UFC Rising-Star Gregor Gillespie: His Career, Living Up To The Hype, and More.
Gregor Gillespie came into the UFC as one of the most highly-touted prospects the Lightweight Division has ever seen. Boasting wrestling accolades that include 4x All-American and a NCAA Division 1 National Championship, it’s easy to see why the UFC signed him only seven fights into his professional career. Fight by fight, Gillespie is proving that his wrestling prowess is translating well in his new sport of choice. Since his signing with the UFC, he’s 3-0 includes with two finishes and two Performance of the Night bonuses.
“The Gift” last fought in Pittsburgh in September where he choked out Jason Gonzalez for his third UFC victory and he’s looking to return to action relatively soon. I got the chance to catch up with Gillespie as he gave an exclusive interview to MMA-Today on how topics such as his contract situation, when he wants to get back into the octagon and living up to the hype:
— UFC Canada (@UFC_CA) September 17, 2017
First and foremost, how is your overall health going? Are you training consistently right now or is there anything keeping you out? Do you have a time-table on when you would like to return to the Octagon or are you playing it by ear?
As far as health goes, I’m good to go right now. I’ve been hitting the mitts, hitting the bag and doing a lot of cardio. As far as injuries go, leading into the camp for my last fight I had a full strain in my butt cheek but that seems to be getting better. I really had to nurse that one through camp. I went through my first actual hard run the other day so that seems to be working itself out. As far as getting back into the Octagon goes, my management team was trying to get me on one of the end of the year cards in December. The only one that was really going to work for me was the New Year’s Eve card (UFC 219). The timing just didn’t work out with possible opponents and I was going through some contract negotiations at the time, but it just didn’t pan out.
I guess you can say it’s a bit of a blessing in disguise not being able to get a December fight. Not having to cut weight and go through camp makes it much easier to enjoy your holiday right?
I’m a family man. I love being able to go home and see my family and hangout with them. Being able to be around for the holidays and be with my family members, being able to see my mom and dad and everyone else is very important to me. It’s a really important time of the year for me. I wrestled my whole life and I’ve done the whole cutting weight on Christmas day thing and that just isn’t what I’m going to do anymore. I’m targeting early February now though. If I get a fight in February, that’ll give me enough time to have about a five week training camp. I don’t need that much time I’m always in pretty good shape. I spar twice a week year round so I’m always ready to go.
You spoke briefly about contract negotiations. How’s that going? You’re still on your first contract with the company correct?
Yeah they typically do a base 4-fight contract. It’s no secret that if you do well, they don’t really want you to test free agency. I’ve done well so far. I’m 3-0 with two finishes and two post-fight bonuses. I’m still undefeated and now I’ve got that double-digit undefeated record. So, we’re trying to figure out the right money for the right opponent. I’m not an idiot, you know? I know how the game works. I don’t really wanna be out there asking for a top 10 or a top 15 opponent right away. I think I’m pretty realistic about it. Do I think I could beat the best guys right now? I certainly do if I perform the right way. I wanna have a long career. I don’t want to go on a title run right away, get knocked off and become a gate keeper. I want to fight til I’m at least 35. That’s at the very least another 4 years. I want to make a title run when I’m in my prime. 31, 32, get the title and hold it for a few fights and go out on top. That’s the goal, that’s the plan.
You’re still so green in your career. You’re 10-0 and were a highly-touted prospect coming into the UFC. Is it safe to say that you still consider yourself growing into your career as you progress through the UFC? A lot of these guys have 15-20 fights before they even reach the big show and you were here at 7-0.
Am I green? Yeah I’d say so. I think I’m still pretty green. I’m learning so much about the striking game. I think I’m already a pretty good grappler, a pretty good wrestler but I think my striking is evolving each fight. My first fight I had to strike because I couldn’t take the guy down right away. My second fight is the only fight in my career that I’ve never landed a takedown and that’s because I knocked the guy out in 21 seconds. My third fight in the UFC was where I really felt I put it all together. Beautiful takedowns mixed seamlessly with strikes. He stuffed a takedown and I came over the top with a elbow and dropped him. He scrambled out of another takedown so I grabbed his head and got him with a knee. It’s definitely evolving. And I think that makes the wrestling a lot more threatening as well because guys are going to have to start thinking about more than just my takedowns. Like I said, I do think I can take on the top 5, top 10 guys right now and win. I just don’t want to be in win at any cost mode. I think I need just a little more cage time to put on those flawless fights.
Do you feel any pressure being such a highly touted prospect going into your MMA career? Does it evoke any feelings from you knowing every time you step into the octagon the long list of accolades are going to be listed off?
There’s only pressure once you’ve made it to the top. I say that knowing because I’ve been there. I’ve been there the majority of my NCAA career. I was ranked first my Junior year, ranked first my senior year. I know what its like to have a target on your back. That sounds cliche, everyone in MMA probably feels they’ve got a target on their back but it’s much more pressure when you’re the number one guy. I struggled with this a bit when I was in Ring of Combat before the UFC. I went in there and everyone was expected me to absolutely murder these guys. The expectation was set before I had even debuted as a pro. These were tough dudes in there, but it was at the point where I felt if I didn’t smash these dudes and end the fight in the 1st round, I was under-performing. That’s what happened with my last ROC fight when I fought Sidney Outlaw. That was a tough kid. He actually fought in Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series and won. He’s really tough. I had a really tough fight with that kid. He’s much better than I gave him credit for. It was a war, we went back and forth but that fight was considered a bad fight for me because I didn’t go out there and smash him like I was supposed to. I feel way less pressure now that I’m in the UFC than I ever did on the regional circuit. I feel less pressure when I’m fighting better guys for sure. People expect it to be a good fight when you’re fighting guys who are UFC-caliber.
Speak to me a bit about the development of your striking. How do you feel it’s coming along? Is it hard to rely on your wrestling ability knowing now that you’ve got knockout power in your hands? We’ve seen it plenty of times from standout wrestlers like Koscheck, Hendricks, etc. That knockout power can be addicting and often times guys find themselves relying on that rather than their bread and butter.
I’m never going to be the guy that has phenomenal wrestling and steers away from that. I think my coach Keith Trimble can attest to that, I’m never going to stop shooting takedowns. Sometimes I have to stop myself from shooting so much when I’m sparring because I do need to work on my stand up still. Regardless of whatever happens I’m always going to be a wrestling. I think anytime I’m in danger I’m going to shoot, any time I have a guy hurt I’m probably going to shoot. And that isn’t on purpose either, that’s just what happens off of pure instinct. I also have phenomenal takedown defense and scramble ability. It’s like, probably the worst thing someone can do it me try and take me down. I get my best takedowns when someone has my leg. That’s a rough spot for YOU. Now you’re in close proximity. Now I can grab you and squeeze you. The worst thing you can do is grab my leg. I’m getting that takedown every single time.
How important is it to you to be able to fight in New York City and particularly Madison Square Garden being from the area yourself? Is it a priority? Is there anywhere else specifically you’d like to fight?
It honestly doesn’t mean a whole lot to me. It would mean more to me to fight in Long Island at Nasseau Coliseum or Barclay’s or something than Madison Square Garden. I’m not particularly in love with New York City. I don’t love going there. It’s an extremely interesting place but I don’t love it. I’d actually prefer to fight in Buffalo or Albany over the city. Believe it or not, after the Holbrook fight, I know it was only 21 seconds, but when I came down to land some hammers on him, I landed weird and messed up the versa sac in my knee and had to get that removed. I have a six-inch scar from it straight down my knee. I would have fought on the Long Island card in July if it wasn’t for that surgery actually. It was a minor surgery though, it’s outside the joint so it was quick rehab and I don’t feel any effects from it. I have full flexibility in it now. No issues there and definitely no performance issues.
You mentioned that you’d like to return in February after not managing to get on one of the December cards. While in negotiations with the UFC for one of these fights, were any opponents thrown out there at all as potential matchups?
Not really. My managers are the ones who handle all that. They are in constant contact with my coaches. To be honest with you man, I don’t know a ton of the guys at my weight nor do I really give a fuck. I don’t watch any tape on them. My coaches handle all that. Most of the time come weigh ins I don’t even know what these guys look like yet. That’s just something that I always did with wrestling. Call it naive, call it what you want but I know that my coaches are going to train me accordingly. They watch my opponents or whoever is coming up at my weight. I really have no say in any of that and that’s my choice. I want nothing to do with that. I fight who my coaches think is best for me. My coaches take care of me and they’d never let me take a fight they think it’s a good move for me.
I know you said you had a vision lined up as far as how you want your career to play out in terms of easing your way into top ranked competition, but how would you feel if the UFC were to come to you with a top 15 opponent for your next fight?
There are certainly guys sitting in the top 15 right now that are conducive to my style of fighting and there are guys in the top 15 that are a bit less conducive to how I fight. I think there are guys that aren’t even ranked that are worse fights for me than a lot of the guys that the UFC has ranked. It would have to be for the right pay. Obviously, money talks. At this point, we’re going to keep climbing the ladder the way we’ve been doing it and we’ll get there when we get there. I feel like I’ve got a long career ahead of me. But to answer your question, yeah definitely for the right money I would. But only for the right money.
My final question for you is, are you currently training with any guys that you feel are big show ready? Any guys in your gym that are on the regional circuit that you think are ready to make a UFC run?
Andre Harrison is a nightmare. Not sure if you’ve heard of him, a lot of people haven’t which is really unfortunate but Andre Harrison is an animal. He’s 17-0. He’s outrageously good. Think about this. 17-0. I don’t care what league you’re in that’s damn near impossible to do. It isn’t like he’s getting easy fights either. He just straight up murdered Lance Palmer and I’ve got a lot of respect for Lance Palmer. I grew up wrestling with Lance. Lance is very skilled and Andre dismantled him. Andre could be in the UFC, he just doesn’t pursue it. He gets paid more outside the UFC. He’s got a family. He’s a good, good kid. It’s nice to see all his hard work pay off. To see him finally making money is such a nice thing to see. But listen, he’s 17-0. He won the World Series of Fighting Featherweight Championship. He won the Professional Fight League title. He’s really, really good. I think if he pursued it, he’d be in the UFC, he’s just making good money outside of the UFC right now. I train with him three days a week and I know how hard it is to do anything against the guy. He’s one of those guys you have to finish and finishing Andre is literally impossible. Andre Harrison is just a different kind of dude.