After the 11th strike to a flattened-out Diego Ferreira landed to end the fight, it all flowed out for Gregor Gillespie.
The two-plus years since he won a fight. The 554 days since his last fight, one he lost by devastating headkick knockout. The broken jaw. The pandemic and its restrictions. The doubt that crept in about, if he did fight again, would he win. The end of the first round Saturday night at UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas.
Massapequa’s Gillespie rolled off a beaten Ferreira, onto his back, thrust his arms toward the sky and fought through tears. Then he screamed, "That’s all [expletive] heart. That’s all heart."
"That's how you finish!" exclaimed Keith Trimble, his trainer at Bellmore Kickboxing MMA.
Gillespie earned the second-round TKO victory — his seventh such finish — in his return to the octagon.
"There’s not much that compares to that," said Gillespie (14-1) in his post-fight interview on ESPN. "I’m about ready to cry. It’s been such a long time since I felt that. The last time I won a fight was two years ago. I haven’t fought in over a year, so, man that was a special one for me.
"Obivously I believe in myself, but you never know, the doubt creeps in some times. It’s been a year and half, can I still compete with those guys?"
Yes, he can.
Gillespie, the 14th-ranked lightweight in the UFC, and the 12th-ranked Ferreira put on an incredible pace in the first round with scramble after scramble after scramble. Gillespie landed three of his five takedown attempts and 10 of 20 strikes, with Ferreira connecting on 26 of 45. In the final 30 seconds or so of the first round, Ferreira got Gillespie’s back and landed a few good punches and elbows at the end to win the round on all three judges’ cards.
"I take it personally when someone gets out or reverses me," Gillespie said after his fight. "The way that first round ended -- I didn’t love that. I was in a bad spot and getting punched. Had I just been able to stay on top, I would have won that round."
An exhausted-looking Gillespie got up and briefly wobbled on his walk back to his corner. A ringside physician checked on Gillespie in between rounds.
Ferreira (17-4), who missed weight by more than four pounds on Friday, appeared to get tired in the second round. Gillespie regained his energy and pushed a relentless pace of grappling, stringing together move after move to keep Ferreira on the ground and in a disadvantageous position.
"Look how much easier they were, look how much less he tried to get out," Gillespie said of his takedowns and grappling in the second round. "I made him quit. I make a lot of people quit. And that’s something you’ll never see me do."
Ferreira did get back to his feet briefly around the two-minute mark, but it didn’t last long. Gillespie wrestled him from one position to another. By the 25-second mark, Gillespie mounted Ferreira and started to work his ground-and-pound. Ferreira rolled over and gave up his back. Gillespie then flattened out Ferreira and hammered away until referee Chris Tognoni stopped the bout with 11 seconds left in the second round.
The bout earned Fight of the Night honors, with Gillespie and Ferreira each earning a $50,000 bonus.
"I had to get tired myself to get him tired," Gillespie said. "I was tired, but I always think about it like, ‘If I’m tired, I can’t imagine what he’s feeling like."