Entertainment is the sole driving force behind the popularity of MMA. While the purist view of the best vs. the best is certainly an appealing factor in the sport, fighters who have proven that they can be successful on paper while also providing entertainment for fans have become superstars of the sport. We can remember legends for their accomplishments on paper, but if you ask any fan to name their favorite fighters -- a name like Chris Leben may be spoklen more often than that of a past champion.
While many of these entertaining fighters may not become champions in the future, they have the skills to continue to compete at a high level while still providing action-packed excitement -- even in losing efforts. Melvin Guillard (24-8-2-1, 7-4 UFC) is one of those fighters, and despite losses and a positive test for cocaine use in the past -- he remains in the UFC's good graces due to the fact that he can flat out entertain.
Guillard will have the opportunity to once again put on a show as he'll battle equally entertaining power puncher Jeremy Stephens (18-5, 5-4 UFC) in the opening main card bout at UFC 119. Guillard enters the contest riding a two-fight win streak with victories over Ronnys Torres and Waylon Lowe at UFC 109 and UFC 114 respectively. He managed to upset Gleison Tibau at The Ultimate Fighter season 9 Finale last June, but succumbed to a guillotine choke at the hands of Nate Diaz at UFC Fight Night 19. Despite the loss, Guillard is currently 3-1 in his last 4 fights, a solid run considering many fans felt he was too one-dimensional to ever maintain his rank as a mid-echelon fighter.
Stephens is also in the midst of a two-fight win streak as he narrowly edged out Sam Stout at UFC 113 back in May and knocked out Justin Bucholz at UFC Fight Night 19 in September of last year. Although he's mostly known for his one-punch knockout power and propensity to stand and bang with anyone in front of him, he also has an improving ground game that could end up making him one of the more well-rounded fighters in the division in a few years. At only 24 years of age, Stephens could have a very bright future if he can become a threat on the floor while also improving his precision on the feet.
Obviously, this isn't going to be a bout where Brazilian jiu-jitsu and wrestling are going to dominate the fight. Both men have made it clear over the course of their careers that punching opponents unconscious is their primary means to ending a fight. Both fighters have proven weaknesses on the ground while possesses somewhat limited skills in their submission game, but both are improving in that area of the sport. Will this fight compel one of these brawlers to showcase some of that improved skill?
I doubt it. Guillard's takedown defense is his biggest improvement, and the battle with Gleison Tibau was the showcase of that improvement. Stephens has shown enough grappling knowledge to avoid being submitted quickly against much better competition on the ground, but Guillard's strength and takedown defense offer a counter to any attempts at Stephens wanting to take this to the ground.
Nope, this will be a good ol' fashioned slugfest, something Joe Silva was obviously thinking about when he put this fight together. It's tough to see who will win on the feet however. Both have booming power, but Guillard has an edge in quickness. I think that will ultimately win him this showdown.