As I reflected on the UFC on FOX 8 card, I found myself focusing not on Demetrious Johnson's masterpiece of a fight, or the Rory MacDonald-Jake Ellenberger head-scratcher, but Melvin Guillard.
Why? I don't know. To be sure, he left an impression, a spectacular and scary knockout of Mac Danzig, the kind that leaves you wincing in empathy for the victim and relieved you were anywhere but on the business end of those hellacious hammerfists.
Maybe it's because of time. Guillard, who just turned 30 in March, is no longer the "Young Assassin" that his nickname suggests. He is almost certainly on the back end of his career, although that could mean several more years, maybe even good ones. The thing with him is, who knows? He is alternately the most exciting man on a card or its most frustrating, a muscled package of talent and power that for whatever reason, struggles to find any sort of consistency. To wit, he boasts seven knockouts in his UFC career, a record for lightweights. Yet despite that unrivaled divisional power, he's only 12-8 in his octagon career, with six of his losses by submission.
With Guillard, it's always been feast or famine. Despite that, he certainly doesn't lack for confidence. In explaining the importance of his win after losing two straight, he said this: "There’s no pressure, as long as I’m well prepared and train hard, no one can beat me at 155."
In a sport so unforgiving, self-confidence is critical, but the thing is, no one but him believes that anymore. It's not that we doubt his talent; it's his dependability we question. One highlight-reel moment doesn't change that. He'll have to convince us one win at a time.
On to the predictions ...
Johnson has fought five times in the last 16 months, a blistering pace for anyone at the UFC level, let alone a champion. And keep in mind, that includes a couple of months to address a shoulder injury. After having run through Ian McCall, Joseph Benavidez, John Dodson and now Moraga, it seems to me that Johnson has earned a vacation, as well as some time with his newly born son. That would give the division a little time to shake out and perhaps mint a new contender. Johnson himself mentioned Louis Gaudinot as a possibility, and he has a match with Tim Elliott coming up at the end of August. Aside from him, a rematch is the most likely possibility.
Prediction: If Benavidez beats Jussier da Silva on Sept. 4, the shot is his. If not, Gaudinot gets it with a win over Elliott.
After reviewing some of Moraga's previous fights, I was convinced he had some qualities that could give Johnson trouble, but he was slow on the trigger, and was undone by his inability to stop the takedown. Despite a Division I wrestling background, Moraga was overwhelmed there, as Johnson went a perfect 12-for-12. That was a game-changer, allowing Johnson to open up his offense while Moraga struggled to anticipate what was coming next. Perhaps he needs to refocus on his roots, so he can keep the fight wherever he wants it.
Prediction: A fight with John Dodson seems to make sense
Fight fans sure can be fickle; MacDonald has been one of the most consistently exciting athletes on the UFC roster, and after one lackluster performance, he's in the doghouse. If you're looking for a spin on it, how's this: MacDonald claims he does not want to fight his teammate Georges St-Pierre, and after last Saturday night, no one is clamoring for it. So that's good for him, right? Right? But back to real concerns, as long as his teammate remains champion, we must wonder just how long the UFC is going to match him up with -- and potentially let him knock off -- contenders. We're about to hit the point of no return.
Prediction: He fights the winner of the UFC Fight Night event between Carlos Condit and Martin Kampmann
In the past, Ellenberger chastised himself for being overly aggressive, a trait that cost him in a submission loss to Kampmann. Now, you might wonder if the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Ellenberger landed just five strikes apiece in each of the first and second rounds before a last-ditch rally in the third. Ellenberger owned up to his mistake, saying he "didn't pull the trigger." At 28, Ellenberger is a safe bet to find a happier medium between the two. Don't write him off just yet.
Prediction: While a fight with Nick Diaz would be a nice addition to any card, we'll take Stockton's finest at his retirement word, and go with Ellenberger against the loser of the UFC Fight Night matchup between Matt Brown and Mike Pyle.
Is two wins enough to signify a surge? A rebirth? A contender? It's hard to say exactly where the Ruthless one is. After all, if you go back to the start of 2008, he's 6-5 with 1 no contest, which doesn't exactly fill you with awe, but then again, this is Robbie Lawler, the same guy who's tantalized us with his power since he showed up on the big stage at age 19. All this time later, his power has survived the journey, and now comfortably back at welterweight, perhaps he's ready to achieve the expectations that have existed for years.
Prediction: He draws his original event opponent, Tarec Saffiedine
Fighting for the first time since her lost title opportunity, Carmouche won a fight she was supposed to win, and convincingly. In a division still piecing itself together, that puts her right back into the upper echelon of contenders, although unlike her pre-fight belief, she will probably need at least another win or two to find herself back with another try at gold.
Prediction: She fights the winner of the UFC 163 fight between Sheila Gaff and Amanda Nunes
While Fight of the Night went to Ed Herman and Trevor Smith for their game display of competition, for my money, Masvidal and Michael Chiesa actually had the night's best match. It showed the same level of competitive ferocity but was far more technical, and also had the element of a personal beef. While Chiesa acquitted himself quite well against his first truly battle-hardened opponent, Masvidal showed himself a true technician everywhere. When he's on, he's always worth watching.
Prediction: He fights Guillard