The co-main event this UFC Fight Night: Brunson Vs Holland features Gillespie vs Riddell. This is a classic grappler vs striker matchup, Gregor being a four-time NCAA Division All American, and Brad scoring several kickboxing championships and having experience in professional Muay Thai. Greg has even gone against John Wayne Parr.
These two are phenomenal fighters for so far down the division, one unranked and the other at number fifteen, but that’s what you get for a weight class as deep as the lightweight division. The standards are high, so expect some serious fireworks. We take a look at the skill sets of both and how the pair match up.
Gregor ‘The Gift’ Gillespie – Relentless
Gregor has not fought for some time, his last bout coming in November 2019. That was an ill-fated matchup with Kevin Lee – where he suffered a savage head kick KO – but until then he was on an absolute tear, undefeated in thirteen fights, six of those in the UFC.
Where other wrestlers rely on their skills for conditioning or defense, Gregor has stuck to his roots and uses wrestling in one of the most dynamic and aggressive grappling styles of anyone in the UFC. Fighting him must be similar to fighting a sentient lead blanket. He bears down on you, dragging you to the floor, constantly applying top pressure and leaving you gasping for air. And then when you do make it back up, he throws himself at you again, and again, and again. He is relentless. I write a regular piece on the most exciting grappling bouts in MMA and Gillespie vs Riddell is all but guaranteed to make it into that recap.
His striking is functional, good even, but somewhat basic. It’s designed to complement his wrestling game more than anything else. He jabs mostly into takedowns – and his jabs are lovely – but there’s little apart from them and the occasional right hand. It’s all straight hitting. That said, we’ve not seen him in the cage for over a year and anyone can add a lot to their game in that kind of time. We’ll have to see what he’s worked on since the Kevin Lee bout.
His takedown game is built around shooting singles and taking body lock takedowns. He will change levels off the jab and take the body lock if he either fails on the initial takedown or if they manage to stand. From that body lock position, it’s anything to return them to the mat where he does his real damage. He’s far from a passive wrestler and knows that as soon as they hit the mat that’s far from the end of his work, and really buys into the Nurmagomedov/Usman camp of constant mat returns and relentless aggression. There are no breaks.
On the ground, he will prefer to keep the top position rather than any guard play or giving up the top position to take the back. He’s a wrestler through and through, and his aggression is mostly built around weighing down his opponent from either side control or mount. This preference for the top game is likely why he favors the arm triangle; it’s positionally safe, unlike something like an armbar or a guillotine, and he can hit it from any dominant top position.
To pass, he’ll even give up a half guard from side control but seems to be able to slice his knee through guards like a hot knife through butter and rarely gets stuck there. Opponents are always happy to grab the leg, but it almost universally seems to be a mistake. The mount always comes soon after. When he gets a good position he is happy to land ground and pound, but the position always comes first. This passing ability, constant aggression, and careful decision-making make him a force to be reckoned with, and a dominant wrestler.
So what went wrong against Lee? Well, for a start Lee is a powerful wrestler in his own right and accentuated this with a low stance, looking to sprawl at any second. The game plan was clearly to kill the wrestling before it could begin. After that, it was the limited striking that did Gillespie in. With little more than the jab and the occasional right hand to threaten Lee, “The Motown Phenom” was able to pick “The Gift” apart.
Brad ‘Quake’ Riddell – The City Kickboxing Banger
Brad is much fresher to the UFC, his first fight barely overlapping with Gregor’s last. Where Greg has focussed on the grappling, Brad is much more of a striker, both in pedigree and style. He trains out of City Kickboxing with champs Volkanovski and Adesanya. His 2013 MMA debut came as a surprise when he flew to Myanmar for a kickboxing match and was informed on arrival that it was a mixed martial arts bout, but that’s a story for another article.
City Kickboxing is known for its tricky strikers and interesting strategies, and though Brad has not focussed on the calf kicks and feints like his training partners, he does have some cunning moves. He’ll favor hooks to the body from short range, and transitioning a straight right to a looping hook around the guard. He shows a lot of variation in his striking game and does like the occasional leg kick, but I’ve heard him very appropriately described as more of a “banger” than the other City Kickboxing guys. His game isn’t so cunning, but it is powerful and fast, and Gregor should be careful to not get caught.
Grappling is by far the weaker aspect of his game. On top, he can land some serious ground and pound, but his takedowns are nothing to write home about, and he has yet to submit an opponent in the UFC. He gave Jamie Mullarkey trouble defending takedown attempts, but his opponent grounded the fight multiple times in round two, and he struggled to remove Alex Da Silva from the back body lock in their bout. There wasn’t a lot of threat from his back in any bout. Honestly, I’ve not seen enough of his BJJ to make a comment.
If there’s one thing that Brad is, it’s game. He comes to fight, and even when he gets battered and bruised he’s still ready to come forwards. He hasn’t shown any issues with cardio, and he’s dangerous until the fight is well and truly over. Riddell isn’t done till he’s done.
Gillespie vs Riddell – Constant Action
Gregor Gillespie’s striking is much more basic than Brad’s, but it’s not bad. It’s almost all jabs and he’s good at maintaining distance to negate the hooks. If it does stay striking though, Brad may well run away with it with more power, experience, and skills. Striking is Riddell’s wheelhouse and there’s no aspect of it in which I expect him to do worse.
Riddell’s grappling is much more basic than Gregor’s. If it hits the ground, Greg almost certainly ends up on top and is likely to dominate there. I cannot foresee Brad taking his opponent down, and I also can’t see any game plan for Gregor other than putting “Quake” on his back. The submission, ground and pound, and takedown advantage all rest heavily with Gillespie. Brad has also shown a fair amount of weakness in his takedown game, hitting the ground in all of his fights, with fairly high success rates from much less experienced wrestlers than Gillespie. This bout is almost certainly going to hit the canvas with Gregor on top.
It’s for that reason I lean towards Gregor for this Gillespie vs Riddell fight, but it all depends on whether Brad can defend the takedown and modify his stance. If he can keep the fight standing, the advantage of course lies with Riddell, but I just don’t expect it to stay standing. With his previous history defending takedowns, and little that threat from his back, I don’t expect Brad to take this one.
Both are well-conditioned from what I’ve seen. They don’t slow down much as the fight goes on, perhaps as any well-conditioned fighter might, so I wouldn’t expect the action to dry up. With the tenaciousness of Gregor and the gameness of Brad, I anticipate fireworks from start to finish.
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