Cham­pion mixed mar­tial artist Gre­gor Gille­spie uses fish­ing as a much-needed di­ver­sion from his rig­or­ous train­ing and punch­ing guys out in the ring. By DANIEL HARD­ING JR.

Cars and trucks rum­ble past the pond at 40 mph. On one side is a gas sta­tion, and on the other are rows of uni­form apart­ments. It’s not the kind of place you’d ex­pect to meet a mixed mar­tial arts star for an after­noon of fish­ing.

Gre­gor Gille­spie, fol­lowed by his friend Nick Karamoshos, makes his way to the pond with a brown bag clenched in his fist. He sits on a bench, takes a frozen yo­gurt out of the bag and scarfs it down, paus­ing only to sprin­kle M&MS on top. If you told me this is how my after­noon with a guy who punches peo­ple in the face for a liv­ing was go­ing to start, I’d call you a liar. The snack and small talk are dealt with swiftly. Gille­spie is here to fish. He and Karamoshos pull rods, a net and a tackle box from the car and make their way to a se­cluded sec­tion of the pond. Gille­spie re­moves new plas­tic lures from their pack­ages; Karamoshos, who is 17, finds a coun­try mu­sic sta­tion on his phone.

“I tell Nick all the time about the health ben­e­fits of vi­ta­min D,” Gille­spie says, tak­ing off his shirt. Cov­ered in tat­toos, his physique is what you’d ex­pect from an un­de­feated (12-0) pro­fes­sional fighter who works out three times a day (ex­cept for Sun­day, when he only works out once). He’s ripped. The only other six packs you’ll find around this pond are on ice in Cole­man cool­ers.

Gille­spie rigs a pair of spin­ning and bait­cast­ing rods and leads Karamoshos to a spot he likes to fish that’s about 20 feet from the busy road. It’s clear their re­la­tion­ship isn’t just that of friends; they in­ter­act like broth­ers. In fact, Gre­gor rents an apart­ment con­nected to Karamoshos’ fa­ther’s house, so they live un­der the same roof. The pair also have a teacher-stu­dent re­la­tion­ship. Gille­spie, a for­mer NCAA Divi­sion 1 cham­pion wrestler, is a pri­vate coach to as many as 50 ath­letes. Nick, a top high school wrestler in New York, is one of his star ath­letes.

“He’s a great men­tor,” Karamoshos says as he plucks weeds from his lure be­tween casts. “He’s prob­a­bly the per­son I look up to the most be­sides my dad and grand­fa­ther. He teaches me about wrestling and fish­ing and about life.”

When you’re friends and fish­ing bud­dies with a cham­pion mixed mar­tial artist, you have your share of unique ex­pe­ri­ences, says Karamoshos. “Just yes­ter­day a guy came up to us and said, ‘I know who you are; you’re Gre­gor Gille­spie,’ ” Karamoshos says. “He was a re­ally nice guy. We talked to him for about an hour.”

Those who are fa­mil­iar with Gre­gor and the Ul­ti­mate Fight­ing Cham­pi­onship (one of his post-fight in­ter­views gar­nered more than 120,000 views on Youtube) know him as a re­lent­less ath­lete with a vi­cious left hook and ex­pect a tough-as­nails per­sona. “Peo­ple in my school think he’s scary just from look­ing at him,” Karamoshos says. “They say, ‘Oh my God, you have a UFC fighter liv­ing in your house.’ I don’t think of him as a UFC fighter — I think of him as a nor­mal guy.”

De­spite the re­spect the two have for each other, there’s al­ways ri­valry in a broth­erly re­la­tion­ship. “Nick and I are re­ally com­pet­i­tive. Some­times when it’s cold we com­pete to see who

[re­lents] and puts his gloves on first,” Gille­spie says with a laugh. “It’s the kind of com­pe­ti­tion no one wins.”

“But it’s also one no one loses,” Karamoshos adds. Karamoshos lands the first bass of the day. The two pose for a pic­ture, re­lease the small fish and get back to busi­ness. The fighter and so­cial me­dia star (@Gre­gorthegift) who goes by #Best­fish­er­man­in­mma doesn’t want to be shown up.

As with many as­pects of Gille­spie’s life, his in­tro­duc­tion to an­gling as a kid was un­con­ven­tional. His fa­ther, a for­mer ca­noe racer, is one of the top wooden ca­noe pad­dle mak­ers in the world. When out pad­dling, he’d put his son in the back of the ca­noe with a fish­ing pole. “I’d sit in the back, open the bail and bzzzz, just let the line out and we’d be trolling,” Gille­spie re­calls. “There was no mo­tor, just the pad­dle, so fish wouldn’t get spooked. I still re­mem­ber be­ing in the Saranac Lake chain in the Adiron­dacks, and I’d be in the back catch­ing pike.”

Fish­ing was put on pause as the boy in the ca­noe mor­phed into one of the coun­try’s top wrestlers. Gille­spie won two state cham­pi­onships for Web­ster High School out­side Rochester, New York. Later, his re­lent­less style of at­tack­ing made him one of Ed­in­boro (Penn­syl­va­nia) Univer­sity’s win­ningest wrestlers and an NCAA cham­pion.

After col­lege, free from the struc­tured rou­tine of an elite ath­lete, Gille­spie started par­ty­ing. A tat­too on his neck reads “1 or 100,” which speaks to the fact that when he com­mits to some­thing, he goes all in. That’s a good mantra to ap­ply to wrestling, not so much for par­ty­ing. At the urg­ing of his coach, he en­tered re­hab in 2010.

“That was al­most eight years ago,” Gre­gor says as he checks his lure and casts. “May 31st will be my eight years clean and sober an­niver­sary. This is cer­tainly a health­ier vice than that type of par­ty­ing life­style. Fish­ing is about as crazy as it gets now.”

After re­hab, Gille­spie re­turned to the wrestling mat and was com­pet­i­tive on the world stage, plac­ing in the U.S. Open, a pre­lude to the World Cham­pi­onships. He then fol­lowed the path of other suc­cess­ful wrestlers into the Oc­tagon — the en­closed ring where MMA fights are held. It was around this time that a friend from Ed­in­boro in­tro­duced Gille­spie to muskie fish­ing. After just 45 min­utes on a lake, he caught the fish of 10,000 casts. “I was hooked again.”

Gille­spie hasn’t stopped fish­ing since, and he says the sport gives him a chance to take a breather from his train­ing reg­i­men of 19 workouts a week. “For a while ev­ery­thing was the same ev­ery day,” he says. “It could

be Mon­day or it could be Sat­ur­day — it didn’t mat­ter. I’m good at fight­ing, and I like it, but fish­ing is def­i­nitely a much-needed break.”

The day we met, Gille­spie — who fights at 155 pounds — was six weeks from co-head­lin­ing a UFC event in Utica, New York (which he won). Gille­spie says he ab­stains from fish­ing in the three weeks lead­ing up to a fight to gain ag­gres­sion and a com­pet­i­tive edge.

The hours pass, and the #Best­fish­er­man­in­mma has yet to land a fish. That might be stress­ful for some, es­pe­cially with a pho­tog­ra­pher wait­ing for a shot, but Gille­spie is no stranger to pres­sure. “You have to be like wa­ter to a rock; wa­ter breaks down rocks over time,” he says as he sends his lure across the pond. “I’m very per­sis­tent in all walks of life. Whether it’s fish­ing or fight­ing, I’ll do some­thing un­til I get it right.”

Gille­spie has been known to fish all day, even if the ac­tion is slow, which makes it dif­fi­cult to find fish­ing part­ners. The pho­tog­ra­pher and I look at each other, hop­ing it doesn’t take that long. Gille­spie’s rod tip dips, and the pho­tog­ra­pher scram­bles into po­si­tion. The fighter lifts a chain pick­erel.

It’s a funny jux­ta­po­si­tion, the fierce fighter hold­ing the diminu­tive fish. Gille­spie takes out his phone to shoot an In­sta­gram video. He doesn’t care about the size of the fish. He’s not look­ing for a phys­i­cal fight; he gets enough of that from his day job. He’s look­ing to be tested men­tally. “I never use bait,” he notes. “I like trick­ing the fish into bit­ing.”

Gille­spie is wired for a chal­lenge; with­out it, he tends to get restless. It’s why one of his fa­vorite species is muskie. “There’s just a mys­tique around muskie be­cause they’re so hard to catch,” say Gille­spie, who bought his small fish­ing boat with bonus money he re­ceived after knock­ing out an op­po­nent in the first round. “To me it’s the long game. If I catch three muskie it’ll be a good sea­son. Some­thing that’s elu­sive and dif­fi­cult to at­tain is more in­ter­est­ing to me.”

Gille­spie has been fight­ing pro­fes­sion­ally for four years in the light­weight divi­sion, yet even with his suc­cesses, he’s all too aware that a ca­reer in the hurt busi­ness is short. As long as he’s healthy, Gille­spie tries to com­pete in the UFC ev­ery four months, which is typ­i­cal given the rig­ors of this style of fight­ing. While some ath­letes com­pete into their 40s, the av­er­age re­tire­ment age in the UFC is 35. Gille­spie is 31 and in­tends to hang up the gloves in an­other four years. “Hope­fully I can spring­board my fight­ing ca­reer to help me do some­thing se­ri­ous in fish­ing [when I re­tire],” Gille­spie says, load­ing his gear into the trunk. “Hell, maybe I can get a fish­ing show or some­thing, even if it’s a Youtube chan­nel. Or maybe a pod­cast on a boat. Fish­ing is some­thing I’ll do un­til I die.”

In the Oc­tagon, Gre­gor is known as “The Gift,” a nod to his nat­u­ral ath­letic abil­ity. The real gift, how­ever, might be the one thing that has brought bal­ance to the young fighter: fish­ing.

“For a while ev­ery­thing was the same ev­ery day,” he says. “It could be Ņńĵıŕ Ņň ĹŐ ijņőłĵ IJĴ ıőőňĵıŕ Ȅ ĹŐ ĴĹĴŃǮŐ ŃıŐŐĴŇǤ ǯń ĶŅŅĴ ıő Ƥķĸőĺńķǡ ıńĵ łĺłĵ ĹŐǠ IJŐŐ Ƥʼnĸĺńķ Ĺʼn Ĵĵƥńĺőĵłŕ ı Ńői­jĸǧńĵĵĵĵĵ Ijňĵıłǥdz

An­glers Jour­nal

It’s the men­tal chal­lenge that at­tracts the fighter to fish­ing.

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