For Nova Scotian prospect and Fredericton, N.B. fireman Rory Gillis (2-0)—who fights Drake Farrell (2-0) for Fight League Atlantic’s amateur welterweight title this Saturday—the wait to make his first walk to MMA competition was long, arduous, and frustrating. A knee injury and its involved rehabilitation process in 2017 would derail his premiere originally scheduled within that same calendar, and for some time after; then COVID-19 happened.
By this point in 2020, Gillis had just moved to Fredericton from British Columbia to begin his frontline job, and now already years removed from his planned MMA debut, found himself both without the option to fight and a fresh recruit thrown into an entirely different kind of fire.
He would continue his development as a martial artist at the same time he faced professional challenges which, in common with cage-fighting, few in the general population can relate to.
“During lockdown we were just a very small group of people (at Evolution Fight and Fitness) trying to train as best we could, or if not, find as good of alternatives to (MMA) training as possible,” said Gillis in an interview with MMA Empire.
“I watched a lot of instructionals during that period and just drilled with a couple buddies because that’s all we were allowed to do with the small bubbles (of permitted social-gathering sizes) at that time. Then, once training finally opened up later and the gyms all opened up again, I was ready to go full-bore at it again.”
Unfortunately for Gillis, the titular, oft-lamented “MMA Gods” were at this point in his journey not satisfied with his prolonged patience, and would test his resolve further with cancelled bouts across both 2021—wherein he suffered an ankle injury two weeks before his bout—as well as the first half of last year.
The chosen moment finally arrived last June, where he would secure a unanimous decision over Matt Macdonald and follow it with another over Colton Grant-Hose in October. Now that he is finally back in the swing of mixed martial arts, Gillis recounts that first fight in which he was at last able to exorcise the demons of training year in, year out, without the expected pay off under the lights.
“It was exciting. I was dying to get in there because I’d had so many fights cancelled and life just happening and you just never know when you’re going to get another opportunity in this sport. So I got in there with Matt, but there was a big adrenaline dump I didn’t expect at the start of the fight, and he was a good pressure fighter,” said Gillis.
“Felt like he was tiring me out a bit on the feet, but I was able to implement my ground game and eventually get the decision. I took some lessons from that first fight, with Matt; I found I was too flat-footed and put too much emphasis into my strength, which was my grappling, so the camp after that I really started to focus on my striking, which actually made my takedowns easier to secure in the next fight (with Grant-Hose) after I’d improved on the feet. There was a little extra pressure in that one, though. Because it was in New Glasgow (N.S.) which was actually very close to my hometown; I grew up about a half hour away, so there was a bunch of high school friends and family members who ended up attending the event. Overall though, I was more calm that time out. I knew my opponent was game, but I was able to tire him out and run ahead on the scorecards in the third round.”
Heading into this weekend’s title affair against an adversary in Farrell, who shares his 2-0 record, Gillis said he is grateful for the back-to-back, full 15-minute contests in his first two outings, as he considers Farrell’s cardio to be one of his most dangerous weapons.
“I’ve been focusing on my conditioning this entire camp, and making sure I’m in as good of shape as possible,” he said.
“I know I’m going to need it for this fight because Drake is well-known on the east coast for having a big gas tank, as well as great jiu-jitsu and scrambling. He’s always in the fight, so I’m going to have to take the fight to him, and really go for the finish in this one. He’s a tough bastard, never relents, and won’t stop unless you can find a way to stop him.”
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