Longtime upper-tier lightweights Jim Miller and Melvin Guillard will collide in the centerpiece of tonight's UFC on FX show from the Bridgestone Center in Nashville, Tennessee. The festivities begin with a six-piece preliminary lineup on Fuel TV at 6 p.m. ET to whet your appetite for the main course on the FX network at 9 p.m. ET.
So, we all know the score with Melvin Guillard (29-9-2) by now. With sheer athleticism and a natural inclination for all things fisticuffs, the New Orleans native devoured eighteen of his first twenty-four foes, finishing fourteen handily, with four losses, two draws and one No Contest. The arrestive sequence propelled "The Young Assassin", still in his early twenties, to a slot on the proven breeding grounds of The Ultimate Fighter in the reality show's second season.
Though he was out-muscled by savvy wrestler Josh Burkman and eliminated in the first match, his beaming confidence and wealth of untapped potential signified Guillard as a malleable future prospect. The cycle began: Guillard established his unruly striking with a second round TKO of Marcus Davis, but the promising win was darkened by the exploitation of his suspect grappling in the form of a Josh Neer triangle choke. He bounced back and rattled off two more dominant knockouts (Rick Davis, Gabe Ruediger) only to dampen his momentum with an equal number of submission losses (Joe Stevenson, Rich Clementi).
With a clear pattern developing, Guillard labored under the tutelage of Greg Jackson to hammer his takedown defense, BJJ awareness and scrambling skills into better shape, and immediately reaped the benefits. After picking up a decision win in what would be his last outing outside the UFC, Guillard vanquished German kickboxing champion Dennis Siver in the first and narrowly averted a precarious match up in a split-verdict decision over ATT black belt Gleison Tibau. Having won three straight and seemingly welded up his soft spots, Guillard was in the driver's seat against Nate Diaz until the spidery grappler constricted a fight-ending guillotine halfway through the second stanza. Next, it was five consecutive wins that rejuvenated his status (Ronys Torres, Waylon Lowe, Jeremy Stephens, Evan Dunham, Shane Roller) before he see-sawed downward again, only this time the pill was bitter to swallow as the ground-fighter (Joe Lauzon) initiated the submission with a crushing knockdown on the feet.
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Perfectly emulating Guillard's Kryptonite is BJJ black belt and wrestle-boxer Jim Miller. While Guillard was also pining for a title shot, the AMA Fight Club gamer was widely considered the alpha-contender in the division. Debuting in the UFC with only one loss after his first twelve fights, Miller blue-collared his way into the hearts of fans and exuded an unflinching determination that belied his laid-back personality. He notched wins over David Baron and Matt Wiman before encountering Gray Maynard, the takedown machine that would eventually stalemate with Miller's only pre-UFC loss in Frankie Edgar while battling for the title of the world's numero uno lightweight.
The pair would engage in their electric trilogy atop the division while Miller buried himself in the trenches and clawed his way back up with seven straight victories (Mac Danzig, Steve Lopez, Duane Ludwig, Mark Bocek, Gleison Tibau, Charles Oliveira and Kamal Shalorus), winning nine of his ten UFC contests overall. Picking off a phone book full of reputable lightweights had Miller poised for a title shot, but when a draw and multiple injuries delayed the Maynard vs. Edgar resolution, Miller decided to stay busy and tackle WEC crossover Ben Henderson. The newcomer put on a showstopping performance and leap-frogged Miller on the totem pole in a commanding decision.
Both Guillard and Miller are fresh off a disheartening defeat and eager to regain momentum with a much needed win.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
This is the technically enhanced shtick Guillard rolls out to combat grappling threats.
Instead of going ballistic in a blaze of glory, Guillard has sharpened up his footwork to transfer his enormous punching power from a greater distance, which reduces his chances of being snared up and stifled. He's become much more calculating and selective with his boxing, making sure not to over-commit while offering nothing but the sting of leather for the opposing wrestler to work with. The formula was noticeably sweetened and emphasized by a more mature mentality.
Though he firmly governed his bloodlust, Guillard did not overcompensate and wisely maintained a stiff dose of the fiery aggression that elevated him in the first place. Despite still finding himself on the mat occasionally, his newly bolstered ground wit enabled him to sit up and butt-scoot toward the fence in his guard and use the cage to stand back up.
Dabbling in Judo at an early age endows Guillard with a strong base and excellent balance, so souping up his sprawl-and-brawl was an ideal shield for his flaws.
He's a no-frills fighter who never does anything fancy or excessive. Standing, the southpaw tosses in a high kick or two but generally assumes an airtight stance and targets the head with piston-like punches. He pushes the pace but does so with cerebral composure.
He rarely makes mistakes and excels at capitalizing on those of his opponent, as evinced against Charles Oliveira.
Miller applied the brakes to the surging Brazilian by spinning for this brilliant kneebar from the top. Oliveira was conspicuously late to react and opted for the Charlie Horse attack instead, giving Miller all the time he needed to wrench the hold and elicit the tapout. Of the formidable three-dimensional threat that Miller wields, I'd rate his creative BJJ and adept boxing over his wrestling chops. He's not a weak wrestler by any means, but I wouldn't call him a dominant one either.
Along with Guillard's fortified takedown defense, he's a physically gifted athlete with considerable strength, explosive quickness and ultra-slippery scrambling. Conversely, Guillard has both fought and defeated better wrestlers than Miller, but none were as smart nor as crafty with submissions. I think Melvin might be able to fend him off better than some of his past foes, yet I expect Miller's exceptional fight IQ to flesh out more opportunities than the others -- and he's one of the best at maximizing on them.
The fact that Miller's never been knocked out or stopped in any magnitude justifies his slight gap on the betting lines. I'm genuinely torn on this match up: one could argue that Lauzon just caught the definitively improved Guillard and Miller can't replicate that same punching power, yet it's hard not to fall back on the more complete fighter whose specific strength is precisely where his opponent has a specific weakness.
My Prediction: Jim Miller by rear-naked choke.
All gifs via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com