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The lightweight clash, which opened up the pay-per-view portion of UFC 244 on Nov. 2 at Madison Square Garden in New York, ended up being a quick, exciting striking battle. Lee scored the knockout almost three minutes in to put an end to the short, but back-and-forth war. Many expected the bout to be a high-level grappling match, given that both Gillespie (13-1 MMA, 6-1 UFC) and Lee are two of the very best wrestlers in the division.
“I think a lot of people thought that was going to be the fight, just grappling, right,” Gillespie told MMA Junkie. “So that was kind of the general consensus that there was going to be a grinding out, (expletive) hanging on each other, pulling each other, tangling and scrabbling type of fight, but it was the exact opposite. I took one shot, didn’t even come close, came right back up and went back to striking.”
With the result in mind, some fans questioned why Gillespie didn’t use his NCAA Division I All-American pedigree and wrestled Lee more. Gillespie, who was holding more than his own on the feet, causing a lot of damage with his boxing, says it’s easier said than done.
“I thought I was doing really well in the striking,” Gillespie said. “The sideline couch-coaches, the trolls online were like, ‘Why didn’t you wrestle, bro? You should’ve (expletive) wrestled sooner, that’s what got you there. Don’t forget what got you there.’
“But Kevin Lee is no slouch when it comes to grappling, he’s an excellent wrestler for MMA and he’s not exactly easy to takedown. They obviously came with a great game plan – stay low, don’t get too high even if there’s some striking exchanges that don’t go your way. He was in a super low stance and you can’t just dive in on a guy like that, and I thought I was doing really well in the striking.
“I thought I was winning the exchanges up to that point, but then again, that doesn’t mean anything in MMA, things can change in the blink of an eye as you see. But I thought I was striking really (expletive) well: I busted his eyes up, I busted his nose up. The plan was hit him enough so where he has to stand up a little bit to avoid getting hit and then you shoot. But he kept that (expletive) stance, man. I couldn’t get him out of that stance and I’m not diving in on a guy like that.
“You get all these assholes on the internet saying you should’ve shot, man, but I mean, I was winning the exchanges. And if you dive in, then you can get kneed in the mouth and then get knocked out. And then it’s easy to say, ‘Why did you shoot, you were winning the exchanges,’ so you can’t win. When you know the result it’s super easy to say you should’ve done this or that.”
Gillespie has a sober assessment on how immediate rematches go in the UFC, so he’s not expecting to get matched up with Lee again anytime soon. However, the Long Island native would love to get another crack at Lee sometime in the future.
“As far as the rematch, I would obviously love to fight Kevin Lee, but unfortunately in this sport – unless you’re a titleholder and it’s a title fight that could’ve been a rematch – that’s not how fighting works,” Gillespie said. “I’m not going to get a rematch with Kevin Lee even if I begged for one right now. However, if we meet down the road, I would absolutely love that. That would be if we meet again along the road to the belt, I’d love that.
“Again, I’m not asking for one right now because I know it’s not in the realm of possibilities, but I hope one day we both get to a point, maybe we fight for the belt one day, maybe we have a title eliminator one day, I would really like that.”
Gillespie is back to training, but not sparring. The 32-year-old plans to return to competition sometime in the spring before the 2020 NCAA wrestling championship. Gillespie has no opponent in mind, but wants to get hands on someone in top 10.
News | MMA Junkie