Melvin Guillard has long been a fighter known for having mental instability, at least when it came to fight time. Though he has had his fair share of screw ups outside of fighting, he's been able to put himself back together. Outside of the cage, Melvin tends to be a charismatic, cocky guy, and fans will take that as they may. Personally, I've been a huge fan of Guillard since just a little after his time on The Ultimate Fighter. His style, his attitude, everything. He's been a favorite fighter of mine for a very long time.
Unlike most of my favorite fighters, however, it's never an easy day being a Guillard fan. There are few fights of his where I'm not worried that he'll get tagged and submitted. Even against such a low level fighter as Fabricio Camoes, I was left cringing until the closing bell.
Against Donald Cerrone, I knew something was wrong. He carried himself oddly, and he didn't have the usual aura of confidence about him. Whether it was the fact that he was fighting one of his closest friends, or maybe just fear, I don't know. When he landed that punch on Cerrone's chin, I was ready to stand up. When he got put down, I felt bad for him. And as he lay there in a defeated heap, it's easy for a person to write him off. He was finished, much like his career, they could say. To most viewers, any hopes of his for contention were crushed.
However, in what some might call pointless hope, or what I'll call dumb luck, Guillard still has a realistic chance to make a rise to the top. It is a result of many things, one being the odd state of the lightweight division. Lightweight is certainly very talent rich, but there is currently a strange void near the top, and it allows for a lot of movement rankings wise.
After the jump, I'll explain what that means, and what it could mean for Guillard going forward.
About a year or so ago, lightweight was the most promising division in the UFC, and it's not hard at all to make the argument that it still is. However, with all of the rematches for the title having put the division on hold, some of the names being tossed around for title contention have now faded off. Simply put, the division has lost many contenders.
Let's take a look at the UFC's top ten, as seen by the most recent edition of the SB nation MMA rankings:
So, what does this say about the division right now, and how about in relation to Guillard? First of all, not enough people noticed that he was a top 10 UFC lightweight, and it's hard to dispute his position. Who would you have placed above him? Khabib Nurmagomedov? Rafael dos Anjos? Mark Bocek? Lightweight is strong, sure, but not to the extent people want to believe. Not too many other fighters out there are looking too much like top 10 material. The best case you could make is for Rafael Dos Anjos, and even then, it's not the easiest case to make.
Right now in the UFC's top ten, excluding Guillard himself, there are three fighters coming off losses, and the only one that didn't look awful in defeat was Frankie Edgar, who is likely to move down to featherweight.
Currently, there are two fighters who are injured or recovering, those being Anthony Pettis and Jim Miller (Miller also being one of the three to be coming off a loss).
Four of the fighters in the top ten will likely be fighting other top ten fighters in the coming months, those being Benson Henderson fighting Nate Diaz, and Donald Cerrone fighting Anthony Pettis. These two matchups should produce two top ten fighters also coming off of losses.
So with that said, a rather large portion of the top ten is going to be different within the coming months. A win over a top 15 guy could be fair game to get any lightweight into the top ten.
So why is that beneficial to Melvin? First of all, he's a better known fighter. He is more recognizable to a casual fanbase than most of the UFC's lightweights not currently in the top ten. To add to that, he has wins over solid guys in the top 20, such as Evan Dunham and Gleison Tibau, which will keep him afloat rankings wise, so long as he rebounds well.
To add, whatever rebound fight the UFC gives to him, I could see him as a big favorite. There are very few fighters in the top 25 that I wouldn't like his chances against. It's unlikely that they put him against opposition way below the top ten, and if he's coming off a notable win, he's right back in the mix (at least from a rankings perspective, people will still definitely write him off in the future). He was competitive in his fights with Jim Miller, Nate Diaz and Donald Cerrone, and rematches could still be compelling. Even a rematch with Joe Lauzon could be interesting, as Guillard has time and time again spoken of his desire for that fight.
At lightweight, there is no shortage of fighters with at least some sort of name value or divisional relevance. Over Melvin's last ten fights, eight have been with fighters known for their submission games, and he is 4-4 with them, which isn't too horrible considering all of the flak Melvin gets about fighting submission fighters. His last six fights have all been with submission based fighters. It is only fair to give him a fight with someone more suited to his style, and there are plenty of lightweights that fit the bill.
Of course, Guillard would still need to shore up his game to suit a strong schedule. He absolutely needs some new approach to his fighting mentality, be it new coaches or a sports psychologist, but he can find some help for his constant mistakes. I'd love to see him go back to Jackson's MMA, where he was finding some of his biggest success, as opposed to his current flop with the Blackzilians. His game is a threat to any fighter, and with slight adjustments to his approach and his defense, he can still be a force. I know it's been said time and time again, but all he needs to do is stay focused and he can be great. He has huge power, great speed, and very good balance. All he needs is composure.
Eventually, with a solid win streak, it is not inconceivable for Melvin to find his way into contention. He has name value and will be a good fight for most lightweights. Right now, a very winnable fight with Jamie Varner could make sense, or maybe even one with Clay Guida. While Varner is unranked at the time, he has shown that he is still a game opponent. Personally, I'd love to see Melvin welcome Eddie Alvarez to the UFC, and that fight would be very evenly matched. A win in any of the fights I've mentioned could easily springboard Melvin back into the top of the lightweight ranks.
Right now, Melvin is in a very tough situation. All eyes were on him for the Cerrone fight, and while he did well for a time, he ultimately failed. Now, he has to pick himself up, dust himself off, and work on himself. He has fewer eyes on him now, but he won't be in complete obscurity so long as he doesn't let the fight game pass him by. He has three ways to go from here, one being failure, another being a middling fighter, and one greatness. Some may not give him a shot, but I think he can make it down any of these paths, with the right approach and the right people behind him.
Melvin is no stranger to failure, but he knows what it feels like at the bottom. He's still only 29 years old, and he has just one last chance to capitalize on the opportunity in front of him. He's risen before, and he can do it again. Melvin Guillard has the tools to beat most men. Melvin Guillard can still be great.