Melvin Guillard has blossomed under the tutelage of trainer Greg Jackson. | Photo: Sherdog.com
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Where some might see an overmatched opponent, Melvin Guillard sees another opportunity.
When he called out Joe Lauzon in the days after his first-round knockout against Shane Roller at UFC 132, many questioned the New Orleans native’s reasoning. With victories in seven of his last eight Octagon appearances -- including his dismantling of the highly regarded Evan Dunham at UFC “Fight for the Troops 2” in February -- would not an opponent with similar momentum have been more appropriate?
After all, Lauzon, a competitor on Season 5 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” owns a 2-2 mark in his last four fights. His most memorable victory remains his knockout against former lightweight champion Jens Pulver at UFC 63, which occurred before he surfaced on the reality show.
“I think Lauzon is a lot better than people are giving him credit for,” says Mike Winkeljohn, Guillard’s striking coach at Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts. “This kid can fight. We’ve got to make sure we do everything just right. He can throw standing up, and he’s great on the ground.”
Guillard likes the matchup, which will take place at UFC 136 this Saturday at the Toyota Center in Houston, for a few reasons. One is Lauzon’s skill on the ground, as the the Bridgewater, Mass., native has earned 16 of his 20 career victories via submission.
“A lot of people probably think he presents a lot of problems for me because he’s a good jiu-jitsu guy,” Guillard says. “Since I’ve been here [in Albuquerque] with [trainer] Greg Jackson, I haven’t been submitted, and I fought some great submission guys.”
The chance to fight in Houston, where Guillard lived for seven years, was also appealing.
“A lot of friends and family live in Houston; my wife is from Houston. A lot of family [members] are gonna come from New Orleans to watch me fight,” he says. “It means a lot to me because I haven’t fought in front of anybody at home since before my dad passed away.”
Finally, there is the matter of securing the title shot Guillard has pursued since his career began. Initially, “The Ultimate Fighter 2” alum considered a showdown with AMA Fight Club product Jim Miller to be his bout of choice. However, Miller’s loss to Benson Henderson at UFC Live 5 ended a seven-fight winning streak and, in the process, dampened Guillard’s enthusiasm for a potential matchup.
Even though Lauzon is not regarded as one of the top contenders at 155 pounds, Guillard believes he wields enough of a name to move him one step closer to the UFC lightweight strap.
“I wanted to fight somebody I thought was game. I thought Joe Lauzon was one of those guys. This is a No. 1 contender fight for me. I’m not looking past him, but I am looking forward,” he says. “I plan on knocking him out and going in [to] get my title shot.”
Whether he gets that shot immediately remains unclear. The lightweight division is one of the UFC’s deepest, and the promotion’s lineup at UFC 136 is indicative of its depth. The highly anticipated third bout between 155-pound champion Frankie Edgar and No. 1 contender Gray Maynard highlights the night of fights, while a tilt between former WEC titleholder Anthony Pettis and Jeremy Stephens could also carry some significance within the weight class.
There is also the matter of sorting out who is the top contender among 155-pound fighters training in New Mexico. Guillard is not the only Jackson protégé on a hot streak. Clay Guida has won four in a row and has a pivotal showdown against Henderson at UFC on Fox 1 on Nov. 12; meanwhile, Donald Cerrone will carry a five-fight run into an Oct. 29 battle against German kickboxer Dennis Siver at UFC 137. Having three athletes at the peak of their powers at the same gym at the same time has its perks, but there is also a downside. When Guillard, Guida and Cerrone train together, they have no choice but to improve, but if they continue to win, teammate will inevitably be pitted against teammate.
“The reason why everybody’s getting so good is they help each other,” Winkeljohn says. “It’s gonna be a headache down the road somewhere. There’s no doubt they’re gonna have to fight each other.”
Fighting either Guida or Cerrone with a championship on the line would be an acceptable scenario for Guillard, a 28-year-old with 29 professional victories to his credit.
“We’re all fighters. Yeah, we’re teammates, but, ultimately, we’re after the same thing and that’s the belt. I know the only way we’ll ever fight each other is if it’s for the belt. We are all here to chase the dream,” he says. “Whoever stands in front of me, I don’t care if it’s my sister [or] my brother, I’m there to fight. When it’s all boiled down to it, it’s about who wants it most. I think right now I want it more than anybody.”
A potential matchup with a Jackson’s MMA stablemate down the road does not change Guillard’s preparation in the present. When Cerrone and Guida are in the gym, “The Young Assassin” takes advantage of their presence. In his mind, there is nothing they can learn about him to use in a hypothetical fight that they did not already know.
“Nobody has any secrets,” Guillard says. “I’m one of those fighters where it doesn’t matter if a guy comes in and watches me train. If I’m there to do my job and execute it well, it doesn’t matter if you watch my whole training camp.”
Guillard points to Quinton Jackson’s spying accusation against light heavyweight champion and Jackson’s MMA representative Jon Jones prior to UFC 135 as an example of unfounded paranoia in the fight game.
“It would be different if it was back in the day and you had the Gracies and they were submitting everybody that didn’t know jiu-jitsu. That would be spying,” he says. “Nowadays, everybody trains and everybody does the same stuff, so I don’t care. When I become champion in these next few months, I’ll let my first opponent for my first defense come watch me train. When I get in the cage and I’m ready to execute, I’m gonna impose my will regardless.”
For now, he plans to stick with what allowed him to reach this point. When Guillard stares down Lauzon in the Octagon later this week, his corner will consist of what he refers to as his “dynamic three”: Winkeljohn, Jackson and judo coach Dr. Ron Tripp. Guillard knows a good thing when he has it.
“Until something breaks,” he says, “I’m not trying to fix it.”
Guillard also believes that Lauzon, even with his dangerous ground game, cannot match his prodigious physical skills.
“He hasn’t fought anybody that’s nearly as fast, as strong and as powerful as I am. He’s gonna have to work 150 percent of the time to try to lock something on me,” he says. “I don’t feel I’m gonna have to work that hard to knock him out.”