Motivation had never been an issue for Gregor Gillespie before.
After an All-American collegiate wrestling career at Edinboro, Gillespie eventually turned to MMA, training and fighting without losing his drive.
That is, until this year.
“After my last fight, I said I wasn’t going to fight again until it was in the UFC,” Gillespie said. “I didn’t know how long that was going to take, but I just wasn’t motivated to fight in the lower-level shows anymore.”
Gillespie won his seventh straight fight in June. In August, the UFC came calling.
And, now, the motivation is back.
A re-energized Gillespie (7-0) will make his UFC debut Saturday at UFC Fight Night 95 in Brasilia, Brazil, against “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil” Season 3 winner Glaico Franca (14-4, 1-1 UFC).
Gillespie joins the UFC roster after seven wins in 2 ½ years in Ring of Combat, a Northeast regional promotion run by Lou Neglia that’s produced its share of UFC veterans. Gillespie held Ring of Combat’s lightweight belt and defended it twice before leaving for the UFC.
“I think it was a convenient path, I think it was smart path,” Gillespie said of starting his career with Ring of Combat. “I think there are organizations that get a little more notoriety than Ring of Combat does, but they definitely have a proven track record of sending guys to the UFC.”
Gillespie joins Chris Weidman, Frankie Edgar, Matt Serra and nearly a hundred others to reach the UFC from Ring of Combat. Gillespie said he has nothing but respect for the promotion and is happy with his time there, but he wasn’t necessarily happy with how long it took to reach the big time.
“I think it took a little longer than it should have, but it is what it is,” said Gillespie, who is from upstate New York and has lived and trained on Long Island for several years. “It’s a loaded division. There aren’t many guys now like there used to be where you go 4-0 like Chris Weidman and send you up to the UFC.”
Gillespie’s coach, Keith Trimble of Bellmore Kickboxing Academy, thinks Gillespie was being hard on himself.
“Listen, guys are around guys who are in the UFC and you’re sparring with them and training with them and you’re on their level,” Trimble said. “They think, ‘I get the better of him in training, I could be at the UFC level,’ but it’s like anything, you’ve got to start somewhere and all within time with hard work, it’ll work out.”
Still, the wait was hard on Gillespie, and his lack of motivation had him questioning whether he should fight again at that level. Entering his last fight, he was physically ready but said he couldn’t get properly prepared mentally.
“That’s kind of where my mind was at, maybe that would have changed with a six-month break, but I don’t know,” Gillespie said. “It’s hard to say exactly what would’ve happened after that last fight if the UFC didn’t pick me up.”
While there have been some frustrating moments in training over the years, Trimble doesn’t believe Gillespie would be willing to walk away.
“He’s such a dedicated person that he wouldn’t quit like that,” Trimble said. “He’s really come a long way, in this camp especially.”
Now, Gillespie will look to put it all together against Franca. The well-rounded Brazilian was a replacement for Gillespie’s original opponent, Joaquim Silva, and had won 10 of his last 11 fights before a loss to James Vick in April.
Neither Gillespie or Trimble spent much time looking at film of Franca, instead focusing on what Gillespie will do to him rather than the other way around. Still, Gillespie is ready for the step up in competition.
“I feel like I’m in the right spot now,” Gillespie said. “I want to string a good run here together and get better opponents as I go along.”
And with his motivation back, Gillespie is ready to turn his short-term success into long-term goals.
“I definitely think I have the tools to be in that top five or with the belt, that’s why I’m fighting,” Gillespie said. “You’re not fighting to just be in the UFC, that’s just the first step.”