Jamie Varner's (20-7) re-emergence in the Octagon after 5 years outside of it was nothing short of inspirational. Lined up with arguably the hottest lightweight prospect in the UFC at the time, Edson Barboza, who's a crushing striker to boot, Varner defied nearly insurmountable odds and not only defeated Barboza with 3 weeks to prepare, but mangled him by 1st-round TKO. Then, as another late replacement but this time blessed with around 5 weeks to train, Varner stepped up against Joe Lauzon and fought tooth and nail before succumbing to a 3rd-round triangle. The performance in itself was exceedingly respectable; even more so when it was revealed that Varner had broken his hand in the 2nd round.
Varner wrestled at the D1 level for Lock Haven University and embodies MMA's classic wrestle-boxer. He's a hard-nosed and athletic specimen who can smoothly transition between striking and takedowns and is exceptionally technical in both departments. Somehow, despite enduring his fair share of legit competition, Varner has yet to be knocked out or finished with strikes in his entire career.
Melvin Guillard (30-11-2) has been one of the few one-dimensional fighters to hang around at the sport's most prestigious level. Accruing a ridiculous amount of experience at a very young age, Guillard first appeared on TUF 2 and lost his intro match to wrestler Josh Burkman, but still ended up eliminating him by fracturing his arm with a medley of blocked high kicks.
Those circumstances would foreshadow Guillard's tenure in the UFC: he always shows up to fight, his potential is astounding, he's a handful for any lightweight in the business and you have to respect his talent -- but those accolades are too often accompanied by defeat. The pluses and minuses for "The Young Assassin" are well documented: he's a voracious striker with excellent speed, power and agility (19 career TKOs) but dangerously allergic to submissions (9 of his 11 losses).
Now, there's no question that Guillard has made huge strides in buttoning up his weakness, or at least protecting it. During his term with the Jackson/Winklejohn squad, he learned to throw his hands with more composure and balance while adopting a good amount of technique in the fields of takedown defense and defensive scrambling. He's not the type to turtle up and merely extend an arm for the crankin' -- he's still feisty to submit and his extraordinary athleticism has compensated pretty well where his grappling fundamentals are lacking.
For this exercise, Guillard's lopsided arsenal makes for a clear-cut analysis: chances are he's winning a stand-up fight just like he's probably losing if it hits the ground. There are exceptions, of course, like grapplers Joe Stevenson and Joe Lauzon opting to take him down via the atypical method of planting an unexpected haymaker on his jaw, or Thai specialist Donald Cerrone both obliging him and putting him away on the feet.
Varner would be wise to be as unpredictable as humanly possible, which will likely come in the form of engaging Guillard just long and determinedly enough to take his mind off the takedown before setting up a power double with strikes. Varner will give up an inch in height but have the same advantage in reach, which could be pivotal as he's unlikely to match Guillard's obscene speed. Varner's indestructible chin might also play a role -- his striking defense is average but his beard has saved his ass on many occasions, and it's not uncommon for Varner to get rocked but slowly recover.
Submission wise, Varner's adept with basic "gimme subs" like guillotines from the clinch or rear-naked chokes from the top, and not the type to chain attempts together from his guard. That means his simple and ideal strategy will be to score a takedown or land the big-money punch and work a stifling top-game from there.
While Varner definitely has all the right tools to unhinge Guillard, I think Melvin's speed will be the biggest factor -- both in his hands and his footwork, which make for a deadly combination when he's on-point with his in-and-out movement.
My Prediction: Melvin Guillard by decision.