Very few UFC careers last as long as Melvin Guillard's did. Introduced to the world in 2005 with his run on The Ultimate Fighter 2, Guillard's Octagon stint stretched through the better part of nine years. And while he always had his ups and downs, Guillard was over a year removed from defeat when he suffered his recent setback against Michael Johnson -- which is why the soon-to-be 31-year-old was surprised to discover himself a casualty of the latest round of UFC roster cuts.
Although, once the shock wore off and the reality of the situation set in, Guillard began to view his newfound free agency in a different light than most have come to expect.
"I was happy," Guillard said simply on Monday's episode of The MMA Hour. "I gave the UFC nine years. I gave them a good nine years. Honestly I gave them one bad performance, which was the London fight (against Johnson). I had two busted ribs, a busted hand in the first round, but I didn't make any excuses in the fight. I stayed in there, I fought. I could've been like most fighters and just threw in the towel when I got up off the seat, but I was fighting injured.
"I didn't expect to get released. I just expected (UFC matchmaker) Joe (Silva) to do the normal thing he does and sit me down for like six months, and make me ask him for a fight. But I ended up getting released, and for me, honestly, I thought it was the best thing that could happen to me right now at this point in my career."
While such outward positivity may be a peculiar response to getting fired, for Guillard, the reason for all this optimism is simple.
"Now I can go move on with my life," Guillard said. "I can go sign with another company, another company is going to pay me, probably, way more than I was making in the UFC. And at that point now, I have a chance to make some decent money in my career.
"At the end of the day, I know what I'm worth," Guillard continued. "And I'm not going to let anybody try to undersell me. Because a lot of people are going to try to offer me bulls--t contracts, and I ain't taking it.
"The UFC, that's a tough ball to crack. It's hard to negotiate with them at times, but you know what, I was okay. I had to be okay with what they were giving me. Other organizations, they're going to have to pay me, bro, because I know what I'm going to bring to the table."
Since his debut in 2005, Guillard amassed a 12-9 (1 NC) record under the UFC umbrella, generally winning a few fights in exciting fashion before hitting a slump. The best stretch of his career came when he racked up five consecutive wins from February 2010 to July 2011, however "The Young Assassin" followed it up by dropping four of his next five contests.
Through it all, though, Guillard has been a game opponent and fan favorite for his power-punching style, and even found himself fighting in the co-main event for three of his last six shows. It's the kind of loyalty that made, at least initially, the abrupt announcement of his release a little harder to take.
"When I first heard, I was a little upset," Guillard admitted. "I was like damn, one fight, one bad performance? I've been credited so many times for how exciting I was, even in fights that I've lost. I've had Dana (White) and them come to me and say, ‘kid, you lost, but man, that was an exciting fight. You always put it out for us.' And that's why I was always that guy.
"It's just a little weird. It's just a lot of politicking, man. I'm not upset with the UFC. I've still got love for Dana and Lorenzo and Joe. One day I might go back to the UFC. But right now, I want to explore my options. I want to go somewhere else. For me to be in the UFC for nine years and not even break the 50/50 mark in pay, that's like working at a Fortune 500 and not getting a promotion at all. I just want to go somewhere else right now where I can be the face, and I can possibly be a champion somewhere else."
Guillard earned a $42,000/$42,000 split as his last reported salary, a UFC on FOX 8 win over the now-retired Mac Danzig. Since then he's fought strictly on international shows, of which salary information is rarely released, although Guillard made it clear that the financial potential of his free agency is at the moment his biggest stimulus.
In the past, it's common to see veterans cut from the UFC generally attempt to pick up a few wins on regional shows to bolster their stock, with the goal being an eventual return to the Octagon. According to Guillard, UFC President Dana White suggested he go the same route. However, right now that's the furthest thing from Guillard's mind.
"It was crazy because [White] just told me, ‘kid, you know I got love for you and I like you, but we need you to just go fight somewhere else, maybe three or four fights, and then come back,'" Guillard said. "I've already been offered that. I've already been offered to go and just win a couple of fights and come back, but that's not the route I want to take.
"I know he wants the best for me. I just don't think that right now the UFC was the best fit for me. Right now, at this point. I had my five-fight win streak and I wasn't even offered a title shot. There's other people getting repeated rematches, rematches. I'm getting older, bro. I need to get a title now, whether it's Bellator, whether it's WSOF. If I can go somewhere else and win a title, be the face of another organization, I will be content and happy with that.
"I've done what I could in the UFC. Obviously it wasn't enough to stay in there and please them. At this point in my career, it's about me pleasing myself."
Other than money, what would please Guillard above all else is an active schedule. After fighting just twice in 2013, Guillard expects to be competing "at least four to five (times) minimum a year" wherever he elects to sign moving forward.
More than once, Guillard called himself a "hot commodity," adding that "there's a lot of organizations out there that want me." The organization that seems to be catching his eye the most, though, is fledgling Russian promotion Legend, who plans to stage its third event in Milan, Italy early next month.
"We're going to go there next week and go check out a show, go talk to the owners," Guillard said. "I guess they're going to wine and dine me.
"Right now I feel like a real professional athlete. I'm a free agent. So whoever brings the money, whoever is talking money, they can talk to me."