When Gregor Gillespie made his UFC debut in September, he left North America for the first time to fight a Brazilian in the nation’s capital city of Brasilia.
Fight No. 2 won’t take him quite as far.
“I couldn’t have gone farther away from home for my first fight and I couldn’t be closer to home for my second fight.” Gillespie said. “Buffalo is smack dab in the middle of where I grew up and where I finished growing up.”
The unbeaten lightweight will have the support of two communities when he faces Andrew Holbrook at UFC 210 on Saturday at KeyBank Center in Buffalo. Gillespie will be the featured prelim on UFC Fight Pass. The pay-per-view card is headlined by light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier vs. Anthony Johnson.
Gillespie’s wrestling roots spread from Webster Schroeder High School near Rochester, where he won two state titles, to Edinboro University in Pennsylvania, where he was a national champion and a four-time All-American.
With the UFC booking its first event in Buffalo since UFC 7 in 1995, the chance to compete in front of both groups was an opportunity Gillespie made sure not to miss, turning down fights at other events and waiting for UFC 210.
“It’s definitely going to be unique and special to have both hometown crowds,” Gillespie said. “I think there will be quite a few guys there that I haven’t seen in a while that maybe in high school I was hanging out with.”
Gillespie now lives in Massapequa and trains at Bellmore Kickboxing Academy.
He’ll enter the UFC octagon for the second time after beating Glaico França via unanimous decision in his promotional debut. França previously was 2-0 in the UFC, but Gillespie smothered the Brazilian with his grappling for much of three rounds to earn the victory.
Gillespie (8-0) returns to the area that made him an elite wrestler, but he’s learning that it will take more than wrestling to compete in the UFC.
“You can’t just rely on wrestling, he finally needed to strike,” trainer Keith Trimble said. “I knew [França] was a bigger guy, so if he just tries to wrestle and shoot from far, this guy’s going to be able to stop and stuff them.”
In seven fights with Ring of Combat, Trimble said Gillespie often didn’t use his striking to its full potential because his wrestling was far superior to his opponent’s. Ahead of his UFC debut, Gillespie assured Trimble he’d let his hands go to open his takedowns.
That didn’t happen in the first 30 seconds of the fight, though. Gillespie got caught with a big right hand after missing on a few takedowns, troubling Trimble in the corner. But Gillespie soon used his jab effectively and turned the fight around.
“He started letting his hands go and almost basically learned it right on the job, like ‘OK, I gotta do this now, I have no choice,’” Trimble said.
Trimble believes one of the keys to fighting at this level is unpredictability, something Gillespie has embraced in his training.
“The point is to keep them in the dark about where you’re coming from, and it makes both sides easier,” Gillespie said. “I don’t want them to know I’m shooting, I want them to think maybe it’s a fake, maybe it’s a shot, maybe it’s a fake punch.”
Trimble believes Gillespie has become a strong striker, but his ability to use one element to open the other will be the key to his success moving forward.
“Now you keep them guessing,” Trimble said. “He has a huge advantage because of his wrestling. If you can strike, fake a shot, start striking, then you go for your takedowns. Now his wrestling opens up and it makes it easier to shoot.”
Gillespie said the wrestling background that brought him into the sport will always be part of his game.
“It’s instinctual. If we’re doing just kickboxing or boxing, often times I’ll find myself ducking a punch and grabbing a leg,” Gillespie said. “I’ve been doing it since I was 4, so 26 years now I’ve been grabbing people’s legs.”
UFC 210 main card, 10 p.m. ET on PPV
Light heavyweight: Champion Daniel Cormier vs. Anthony Johnson
Middleweight: Chris Weidman vs. Gegard Mousasi
Women’s strawweight: Cynthia Calvillo vs. Pearl Gonzalez
Welterweight: Thiago Alves vs. Patrick Cote
Lightweight: Will Brooks vs. Charles Oliveira
UFC 210 prelims, 8 p.m. ET on FS1
Featherweight: Myles Jury vs. Mike De La Torre
Welterweight: Kamaru Usman vs. Sean Strickland
Featherweight: Shane Burgos vs. Charles Rosa
Light heavyweight: Patrick Cummins vs. Jan Blachowicz
UFC 210 early prelims, 6:15 p.m. ET on Fight Pass
Lightweight: Gregor Gillespie vs. Andrew Holbrook
Lightweight: Josh Emmett vs. Desmond Green
Women’s bantamweight: Katlyn Chookagian vs. Irene Aldana
Flyweight: Jenel Lausa vs. Magomed Bibulatov