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Opinion: Fighting CM Punk was the worst thing to happen to Mickey Gall

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Did Mickey Gall make a big mistake calling out CM Punk? Following a decisive decision loss to Mike Perry at UFC Vegas 4 — it is a question working asking.

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Mickey Gall cashed in big by calling out CM Punk, but what initially seemed like an ingenious play has turned into a disastrous long-term investment.

Let me start by saying I think very highly of Gall. Introduced to UFC fans five years ago, the New Jersey native has proved to be talented, intelligent, gritty and ever-evolving. Unfortunately, Gall’s story at this juncture is one of “too much too soon.”

Gall (6-3) made one of the smartest plays the sport has ever seen. Following a sub-three-minute rear-naked choke win in his professional debut — which featured on Dana White: Lookin’ for a Fight — Gall looked directly at the UFC President and offered to fight Punk in the pro-wrestler’s mixed martial arts debut.

Gall made short work of Mike Jackson in Feb. 2016 to earn the right to fight Punk on the main card of UFC 203. It took him 2:14 to remind the world just what it takes to compete in the sport’s biggest promotion. It was his next fight, a battle between two future UFC stars, that strapped a small rocket to Gall’s back.

A Fight Night event in Dec. 2016 paired up Sage Northcutt and Gall. This was only Gall’s fourth professional fight and third in the UFC. Gall continued to show off his grappling prowess in round 1 before being dropped in round two. He weathered the storm of “Super” Sage and answered back with a whipping right hand that floored Northcutt. Gall snatched Northcutt’s back and sunk in what would be his fourth-consecutive rear-naked choke victory.

The sky was the limit for Gall, who had thus far spent 75 percent of his career in the UFC. His grappling skills were indisputable, his resilience was tested and he dropped a superior striker in Northcutt. And then it went downhill.

Gall’s unanimous decision loss to Mike Perry at UFC Vegas 4 is the latest in an up-and-down cycle for the welterweight. The (deserved) hype-train came off the rails once Gall was brutalized by Randy Brown en route to a decision loss at UFC 217. Gall bounced back from his first career loss and notched a fifth rear-naked choke against Kevin Sullivan. The loss that really damaged Gall’s reputation was a second-round TKO loss to Diego Sanchez — who was coming off a win over Craig White following consecutive first-round KO losses to Matt Brown and Al Iaquinta. In the Sanchez fight, Gall visibly gassed early and later attributed his performance to kidney failure stemming from a poor weight cut. He showed significant improvement against Salim Touahri; although, Toahri was 0-2 heading into the fight. Subsequent fights with Carlos Condit and Alex Oliveira fell through before Gall was ultimately paired with Perry for the co-main event of UFC Vegas 4.

All credit to Gall, he showed great improvement in the first two rounds, landing frequently with on Mr. “Platinum” with a superior jab. Unfortunately, Gall was over-matched in the power and cardio departments. He was floored, grounded and mashed by Perry.

The UFC is not a hyperbolic chamber for growth. It is a grinder that turns fresh meat to chopped liver. Chase Hooper, Phillipe Nover, Northcutt, and now Gall. All fighters who were burdened with lofty expectations. Talents who were handed big boy pants before they really had time to grow into them. This is not a scathing criticism of those men, far from it. Each possesses raw talent and a high ceiling. Plus we all know it is hard for fighters to say no when the UFC comes calling. But at what cost? Gall had the world in his hands before he was ready for the responsibility. He is improving significantly from fight-to-fight, but he is also taking damage both physically and to his reputation.

I have no doubt that Gall would have made it to the UFC. So I can’t help but think: CM Punk was not Gall’s greatest gift, it was his greatest curse.