Even for the toughest mixed martial artist, it can’t hurt to have a buddy enduring the rigors of fight week by their side.
Long Island-based fighters Dennis Bermudez and Gregor Gillespie have that luxury this week ahead of UFC on Fox 27 on Saturday in Charlotte. UFC veteran Bermudez will fight Andre Fili in a featherweight co-main event, while up-and-comer Gillespie competes one fight earlier in a lightweight bout against Jordan Rinaldi.
“Dennis and I have been friends a long time, we are good friends, I’ve known him since college wrestling,” Gillespie said. “We flew on the same flight down here. We still joke around, we’re buddy-buddy.”
Neither Bermudez nor Gillespie originally are from Long Island — Bermudez grew up in Saugerties, N.Y., while Gillespie was born just outside of Rochester. The pair first met while competing in the Eastern Wrestling League, an NCAA Division I wrestling conference. Bermudez was competing at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, while Gillespie was a star at Edinboro University.
“We both wrestled in EWL. He wrestled at 149 and I wrestled at 157, and then when I dropped down to 149, he went up to 157,” Bermudez said. “We were at two different schools, but he was the man, a national champion, and I always liked his wrestling style. I guess fate had it that we were going to be good buds and both live on Long Island.”
Gillespie said the pair used to work together often when both trained at Bellmore Kickboxing Academy, but with Bermudez conducting his camp at Long Island MMA in Farmingdale in recent years, they only worked together a few times ahead of their upcoming fights.
“We used to train a lot more than we do now, I’ve only seen him a few times,” Gillespie said. “I do the majority of my training at Bellmore Kickboxing and he does the majority of training at his gym. That’s that. It hasn’t reflected on our friendship at all, we’re still friends, we still mess around.”
Gillespie never has fought on a UFC card alongside a friend, but Bermudez had plenty of company ahead his last fight, preparing with several Long Islanders at the UFC’s Nassau Coliseum debut last July.
“This one’s different than the last one, because the last one I was fighting with Gian (Villante), (Chris) Weidman, (Ryan) LaFlare and everyone, but we were all at home,” Bermudez said. “Now, I’m fighting with Gregor and we’re away, so probably a little bit more bonding, probably spend a little more time with Gregor during the week than I did with LaFlare and (Chris) Wade and those guys because we all had our own houses to go back to.”
Bermudez enjoyed the experience of preparing with a group of buddies, but that July night didn’t go his way. In a split decision, Bermudez lost to Darren Elkins, his second straight defeat and first decision loss of his career, although Bermudez felt the judges got it wrong.
“In the fight, I thought I lost, I’m very hard and critical on myself,” Bermudez said. “But then I rewatched it from being outside of my body, and I was like, ‘dude, I definitely won that fight.’ I guess he had more time in control, but I beat his face in. I look at it like, if that fight had gone on forever, I would eventually kill him.”
Currently No. 12 in the featherweight division, Bermudez hopes a victory puts him back in the picture at the top of the 145-pound division. Gillespie sits outside the lightweight rankings for now, but wins in his first three UFC bouts have the unbeaten wrestler’s profile rising. His last victory came via second-round submission against Jason Gonzalez.
“Any time you get a win like that, and it’s a battle and you feel like you’re winning all aspects of the game, it solidifies you in your own brain that, ‘hey, I am the real deal,’” Gillespie said. “But that feeling fades pretty quick and it’s back to regular training. You kind of have to have amnesia, you can’t dwell on a win or a loss. Moving forward, if you have any of those things stuck in your brain, you can’t focus on the next task at hand, so we move on pretty quick.”
He’s happy to get a higher-profile fight on the main card, but Gillespie wants to work at the pace best for him and his coach at Bellmore Kickboxing, Keith Trimble.
“That’s an area where Keith Trimble is very important. Everyone’s pace is a little different. This isn’t collegiate athletics where next week I’m wrestling the No. 1 guy in the country and then the following week you have another match. You have to be a little more picky with it,” Gillespie said. “It’s a job. On top of being something I enjoy doing, it is my job, and if you bite off more than you can chew, you get half the paycheck.
“I want to have another three-or-four years of fighting in me, so the pace we’re on is the right pace. A lot of people don’t realize this — I’ve literally only had 10 fights total, no amateur experience, I didn’t have my first fight until I was 27 years old. I haven’t been fighting that long, so I think we still have a lot to learn. I’m getting better each fight and we hope to keep up that progression. But I get asked, ‘why aren’t you getting a top 10 guy?’ I’m sure if I asked for it I probably could, but we felt that the risk-reward aspect of it, we’re doing it the right way.”