Gregor Gillespie of Wantagh excited to finally begin MMA career
Four All-American wrestling honors in college, one NCAA championship, one broken arm.
Those are the particulars that contributed to the delayed start of Gregor Gillespie's mixed martial arts career. But fight week is finally here for the Wantagh resident. No more opponents can turn down a fight against Gillespie after researching his background -- a 152-13 record wrestling at Edinboro, plus two New York State titles while at Webster Schroeder High School.
Gillespie makes his pro debut Friday at Ring of Combat 47 at The Tropicana in Atlantic City against Kenny Gaudreau.
"Am I nervous? Of course, but I look forward to it," Gillespie said. "It's exciting to compete again. I like to consider myself a pressure player. Put me in front of a crowd, I always do better. Practice to me isn't the same. I try as hard as I can in practice, but it's not the same as a competition and I shine brightest when there's a little bit of pressure on me."
He's had plenty of practice since first discovering MMA toward the end of 2011. He was a volunteer assistant wrestling coach for Hofstra at the time. A close friend brought Gillespie to Long Island MMA for a grappling class.
"This is amazing," Gillespie thought at the time. "I threw on gloves one day, started throwing punches, I said this is even better."
Gillespie was enthralled with the idea of learning a new sport, but he had to make a decision. Would he pursue the Olympic track -- among the only few opportunities for elite wrestlers to continue in their sport after college -- or seek a career in the better-paying, big-exposure world of MMA.
He chose the latter, parting ways with Hofstra after one year.
In October 2012, just a few weeks before his first scheduled fight, Gillespie broke his arm during a sparring session at Bellmore Kickboxing Academy. What began as a blocked-kick attempt turned into a broken bone, then a staph infection and a five-month ordeal culminating in a catheter being inserted into his arm. Known as a PICC line, the peripherally inserted central catheter runs up the arm and ends in a vein in the chest near the heart to obtain intravenous access.
The staph infection was discovered about six weeks after a metal plate and rod were inserted in his right forearm to repair the broken bone, Gillespie said. That's when he was told he couldn't do anything athletic for at least two months.
"I was inconsolable," said Gillespie, 27. "You couldn't even talk to me."
This was the first serious injury endured by the lifelong athlete.
Gillespie found ways to combat his cabin fever as 2012 turned to 2013. Just to do some situps, he'd open the windows and doors in his home to let the winter air in and prevent him from sweating. The presence of sweat near the PICC line increases the risk of infection.
"I was walking all over the place," Gillespie said. "People would be driving and they'd see me with a backpack. That's what the IV was in, a backpack with IV pumping."
What's pumping through Gillespie's veins now are those competitive juices. "He's got the heart, he's got the desire," trainer Keith Trimble said.
It's been more than two years since Gillespie competed in an event. His opponent is 2-0 at the pro level.
But those are just numbers. Through the process of rehabbing and learning jiujitsu, boxing and kickboxing, Gillespie focused on the voice in his head.
"When I'm running on the treadmill on a day I don't feel like it," Gillespie said, "I hear [UFC octagon announcer] Bruce Buffer announcing my name as the winner."