He made his promotional debut a little over a year ago, venturing to Brasilia, Brazil to take on former Ultimate Fighter Brazil winner Glaico Franca. It was a dramatic departure from the familiar routine he’d carved out with his coaches and corners while building a perfect 7-0 mark competing under the Ring of Combat banner. It was a road game and he was the foreign invader looking to come in and pin a loss on the hometown favorite, which is exactly what he did.
Seven months later, the unbeaten lightweight made his sophomore appearance in the UFC FIGHT PASS featured prelim for UFC 210 in Buffalo, as much of a home game as the 30-year-old from Rochester was going to get at the moment.
“That was like a homecoming,” said Gillespie, who scored a 21-second knockout over Andrew Holbrook to pick up his second UFC victory and push his record to 9-0 back in April. “It was so cool. It was about an hour-and-a-half from where I went to college, an hour from where I went to high school, from where my brother, my parents, my sister live; it was super-cool and especially to win in that fashion.”
Having experienced both extremes to kick off his career in the Octagon, the levelheaded lightweight prospect, who returns this weekend in Pittsburgh opposite Jason Gonzalez, believes the key to dealing with each situation is using the extremes to your favor and turning the potential stressors into motivation.
“I think you can make it suit your situation,” he said of the very different, but equally daunting, pressures that come with fighting on the road or close to home. “What I mean is that I think there is an added pressure when you know you’ve got a lot of fans there, but at the same time, you want to win for them, so maybe you put on a better performance. But when you go out of the country, you maybe feel a little less pressure, so I think you can kind of make it suit your situation.
“I think you’ve got to make the situation valuable to the circumstances,” he added. “When I went to Brazil, I was like, ‘I’m in hostile territory; I have to be the enemy.’ When I was home, it was like, ‘I want to win for all these people,’ so I kind of make the situation fit accordingly.
“I think for some people, it’s a one-track mind and maybe each situation affects them negatively, but for me, I can kind of trick my mind.”
After garnering a ton of momentum while piling up victories in Ring of Combat and validating his advanced billing with a pair of impressive wins in his first two trips into the Octagon, Gillespie has established himself as one to watch in the always deep, always competitive lightweight division.
Fresh off his rapid finish of Holbrook in Buffalo and on the precipice of pushing his winning streak to double digits, Gillespie has no objections to sharing the cage with Gonzalez in Pittsburgh and has a well-formulated approach to his career in the cage.
“All the guys in the UFC are good; it’s not like they got there because they suck,” said Gillespie, who prefers not to say much, if anything, about his opponents in advance of their fights. “I’ve got to fight who they give me. I’m not ‘I’ll fight a Top 15 guy right now!’ No. I’m on a contract, I’m fighting for a certain amount of money and I’m fighting the guys that are right for the contract right now. I hope to have a long career in the UFC and I think it’s a step in the right direction.
“Winning is the most important thing; I’ve said that for years, even before I had a fight – winning is the most important thing,” continued Gillespie, a four-time All-American at Edinboro University, where he holds the record for most career victories. “If I had to make a choice – you’re not going to get paid a dime and you’ll win or you’ll get this much money and you’ll lose, I’m going to win.”
So while contemporaries and colleague may use their post-fight interview time to call out Top 10 competition just a couple fights into their career, Gillespie will continue to assert claim to being the best cold water fisherman in the UFC and beat the guys the UFC puts in front of him.
That way, if he does happen a lose a fight somewhere down the line, there will be a series of victories on his resume to help lessen the impact of the loss and lessen concerns about his time on the biggest stage in the sport coming to a premature end.
“I think it’s silly some times when I see these guys that are on their second fight in the UFC and maybe they had a close fight their first fight and then they jump right in and get an opportunity to fight a Top 15 guy,” said Gillespie. “They’re like, ‘I’m making my way in!’ That’s such a gamble, especially if you came off a close fight or maybe even a loss. You’re going to fight for your job, too.
“If you’ve only got one win, you probably shouldn’t be fighting a Top 15 guy yet – not because you’re not capable, but maybe get four fights under your belt first. Win four in a row and that way if God forbid you lost, you’re still 4-1 instead of 1-1.
“I’m not in that position – I’m on two good wins right now – but at the same time, you have to be smart. I think I can beat anyone in the division, but this week, it’s about Saturday night.”
And just as he doesn’t like to say much about his opponents before they square off in the Octagon, the avid fisherman isn’t one to make grandiose predictions about what will happen once the cage door closes either.
“I expect to go out there, work hard and do what I’ve done in training,” said the Bellmore Kickboxing Academy product. “If I do what I’ve done in training, it’s going to work out. I have faith in my training. I have faith in the system that’s in place – we have a routine and a schedule that we stick to religiously and it works.
“I’ve worked really hard and I know that I’m ready. I’ll put it this way: it’s going to be tough to outwork me.”