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Melvin Guillard - No Excuses

“Like I told everybody in 2010, I want to win every fight in 2010, put myself in title contention, and in 2011 I want to win my title.”

Some women want diamonds or furs. Tache Guillard wants gold from her husband Melvin.

“One thing she always tells me is that I owe her a championship belt, and when I win that belt, it’s for her,” said the UFC lightweight contender, who kicks off his 2011 campaign in the Octagon this Saturday against Evan Dunham.

Putting Guillard and championship belt in the same sentence would have gotten you some funny looks just a few years ago, when bouts with drugs and partying seemingly had the Louisiana native destined to be a cautionary tale to future UFC fighters. Even he wouldn’t have believed it if you told him back then that he eventually would make a complete 180 in his life.

“No, I wouldn’t have believed them at all,” he said. “I’ve been through so many ups and downs in my career, and in my personal life, and one thing I always remember is that (UFC President) Dana (White) has always been good to me and he’s always been honest with me. And Dana sat me down one time a while back and he said ‘kid, you have all the talent in the world, and we like you. Don’t throw it away.’ And for my boss to come and tell me that they really care for me, that’s an honorable thing for me, and if my boss believes in me, why shouldn’t I believe in myself? I’m my own worst enemy. If I mess myself out of this, it’s because I did something. But I’m just so happy that I got to see what I was doing wrong.”

For that, he owes a debt of gratitude to a small but tight-knit army that begins with his bride of two years, who he met in Houston while training for his 2007 bout against Joe Stevenson.

“I give a lot of credit to my wife,” said Guillard. “There were times I’ve been wanting to fall back into that dark hole and get back to drugs and all that and just having a supportive wife to keep me occupied and away from the negative people, I think that’s probably been one of the best qualities that I have. Being married is new to me, but it’s definitely something that I love. I love being married. My wife has really kept me on my toes and kept my head in the game.”

The change wouldn’t come overnight though. Guillard would lose to Stevenson, then to Rich Clementi, leaving the talented prospect with a mediocre 3-3 record. He would be suspended after the Stevenson fight after testing positive for cocaine, and in 2008, he spent two and a half months in jail on a parole violation. Throw on top that he was still reeling from the death of his father and the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, but eventually, he snapped out of his funk thanks to some final words from his dad.

“Before my dad passed away, I was able to sit down with him one on one for that last time and he told me, ‘at the end of the day, always be a man and carry yourself the way I raised you,’” recalled Guillard. “And I always think back on those words. At the time he passed away, I blamed his death for a lot of my drug use and this and that, but my dad always told me never live on excuses. So I lived it down. Now looking back on it, I did drugs and I partied because I chose to do it. Nobody ever made me do anything, and one good quality about me is that I never followed anybody. If I chose to do something, it was because I wanted to do it. Yeah, I used my dad’s death as an excuse for a long time, but looking back at it now, I don’t think it was because he passed away, I think it was because I chose to go out and do drugs and party instead of looking at the bigger picture. And when I almost lost my job, I had to tell myself, I fought all my life to be a UFC fighter, and this was a dream of mine since I was a 14-year old kid. Do I really want to throw my dream away on an eight ball of coke or going out drinking with friends who weren’t really friends?”

The funny thing is, while Guillard was going through this turmoil and getting a bad rep from fans, behind the scenes, he was just Melvin, an affable young man who was quick with a laugh and always willing to tell his story, warts and all. To those who knew him, the guy they were reading about wasn’t the same one they knew in everyday life. So when Guillard joined up with Greg Jackson and his team in Albuquerque, it may have shocked outsiders, but not those close to the fighter.

“A lot of people always had that misconception of me,” he said. “I’m a different person in the cage. When I step in the cage, I step in as “The Young Assassin”. That was why I nicknamed myself that. When I’m home and I’m out and about, I’m Melvin. Fighting is my job. I’m a normal person at the end of the day, and I don’t feel famous. I just have a job that everybody loves to see me do. And for a long time a lot of people got a misconception of me, but I think now people are changing their thoughts about me because I’m here in Albuquerque. Being trained by Greg Jackson and carrying myself the way GSP (Georges St-Pierre) carries himself, that reflects on people, and people see that. Now I’m still not gonna get rid of my bad boy side, because that’s the part of me that wins fights. I have to have that edge for me to go in and win fights. But it’s not about me being a bad guy outside the cage; outside the cage I’m going to conduct myself like a respectable young man.”

And inside of it, the change has been nothing short of miraculous. No longer relying on his fight-ending power to win fights, Guillard has used his wits as well as his fists to put together a 3-0 run in 2010, as he defeated Ronys Torres, Waylon Lowe, and Jeremy Stephens. A lot of that has to do with his maturity, and a lot has to do with Jackson, and together, they’ve sailed into title contention.

“I just feel that since I’ve been here, I’m more confident and I’m more confident in what I do as far as engaging in certain fights and staying calm,” said Guillard. “I’ve been here for a year and I’ve been more focused and more calm than I’ve ever been in my whole entire career.”

Now he’s put himself in a prime spot on Saturday, as he steps in to replace the injured Kenny Florian against Dunham. Not only does he get to fight in a nationally televised main event against a top level opponent, but in fighting Dunham, he was able to avoid meeting up with one of his MMA mentors, original foe Yves Edwards (who will now fight Cody McKenzie Saturday).

“I didn’t want to fight Yves, he’s a longtime friend and mentor, and he’s a guy I look up to,” said Guillard. “I’ll fight any guy if I have to, but it was just one of those fights where I wasn’t really happy with it because I felt like there were so many other guys that I could fight, why fight a guy that I trained with who was one of my best training partners for four years? This guy knows me like the back of his hand and I thought that would have been a bad fight for me. I didn’t want to give the UFC a boring fight because it would have been a technical fight. I couldn’t make a mistake and I wouldn’t have been as explosive, so I was happy when they switched my fight to Evan Dunham. I feel right now that he (Dunham) is in title contention. So for them to give me that fight, they must feel the same way about me. I’m taking this fight as a number one contender fight. I’m looking at this as after this fight, I should be fighting for a title, whether it’s (Anthony) Pettis or it’s (Frankie) Edgar, I should be fighting for a title.”

It’s been a long time coming for Guillard, and while his wait will be even longer considering that the next two lightweight title fights will be the Edgar-Gray Maynard rematch and the winner of that bout against Pettis, he’ll deal with it. Life is good right now, so why not enjoy the ride?

“Like I told everybody in 2010, I want to win every fight in 2010, put myself in title contention, and in 2011 I want to win my title,” he said. “That’s what I’m putting myself in position for. Now if that doesn’t happen and I don’t get my title shot, I will go another year undefeated, that’s my ultimate goal. But right now, my mindset is to win every fight and put myself in a title fight before the end of the year.”