Physically, the walk to a mixed martial arts fight is pretty easy. Left foot, right foot, repeat until you get from the locker room to the cage.

Mentally, though, that walk comes loaded with emotion.

"It's a scary thing," said Gregor Gillespie, who makes his fifth such walk Friday night at Ring of Combat 51 in Atlantic City. "You go out and there's thousands of people watching and you're gonna fight one other dude."

Several thousand eyes focus on the fighters. This isn't a wrestling match where there are multiple bouts happening at once. Or a football game, where people follow the ball more than the ballplayers.

"They're there watching you, that's it," Gillespie said. "All eyes on you. So it's definitely an anxious feeling. That pre-match anxiety, I think I thrive on it. I really like that feeling. I may not love it in that exact moment, but when it's over, I'm like, 'Man, what a rush that was!' It's such an emotional high. There's nothing like it."

Gillespie, who lives in Wantagh, is no stranger to high-pressure moments. He was a four-time Division I All-American wrestler at Edinboro University and a 2007 national champion.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

His MMA career has been successful as well. Four fights, four wins, four first-round stoppages. Not too shabby for a guy who had trouble getting his first fight a few years ago because of his wrestling pedigree.

Gillespie will try to make it five straight when he fights George Sheppard (15-10) of Virginia for the Ring of Combat lightweight title at The Tropicana.

Sheppard, 26, has six times as many pro MMA fights than Gillespie, 28. Such math matters little to Gillespie.

"You have to take everybody seriously, 100 percent of the time," Gillespie said. "You can't look at their record and assume anything by that. What if they fought a whole bunch of really tough guys and they have a bad record, but they only fought great guys? You're making false assumptions that can get you in trouble."

Gillespie, who trains at Bellmore Kickboxing Academy, said he doesn't focus much on his opponents. Nor does he do much research on the guy he'll exchange punches and kicks and knees and elbows with for up to 15 minutes.

@LaMonicaMark

"I just expect it to be a tough fight," Gillespie said. "It's a fight. It's not a football game where you can say, 'Oh we'll make it up in the second half.'"

Gillespie spent about three weeks in New Mexico training with UFC lightweight Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone for his May 23 bout at UFC 187. Gillespie said he and the No. 3 ranked lightweight in the sport's top promotion sparred five rounds twice in the same day.

"Just going with Donald," Gillespie said, "it's like a huge confidence booster knowing I'm at that level."