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With Eyes on Gold, Melvin Guillard Finally Realizing Vast Potential

<! mediaid=3810414 AP: img vspace="4" hspace="4" border="1" align="right" src="" alt="" />They say a rising tide lifts all ships. Melvin Guillard was always a speedboat, riding fast and out of control, and teetering on the edge between exhilaration and disaster. But a few fights into his tenure with the vaunted team at Jackson's MMA, he's become a bona fide member of their fleet, learning how to apply the power to his high-performance engine for optimal performance.

Might this ultimately turn Guillard into the championship contender he's promised he will become?

The signs look promising for the 27-year-old, who was once among the UFC's most inconsistent talents, looking like a world-beater one day and then struggling the next. After a lopsided first-round TKO over the highly regarded Evan Dunham at UFC Fight for the Troops 2, Guillard's won six of his last seven, making him one of the sport's best redemption tales, and a legitimate player in the lightweight division.

No one's ever questioned Guillard's athletic ability. He's always had ridiculous speed and God-given power that is above and beyond that of nearly any fellow lightweight. But there's always been questions about his ground game, and more importantly, he's had issues with his mental approach to fighting and to life.

Most of that began to change when he joined Team Jackson. Like many of the fighters who call the camp home, Guillard has come to view it as an extended family, fighters like Rashad Evans and Jon Jones becoming training partners and big brothers.

Guillard spoke about it in the leadup to his fight with Dunham, admitting that there were things that "haunted" him and kept him from reaching his potential, one of them being the loss of his father at an early age, another being his use of drugs (he infamously tested positive for cocaine after an April 2007 fight).

"I think that's what's big about what's going on in my life right now," Guillard told MMA Fighting before the fight. "I don't have any negative people. No negative energy around me."

The freeing effect of his new mind set has translated well in the octagon. And Guillard's physical game has mirrored his mental change, taking negatives and turning them into positives.

Guillard was once known as a wild brawler who would simply let his hands go, knowing he was fully capable of knocking out anyone he caught. It's a crowd-friendly style, but it leads to a short shelf-life, and Guillard was wise enough to figure that out before it wore him down.

He's still fun to watch, but he's now fighting with a new maturity, knowing when to pull back and when to step on the gas. And when he does step on the gas, he makes it count. He's not simply firing at will; the punches that were once wide and looping are now short and crisp, with a purpose and a laser-lock. According to Compustrike, against Dunham, Guillard landed 35 of 46 strike attempts, a staggering 76 percent. That resulted in two knockdowns and led to the eventual finish.

Much of the credit for his tighter striking has to go to Mike Winkeljohn, who has done wonders for several Team Jackson members in that realm. Guillard already had power; refined technique is rapidly making him among the most dangerous strikers in the UFC's 155-pound division.

It's clear that Guillard is now a man with a goal. He can see beyond the fight in front of him, and wants to win a championship. With all due respect to Guillard, that would have seemed like a ridiculous proposition a couple years ago; now you have to wonder if he's got this thing figured out. His personal life is stable, his professional life has him surrounded by some of the best coaches and training partners in the sport, and most importantly, he's winning.

"I want my title shot," Guillard said after his win. "I'm the dark horse in this game at 155. No disrespect to anyone in my weight class, but I am the best 155-pound fighter in the UFC."

He's got plenty more work to do, and plenty more fighters to leapfrog. Aside from the champ Frankie Edgar and his next challenger Gray Maynard, guys like Anthony Pettis, Clay Guida, Kenny Florian and George Sotiropoulos are blocking his path to gold. It will be a long and laborious journey, but Guillard insists he'll go unbeaten in 2011 as he did in 2010, and that his title shot will come.

There are plenty of people out there who will never forgive Guillard for his past sins out of the cage and mistakes made inside of it. That may forever taint their perceptions of how bright his future can be. But the once out-of-control speedboat now has his course charted. He has a long way to go, but he's come a long way just to get here.

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