It’s a common refrain in the fight game that an athlete’s first loss can be a teaching moment infinitely more powerful than all of the collective wins that preceded it. It’s also a refrain that Mickey Gall can seem to agree with.
Gall has been out of action since suffering the first setback of his professional career in a unanimous decision loss to Randy Brown last November at UFC 217. After beginning his Octagon run a perfect 3-0 with high-profile stoppages of CM Punk and Sage Northcutt, the rough night at Madison Square Garden proved to be an eye-opening experience for Gall, a 26-year-old welterweight who is currently slated to return against George Sullivan on Aug. 25 at UFC Lincoln. Much of Gall’s preparation for UFC Lincoln has differed greatly from any camp of his before — following the Brown loss, Gall decided to uproot his life from his native New Jersey out to Los Angeles, where he now lives with Yves Edwards and trains at the MusclePharm Gym alongside the likes of Joe Schilling and coach Jason Manly.
On Monday’s episode of the The MMA Hour, Gall spoke glowingly about what the change in scenery has done for his skill set ahead of his Octagon return.
“Had I not had an off night and not taken my first loss, I wonder would I be here right now?” Gall told host Luke Thomas on The MMA Hour.
“This was concocted after the fact, so I think it’s a: You win or you learn. I think I learned I need some — I was the best guy in my room at home, I thought I could do it all at home, and I think the loss made me look for more opportunity and other opportunities to grow, and to get out of my comfort zone and all of that.
“Had I ran through the guy and won that fight, maybe I’d still be Jersey and I wouldn’t even have tried this LA thing.”
Gall said he’s formed a good bond with Schilling, in particular. One of the best American kickboxers active today, Schilling has helped Gall smooth out the edges of his ever-evolving striking game, while Gall — a jiu-jitsu brown belt — has returned the favor and helped the Bellator fighter shore up his deficiencies on the ground.
It’s a marriage that Gall says has paid dividends in the lead-up to UFC Lincoln.
“I’ve been trimming the fat off of a lot of techniques,” Gall said. “Joe’s helped me a lot with a lot of understanding of standup. I’ve always been tough and I know I feel like I could crack anybody, but I understand it better. Like, I understand it more as a science in more ways, so I have even more confidence in my standup. I’d say [I’ve grown better at] everything, man. I’m learning a lot. I’m soaking it all up out here. Here, my job is to get as good as I can as quick as I can, and I think this is a necessary step to help expedite that process.
“It’s a beautiful facility and there’s always tough training partners coming through, so I’m getting a lot of tough work, seeing that high-level speed all of the time,” Gall added. “The UFC, GLORY guys, Bellator — just high-level dudes.”
In order to truly get back on track, Gall will first need to defeat a familiar face from his old stomping grounds.
Sullivan is a 37-year-old veteran of the northeastern fight scene who has suffered stoppage losses in three of his last four contests after kicking off his UFC run with back-to-back wins in 2014, and Gall is more than a little familiar with his fellow New Jersey native.
“George is a Jersey guy just like me,” Gall said. “He was one of the best guys, maybe the best guy on the regional circuit when I was first starting. George Sullivan, he was a CFFC champ, he’d just gotten called to the UFC, so it was cool, I kinda was like, ‘I’m going to be like that.’ I almost looked up to him a little bit then, but now I get to kick his ass on TV, so that’s cool.
“I think he’s a little old-school, a little stiff, and I think I can beat him anywhere, but I also know he’s a tough son of a bitch and he’s not going to be an easy out, but I’m going to get him.”
Gall said he was “chomping at the bit” to return to action sooner after his UFC 217 loss, even campaigning to fight in January at UFC 220 or as part of the promotion’s recent summer pay-per-views, either UFC 226 or UFC 227. The nine-month wait between opportunities ultimately ended up being much longer than he wanted, and he hopes to salvage his 2018 campaign by competing at least once more before the end of the year, preferably with a second shot at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 3 at UFC 230.
Gall also admitted to being surprised at his placement on UFC Lincoln’s fight card. Despite being one of the bigger names competing at the event, Gall and his matchup against Sullivan are slated to air on the FOX Sports 2 undercard portion of the broadcast.
“I don’t know. Maybe that’s a mistake, or it’s a mistake on purpose,” Gall said.
“I hope I’m on the FOX Sports 1 portion. I don’t think my dad has FOX Sports 2. I don’t think we’ve got FOX Sports 2 in Jersey, so I hope I’m on FOX Sports 1 so everyone can see me.
“I think it’d be silly for them to have me on that portion. Let me make a bang, make some noise, and do it on TV — on TV that everyone has.”
Regardless, after patiently waiting for a chance to rebound from his first career loss, Gall plans to make his presence felt at UFC Lincoln one way or another.
And in true Mickey Gall fashion, he may even have a name in mind to call out for his post-fight interview.
“We’ve always got a plan,” Gall said. “Hopefully it’ll be on FOX Sports 1 and everyone can see it.”