Gillian Roberston’s birthplace of Niagara Falls, Ontario is more than 2,000 miles from her UFC 240 showdown in Edmonton, Alberta, but come Saturday night it will feel just like home as she prepares for her first professional fight on Canadian soil.
“Every other pro fight I’m pretty sure has been in my opponent’s hometown. It will be nice to have the home crowd behind me for the first time.”
She giggles as she says this, shrugging off the fact that although she arrived here safely for fight week, her luggage was not so lucky. It’s the kind of detail that could spoil a trip for even the most patient among us, never mind a mixed martial artist preparing for a high-profile contest on the world stage. Still, Robertson laughs it off with an ease that puzzlingly belies her nickname, “Savage.”
In fact, if you’ve only ever seen Robertson fight or seen her promotional materials, you’d be forgiven for thinking of her as a steely-eyed assassin. But spend a few minutes talking to the lighthearted 24-year-old Canadian and a paradox begins to form.
“I’ve never been in a street fight. I’m probably the least aggressive person I know,” she explains. “It’s just a sport to me. It’s like playing soccer or playing football; that’s how I look at it. I’m more in love with the mental side of jiu-jitsu than anything else. It’s not like I want to hurt people.”
Her opponents might beg to differ, particularly when they find themselves on the wrong end of her rear naked choke, a move that has become her calling card.
“When I was growing up, I was like 115 pounds, wrestling guys that were like 200 pounds…me manhandling them, and I’m like ‘This is awesome that I can do this!’ It’s all just the mechanics of your body. It’s amazing and I love it.”
Her love for jiu-jitsu aside, she firmly believes the sport of MMA affords her even more opportunity to deploy her signature move; almost as if her opponents leave her no choice.
“People always try to stand up, so it’s like they’re giving up their neck. They forget about it for that one second when they try to get to their feet and they give up their throat.”
It’s a move she’s honed to near-perfection at American Top Team as she emerges as yet another of the gym’s deftly-crafted fighters. In fact, she won’t excuse her lone UFC loss to Mayra Bueno Silva in September 2018 to the short notice nature of the fight, but rather a lack of time with coach Din Thomas.
“Din was gone with Tyron Woodley up in Milwaukee for that whole camp. So I really just worked with him one day,” she explains. “I really like to get time with him in my camps and I didn’t get that at all. I feel like that really impacted me that I didn’t get that one-on-one drilling, fight-prep kind of training. The flight after that, I only had four weeks’ notice, I flew up to Milwaukee so I could be with Din, and made sure we put in the work.”
The work paid off with a second-round submission of Veronica Macedo on last February’s UFC Prague card. And, just like that, Robertson finds herself on the precipice of getting traction in the women’s flyweight division if she comes out on the right side of Saturday’s contest with highly-touted Brazilian prospect Sarah Frota.
“I had a little more notice for this camp, about 10 weeks. Almost too much,” she laughs. But whether it’s four weeks or ten matters little to Robertson.
“My game plan is always the same,” she says with a sly confidence. “I’m trying to take it to the ground. I’m trying to get to the throat. I have a million ways to get there, and I’m going to find it.”
Steve Latrell is a writer and producer for UFC.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheUFSteve