What a difference 6 months can make. For Jim Miller and Melvin Guillard, the last 6 months have been a time of disappointment. It was not long ago that both men were on the very short list of posible next challengers to Frankie Edgar and the UFC Lightweight title. But Ben Henderson's wrestling and Joe Lauzon's submissions ended those dreams - for now at least. Now Miller and Guillard meet in the main event of UFC on FX tonight. The loser will suffer a second straight loss, while the winner will take a key step on the road back to the title. But where exactly will the winner be on that road? How do these two former close contenders now fit into the UFC Lightweight title picture?
For Miller in particular, a win could vault him right back to the top. At the time of the Henderson fight, he was likely only one win away from a title shot, and a win over Guillard, main eventing on TV, will go a long way towards erasing the memory of that loss. The fact that Henderson is now challenging for the title helps Miller's cause too - it's one thing to lose to a lower tier opponent, and something else entirely to lose to the #1 contender. The only trouble for Miller is that a Henderson win would potentially put Miller on the back burner. While a good fight, Miller vs. Henderson was rather definitive, and is not a fight clamoring for an instant rematch.
For Guillard, the road back up is probably a bit longer. It's unlikely a win over Lauzon would have earned him a title shot, so he was not already as close as Miller. His 5 fight win streak before the Lauzon fight was indeed impressive, but he doesn't yet have that big name on his resume to prop him up. Miller could be that name.
What Guillard does have going for him is something Miller lacks - the Wow factor. Guillard is a big personality with KO power in his hands and a pair of Knockout of the Night bonuses to his credit. He's a flashy fighter who stands in sharp contrast to Miller's more workmanlike approach. When Guillard wins, he often wins in spectacular fashion, and if makes a highlight reel of Miller, that's a huge step towards the belt.
But for both men, the jump from title hunt to title challenger depends on a major factor that is largely out of their control - timing. In the volatile UFC Lightweight division, timing is everything when it comes to title shots. Time and again we've seen possible challengers make a name for themselves, only to fall while waiting for their shot. Miller and Guillard are prime examples, but there's also Dennis Siver, Clay Guida, Anthony Pettis, George Sotiropoulos... all close to challenging, all defeated while waiting. Meanwhile the men who have gotten the shots have not always been the absolute most deserving - they've just been in the right place at the right time. There's no better example than champ Edgar, who challenged B.J. Penn after defeating Matt Veach - not the kind of name you expect to face immediately before a title shot. But Edgar had looked good in his wins and was on a winning streak when Penn needed an opponent. He got the call, and he made the most of it.
Had Maynard vs. Edgar 2 not gone to a draw, had the 3rd fight not been delayed due to injury, perhaps Miller vs. Henderson never would have happened and Jim Miller would already be the UFC Lightweight champion. But in this talent-rich division, you can only last so long before being toppled.
For Miller and Guillard, a Lightweight title shot is still within sight. To get there, they have to get through tonight. And if the winner can get through in an impressive fashion? He could easily find himself suddenly right back where he was 6 months ago - fighting off the sharks of the division, hoping that his time is coming.