Ever since Melvin Guillard had his first mixed martial arts fight at the age of 19, the label of “endless potential” has been hung over his head. Thirty-four fights filled the next eight years along with drug use, rehab, lost family members and missed opportunities in and outside of the cage. But the New Orleans-born fighter never let go of his dream and appears to be finally realizing his potential.
“I’ve always been in the spotlight,” The Ultimate Fighter 2 contestant says. “Whether it was high school wrestling or playing football, I was always that all around athlete that had that drive. It was kind of frustrating when people would say that I had all the potential in the world but I let myself down. For a long time I was my own worst enemy and now I have found myself. I’m happy now.”
The dark cloud that followed Guillard appears to have dissolved and if you stare long enough, you will witness a peacefulness that carries over into the cage. His performance against Ronnys Torres at UFC 109 showcased the birth of the new Melvin Guillard where the mental game is just as important as the physical. “The Young Assassin” may be ready to change his name to “The Cerebral Assassin.”
“(I’ve learned to) Just be patient, weather the storm and be comfortable being tired,” he says about the new fighter who has bid adieu to the reckless man he once was. “These are the things that Greg (Jackson) mentally prepared me for. In the past I would react to submissions so fast that I would put myself in harm’s way.”
A large part of his life turnaround can be credited to his addition to Greg Jackson’s camp. When no other gym would take a chance on him, Jackson and his team did. The results have been impressive thus far but Guillard says the true mastermind during his training camp is the unsung standup coach, Mike Winklejohn.
“Coach Winklejohn doesn’t get the credit he deserves because he’s more behind the scenes, but he’s the mastermind for me,” he says when discussing his much evolved game. “He’s the guy who prepares me the most with my striking abilities. He’s making me strike to my full potential now. I wasn’t combining my hand and feet combinations before. I’m putting everything to use now.”
Guillard will showcase his skill set again at UFC 114 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena against unheralded Waylon Lowe , who stepped in as a late replacement for Thiago Tavares. Guillard admits he doesn’t know much about Lowe. “I know he’s a good wrestler and they say he has good boxing,” he says. “But they all say that until they get hit.”
You can hear the pangs of disappointment in Guillard’s voice as this is the second time that Tavares has pulled out of a fight with him due to injury. If you ask him, he’ll tell you why he really thinks Tavares pulled out. “I don’t know. Maybe he is hurt,” he sighs. “But in my eyes I think he’s afraid to fight me.”
Either way, Guillard is ready to step into the cage on May 29 and continue on his trek to the top of the 155-pound food chain. You may have to forgive him for looking past Lowe and into the future. “The Young Assassin” has plans to continue his progression in 2010 in the lightweight division in hopes of landing a title shot in 2011. Knowing that his new life starts now, he has to exude all of the demons from his past in order to secure his future.
When looking back, Guillard cites two things that have gotten his life back on track – his wife and fighting. “My wife has been all of my support,” says the 27-year-old. “She came into my life at the perfect time when I was in my down moments and she stuck by me through everything.”
The latter half of the equation is something that he took for granted before he had an epiphany in 2009. “I put myself in rehab and when I got out I sat down and was thinking that I have the greatest job in the world,” Guillard recalls. “I have one of the jobs that most people would die to have and I’m just taking it for granted and literally about to throw it all away. One more incident and Dana (White) would have kicked me out of the UFC. When he didn’t kick me out after the drug incident, it showed me that these people really cared about me. So if I don’t care about myself then I have to be a damn fool.”
Today, Guillard has aspirations to be much more than a mixed martial artist. He wants to be called upon by the UFC to publically represent the company. Even the minor things, such as being left off of the UFC Undisputed 2010 roster, bother him but inspire him to keep pushing forward.
“I was a little bummed out when UFC Undisputed 2009 came out and I wasn’t on it,” he says. “That was more of my fault though. I’ve come back with a vengeance and turned my life around and I was excited. Now comes 2010 and I thought I was going to be in that game. It was a big letdown.”
He explains that not being a part of the video game roster is much bigger than a personal accomplishment. For Guillard, it’s about those that see him as a role model. The impression he leaves with them is more important than anything else.
“It’s not so much for me, it’s for my little sisters and brothers,” Guillard reveals. “I have a lot of kids that look up to me. My little cousin went from WWE to UFC and I’m his favorite person in the whole world. When the game is coming out and he asks ‘Are you in the game?’ I don’t know what to tell him. It means more to my family and friends around me than to just me. I’m just am going to fight hard, keep my head straight and hopefully in 2011 it will be my year.”