Melvin Guillard might not have wanted to hear it, but he heard it nonetheless. The criticism came fast and furious after his fast and furious submission loss to Joe Lauzon in October.
The criticism came from fans. It came from Lauzon. And it came from his boss, UFC president Dana White — which can be the hardest to take of all.
But Guillard didn’t posture up and go on the defensive. That, he says, is the difference between the Melvin Guillard who is called on to headline a fight card — against Jim Miller on Friday’s "UFC on FX" in Nashville, Tenn. — and the Melvin Guillard of four years ago.
"Back then, I would’ve been (mad) and I probably would’ve been on the Internet and started mouthing off and saying something back," Guillard told HeavyMMA last month. "I can take a little bit of criticism from people, at times. In the past, I couldn’t do that. In the past, if somebody said something to me, I would lash out at them and probably ask them if they wanted to meet me in the street. Now, I’m more mature. So when people make those comments, I use it as fuel."
As a refresher, the comments, essentially, were that Guillard didn’t take his fight with Lauzon seriously enough and, as a consequence, he got caught with a jab that wobbled him, then put him to his knees. That allowed Lauzon to swoop in and finish him with a rear naked choke just 47 seconds into their fight at UFC 136 — in front of Guillard’s Houston family and friends, no less.
Guillard says there was no lack of preparation, and he asked to fight Lauzon because he took him quite seriously and knew it would be a good challenge for him. Lauzon was the better fighter on Oct. 8, and that’s why Guillard’s five-fight winning streak — and very possible shot at the lightweight title with a win — went bye-bye.
"Everybody is entitled to their own opinions, but even Dana was wrong on that one," Guillard said. "I take every fight seriously. One thing I learned back when I fought Marcus Davis on (‘The Ultimate Fighter’ season two) finale — before I walked into that cage, my high school wrestling coach, Warren Donnelly, who is my mentor and my life coach, looked at me and said, ‘We’re here. Now we have to fight to stay here. Every fight from here on out is a title fight.’
"My whole career in the UFC, everything to me has been a title fight."
That’s how Guillard (29-9-2, one no-contest; 10-5 in UFC) is looking at his fight Friday against Miller (20-3, 9-2 UFC), who also had a lengthy streak snapped his last fight out, a unanimous decision loss to Ben Henderson in August. That halted a seven-fight tear that probably could’ve had Miller fighting for Frankie Edgar’s belt.
He’s looking at his main event against Miller as a second chance at becoming the next top contender — or at least a step in the right direction. Edgar and Benson Henderson fight next month in Japan for the title and after that, who knows?
"I’m going into the cage, and I’m going to beat Jim Miller down, and I’m going to probably knock him out — and the next thing I know, I’m going to have a title shot in 2012 like I predicted," Guillard said.
"I didn’t predict it after that fight with Lauzon because I thought (the loss) was going to boot me down the ladder. But if I have a second chance at life right now, I’m going to take advantage of it and capitalize on the opportunity. I know for a fact if I don’t capitalize on it for this opportunity, I’m going to miss out — because I’m probably going to get kicked down that ladder, and it probably will be a year before you see Melvin even talking about title fights."
Guillard’s Achilles’ heel, it seems, has always been his submission defense. Of nine career losses, eight have come by submission — and seven of those by chokes. Enter Miller, who has finished 11 of his 20 wins by tapout, and eight with chokes. A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, like Lauzon, would seem to be a bad omen for Guillard.
But no worries, he says. He’s way more prepared to hit the canvas than anyone gives him credit for.
"I have a decent ground game, and people don’t understand that," Guillard said. "I fought (Evan) Dunham, and he’s a ground specialist. I fought Waylon Lowe, and he’s decent on the ground. I fought (Shane) Roller, and he’s good on the ground. I’m a blue belt in jiu-jitsu, but I just chose not to focus on it. But I took all that back."
Guillard, who had been training at the Greg Jackson/Mike Winkeljohn school in Albuquerque, N.M., switched camps for this fight, moving to Boca Raton, Fla., to train with the Imperial Athletics team. It was a combination, he said, of needing some more focused attention – and needing those bendable, twistable Brazilian submission machines to take him to school, though he still plans on training at Jackson’s in the future, perhaps at times when title-holders and contenders like Jon Jones, Clay Guida and Donald Cerrone don’t require as much immediate attention.
"I’m training with all the Brazilians working on my jiu-jitsu night and day. I’m working on my wrestling and sharpening up my skills night and day," Guillard said. "I already know I can stand in the ring and knock anybody out. Now I have to prove to people that I won’t go in there and get tapped. I might just pull off a submission — because that’s my goal right now. I want to do something that is going to wow everybody, that is going to make people be like, ‘OK, this kid did this? We know this kid’s for real.’ Now, to me, it’s about proving people wrong."