Feel-good stories in MMA are hard to sustain, and even harder to get off the ground. As quick and cobbled as the story of the Blackzilians is being put together as a sort of wrecking crew/adoption agency, old tendencies are returning to its fighters.
This isn’t a happy trend.
One week ago, Anthony Johnson failed to make weight (by a country mile) in Rio de Janeiro at UFC 142, marking the third time in two different weight classes he’s showed up to the scale way over. He was cut for the third strike after losing to Vitor Belfort. Now Melvin Guillard, who recently relocated to Florida full-time to train with the Blackzilians, gets submitted in a round by Jim Miller.
If any of this looks familiar it’s because he was tapped by Joe Lauzon in his previous fight at UFC 136, which was thought to be something of a winking aberration. Turns out it wasn’t, and it never really was. The fact is that nine of Guillard’s 10 losses have come via submission. The other fight he lost (against Jake Short in 2004) was a decision. Guillard has never been knocked out, but he dangles neck and limb out there to be snatched while pursuing knockouts.
His fixation is leaving him vulnerable. For as much as it’s fun to watch Guillard’s aggression, it plays out like roulette.
Yet the case of Guillard is interesting, because so many people -- coaches, fans, honchos at Zuffa -- see him as a fighter that’s a few tweaks from being a champion. He has the quicks and athleticism to rival any lightweight, and arguably the strongest hands in the division. There’s no doubting his explosiveness. In fact, he had Miller in trouble early by landing some big shots. Then again, lapses in judgment have always hindered him, both in and out of the cage. And those lapses in judgment in the cage put him in all kinds of hot water against smart grapplers, the kind who feast on mistakes.
Lauzon told me that he was leery of four offensive moves that Guillard presented, and he had them easily memorized before their fight. He saw all of them in the 47 seconds they stood across from each other. As for the defensive side of the equation? No worries at all -- Guillard trends offensively. He trusts his offense enough to override any specific holes in his submission defense.
And at this point that sort of thinking is the problem unless he’s fighting somebody who accommodates him by not playing jiu-jitsu.
Against wrestlers ( Shane Roller, Evan Dunham, Waylon Lowe), Guillard does fine. Against guys who like to stand and bang ( Jeremy Stephens, Dennis Siver), he’s right at home. But against submission specialists ( Nate Diaz, Joe Lauzon, Jim Miller), guys who can force mistakes or at the very least pounce on them, he gets caught.
After the Miller choke, ESPN.com’s Brett Okamoto suggested Guillard needed to be locked in a room with some black belts for a year, then he’d return a champion. Whether that’s true or not, it couldn’t hurt.
But the mistakes are the thing. Against Miller it was an ill-timed flying knee that allowed the grappler to get things to the ground. From there it was clinical -- just as Miller went to mount, Guillard scrambled and gave up his back. Seconds later, he was tapping.
This has become a recurring theme for Guillard, who for just a little while at Greg Jackson’s Academy in Albuquerque seemed to have found a balance in his game that might be described best as “smart aggressiveness.” The thing that Jackson and striking coach Mike Winkeljohn were working on with Guillard was ultimately judgment, with a broader focus on his maturity. He was riding a five-fight winning streak when he left Jackson’s for Boca Raton midway through training for Lauzon. Up until then, he was beating wrestlers and boxers.
Since then he’s 0-2 against jiu-jitsu aces. Losing the way he did long before he got to Jackson’s.
Would it have mattered if he’d stayed in New Mexico? Who knows. But Guillard is a work in progress, and it’s been a pretty lousy week for the Blackzilians.