You think you know Melvin Guillard, but you don’t.
Guillard has a goal, and that is to take everything you assume about him and blow it up. Continuously.
At 28, the Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran believes he only recently has started to grow up, and now that corner’s turned, he says, look out.
“I know there’s a lot of naysayers who say I’m not going to win a title in 2012, but I’m going to prove them wrong,” he said.
His quest to win a UFC title, the most coveted in mixed martial arts, gets a reboot this week. The promotion returns to Nashville for the first time in nearly three years for a Friday card from Bridgestone Arena that will be nationally televised on the FX cable channel.
Guillard (29-9-2, 1 NC, 10-5 UFC) headlines the event against Jim Miller (20-3, 9-2 UFC), and it’s a responsibility he hasn’t taken lightly. Just a few years ago, the New Orleans native might have been in main event fights, but gaining the confidence of his boss, UFC president Dana White, was another story.
“I’ve had times where Dana told me, ‘Hey, kid — get your stuff together. Get with the right team, and you’ll be a superstar in this sport,’ ” Guillard said. “In the past, I was a one-man army. I didn’t have a team. But I always knew in my heart that I was a marketable guy because of my personality.”
White had reason to tell Guillard to get his stuff together. The 155-pounder had plenty of natural talent, but always teetered on the edge of out-of-control outside the cage.
He started his UFC career 3-1 in 2005 and 2006 after appearing on the second season of the promotion’s reality competition The Ultimate Fighter. And in April 2007, on a Fight Night card on Spike TV.
Guillard got his first chance to headline a UFC show, fighting against one of his Ultimate Fighter housemates, Joe Stevenson, the Season 2 winner. But before the fight, Guillard accused Stevenson of using a performance enhancer, human growth hormone, a charge Stevenson denied.
In the fight, Stevenson dropped Guillard with an early jab, quickly moved in, and in just 27 seconds, Guillard had tapped out to a guillotine choke.
The HGH accusations aside, the loss could have been chalked up to Guillard just getting caught. But in his post-fight drug test, Guillard tested positive for cocaine and was suspended for eight months.
Living in Las Vegas at the time, Guillard was slapped with a bad boy label. But behind the scenes, he was fighting the pain of his father’s death five months earlier. That, he says, contributed to his drug use — and thanks to that one positive test, he has had to answer for it in nearly every interview since. But that’s part of the price he paid — and he’s fine with it.
“I’ve had several bad things happen in my life — 2007 was a bad year because my dad had just died in 2006,” he said. “My dad passed in November 2006, and I failed my drug test in April 2007. I was dealing with some drug issues because I had just lost my father, but I’m not going to blame it just on that.
“That was around the time when I started to really hit the spotlight, and I was enjoying my time — I was partying in Vegas. People sit there and judge us because we’re fighters, but people don’t realize we’re normal people just like they are. But I’m over it, and it’s something I never get tired of talking about because it’s my life.”
Guillard hit another speed bump after he returned from his suspension, when again he was submitted in the first round.
But then he went on a tear, winning eight of his next nine fights — including five in a row.
That streak had him on the verge of a lightweight title shot. All he needed was a win over Joe Lauzon in October in a fight he entered as much as a 5-to-1 favorite. But not unlike his loss to Stevenson, Guillard was tagged with a jab, stunned, and before he knew it he was watching someone else’s hand get raised.
Five years ago, he would have responded to a loss like that much differently. Now, he says, it was just a temporary setback — and getting a lightweight title shot this year isn’t out of the question.
“For a short moment, I was very devastated, and I took it hard,” Guillard said. “But I regrouped and gained my composure. The old Melvin, the young Melvin that was immature and didn’t take care of business, probably would’ve gotten kicked down that ladder. But because I handled myself like an adult, and I’ve actually grown up, they respect me more, and they know I can be a great ambassador for the sport.”
The loss, he believes, did wonders for his mental approach to the game. A win over Miller, who himself was one step away from a title shot when he had a seven-fight winning streak derailed in August, just may make Guillard the top contender.
“I feel like I’m still growing a lot of places in my life,” he said. “I feel like I’m getting stronger and I’m getting smarter, so obviously I’m doing something right. I can’t pinpoint a date, but I’ll be champion real soon.
“I train hard and I fight hard, because I always feel like it might be my last fight.”