Melvin Guillard has lost back-to-back fights for the first time since 2007. | AP Photo/Eric Jamison
Throughout the ups and downs of a fighting career that began when he was a teen-ager, there has been little reason to question the talent of Melvin Guillard.
His potent blend of power and athleticism has made him capable of producing jaw-dropping performances each time he steps into the cage. Despite his considerable potential, Guillard has yet to achieve the true greatness that his physical gifts suggest he should. His loss to Jim Miller in the UFC on FX 1 main event on Friday at the Bridgestone Center in Nashville, Tenn., again demonstrated why the talented lightweight is not yet ready to crack the upper echelon of his division.
“The Young Assassin” had finally appeared to turn a corner in 2010, when he joined Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts in Albuquerque, N.M., and promptly went on a five-fight tear that thrust him into the UFC’s crowded 155-pound title picture. The highlight of that period was a demolition of Evan Dunham at UFC “Fight for the Troops 2,” where Guillard displayed all of his skills in stopping his highly regarded foe inside of a round.
It appeared that Guillard’s intangibles had finally caught up with his athletic prowess, and he was effusive in praising the Jackson camp for his newfound focus and success.
Following a loss to Joe Lauzon at UFC 136, “The Ultimate Fighter 2” alumnus severed his ties with the Southwest dojo and set up shop in Boca Raton, Fla., with the group known as “The Blackzilians.” Guillard lauded his new gym for its structured practices, elite training partners and attention to his needs as a fighter.
In Nashville, Guillard stepped into the Octagon for the first time as a full-fledged member of Imperial Athletics. To commemorate the occasion, Miller honed in on Guillard’s major weakness -- jiu-jitsu -- and unceremoniously submitted the Louisiana native in a little more than two minutes with a rear-naked choke. The fight was a microcosm of Guillard’s career to date.
“It doesn’t happen often, but I got knocked down,” Miller would marvel in a post-fight interview with Fox Sports. “Melvin is an animal. Melvin hit me hard, the hardest I’ve ever gotten hit.”
It was not enough. Miller caught an ill-advised knee attempt from Guillard, planted the newest “Blackzilian” on the canvas and went to work. The end came shortly after, leaving Guillard to sit in the middle of the Octagon wearing a look that was equal parts shock and dismay.
“I think I fought the perfect fight,” he would later say. “I knocked him down. He caught my back, and it’s ironic because I’ve been working on back escapes. I could tell I hurt him, and he didn’t want to be in there with me at one point. I need to work harder on my jiu-jitsu. That’s why I’m working with the ‘Blackzilians.’”
Guillard left Albuquerque and revered trainer Greg Jackson, in part, because he was not getting enough “Melvin” time. He felt that the individual attention he was receiving in Florida was going to pay dividends. With only one camp at Imperial Athletics under his belt, it is possible that it still could.
“Melvin should learn a lesson and be a little more patient on the ground. Don’t be so anxious. It’s all about not getting submitted,” Fuel TV analyst Stephan Bonnar said during the post-fight show.
When Guillard has fallen short in the past, a number of flaws have come into question: focus, conditioning and lack of humility, to name a few. While all of the above might have affected him in the past, impatience appears to be his major vice now. What Bonnar said can be applied to Guillard’s choices outside of the cage, as well as in it. While the Lauzon loss was unexpected, it did not necessarily warrant a split with the catalyst of Guillard’s greatest successes.
Imperial Athletics is a collection of extremely talented professional fighters and coaches, but it is largely unproven as a whole. Jackson’s MMA is a collection of extremely talented professional fighters and coaches with an extended track record of winning. The structure and philosophy there unquestionably works. Jackson will be the first to acknowledge that his team is not suited for everyone, but rare is the case when a fighter leaves his gym and reaches unprecedented heights.
Diego Sanchez was one of the first fighters to rise to prominence in New Mexico, but as the gym grew, he felt the need to explore other training options. After a time in California, as well as a one-fight stint with another Albuquerque camp, Sanchez is now back with Jackson and perhaps a fight or two shy of title contention. Unlike Sanchez, Guillard is not a native New Mexican. His interest in The Land of Enchantment was based solely on winning fights, which he appeared to do quite well by compiling a 5-1 record under Jackson.
There is no denying that a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately culture pervades professional sports today. One catastrophic loss can drastically alter a fighter’s mindset, but there is still something to be said for stability. Franchises in other major sports that change coaches on a yearly basis can find wins hard to come by, and consistent roster turnover in free agency does not guarantee a championship.
Mixed martial arts is somewhat of a different animal, as fighters often admit that the desire to avoid stagnation can fuel a nomadic lifestyle. Still, it is not hard to imagine Guillard righting his ship under the guidance of Jackson, Mike Winkeljohn and Co. had he stuck around.
It seems as though Guillard has been around forever, but even with a multitude of professional fights on his record, “The Young Assassin” remains a relatively young 28. There is still plenty of time for him to achieve that championship he so earnestly desires. Whether that be with the “Blackzilians” or elsewhere is up to him, but, no matter the location, patience will be one of his greatest allies.