welterweight champ who returns from a four-year sabbatical. Bantamweight kingpin Cody Garbrandt faces former champ and ex-teammate T.J. Dillashaw, and strawweight queen Joanna Jedrzejczyk puts her belt on the line against Rose Namajunas.