Photo: John Sachs

Like Josh Koscheck before him, Gregor Gillespie was a decorated wrestler at Edinboro University in northwestern Pennsylvania. Both were four-time All Americans, and both captured national championships for the Fighting Scots. Pretty soon, they could have a lot more in common.

When Gillespie was in high school, Koscheck coached his freestyle wrestling team. During his freshman year in college, Gillespie remembers watching as Koscheck competed on the inaugural season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” Today “Kos” is regarded as one of the top welterweights in the sport and is also Gillespie’s favorite mixed martial artist.

By early 2012, Gillespie hopes to follow in Koscheck’s footsteps inside the cage, much as he did on the mats for four years at Edinboro.

“Really, it was a no-brainer for me. In the back of my mind, I’d always known that I was eventually going to fight, and I had kind of been putting it off,” Gillespie told “I was concentrating on an international wrestling career.”

Things accelerated for Gillespie when he moved to Long Island, N.Y., to accept a coaching position with the Hofstra University wrestling team.

“When I moved down here to take the job in the fall, I started hanging around with a couple of my buddies that I knew at Long Island MMA,” he said. “It kind of fell into place. I started training at my own leisure a couple times a week, and I fell in love with everything. I’m training five to six days a week now.”

Gillespie’s foray into the cage figures to carry plenty of high expectations given his background.

“Gregor has all of the tools it takes to be successful in MMA. His work ethic and will to win are second to none, and I expect him to rise to the top as he’s done in wrestling,” said manager Ryan Parsons.

After wrestling in college primarily at 157 pounds and in freestyle competitions at 163, he will compete at lightweight in the cage. Gillespie expects his MMA debut to come in February, potentially in Ring of Combat banner, an Atlantic City, N.J.-based promotion.

“That’ll give me a solid four months, five months of training,” he said. “We’re assuming it’s probably not going to be the easiest task to find me a fight right away.”

It might benefit prospective opponents to catch Gillespie early in his career, because the Webster, N.Y., native says he is gradually putting together a well-rounded game.

“My standup is coming along. That’s more of a transition to me than the jiu-jitsu. We’ve got tons of great guys over at Long Island MMA for jiu-jitsu. That’s obviously a little easier of a transition for me just because of my wrestling background,” he said. “The jiu-jitsu -- that’s my favorite at this point, and I think that’s probably where I’m developing the fastest. But my standup is coming along great, too. We’re sparring two times a week; I’m hitting pads every other day.”

Gillespie graduated from Edinboro with a 152-13 record, setting a school record for victories and winning percentage. His crowning achievement came in 2008, when he captured the 149-pound national championship with an overtime decision against Michigan’s Josh Churella. As the No. 5 seed entering the tournament, Gillespie’s triumph came as a surprise to many observers. Not to Gillespie, however, who never viewed himself as a Cinderella story. He plans on adopting the same approach to MMA.

“The year I won nationals, I was an underdog to everyone except for me, my coach, my dad and my close following,” he said. “I really don’t see myself as an underdog ever, because I always think I’m going to win. I believe in having a lot of faith in your training and having faith in your trainers and the system that you follow. I don’t think I’m an underdog now; I don’t think I was an underdog then. I just know whoever I fight, they’re gonna be in for a hell of a fight.”

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