Fairly or not, there's sometimes an assumption from fans and the media that life outside of the UFC for fighters isn't that great. That's especially true once they are cut from the world's leader in MMA promoting. Yet, World Series of Fighting's Melvin Guillard is adamant things are going just fine as he prepares to compete for that organization's title on Saturday at WSOF 15.
"It's great, man. Life after the UFC is not so bad right now," he said on Monday on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani. "I'm with an organization that's actually giving me a title shot. I was with the UFC nine years and was never given a title shot. I'm a happy camper just for being able to fight for a title.
"The money is definitely good, so I'm not complaining at all," he continues. "I have no complaints."
And why should he? Guillard's in something of a catbird seat. He has a recognizable name from a long UFC tenure and blasted his way into the WSOF with a TKO victory over Gesias Cavalcante in July at WSOF 11. Now he's ready to take on champion Justin Gaethje for the lightweight title. For Guillard, the change of pace has apparently been a breath of fresh air.
"It feels good right now. Like I tell everybody, I miss being in the UFC, but I don't desire to be back no time soon. I'm having fun with World Series. It's a new organization. It's new faces, new people. It's just refreshing. It's giving me a fresh start right now. The UFC, being there nine years with that one organization, it started getting a little stale.
"The traveling was fun, but traveling all over the place, it just got a little boring," he notes. "When I got released, I wasn't so mad about it. I was like, 'You know what? Maybe God got something else in store for me.' Here we are talking about me fighting for a world title instead of talking about Melvin, a top five contender in the UFC, like it had always been."
Although his math doesn't quite compute, Guillard says he's happy because he's been competing for two decades. It's probably closer to 15 years, but that's still a considerable length for a professional prizefighting career.
"I feel great. I still feel young and I'm a finisher. I happen to have to stress that to people because, I don't know, I guess people sleeping on me a little bit. I'm only 31 years old. I'm in my prime right now. I think a lot of fighters should definitely be worried right now.
"I've been fighting professionally since I was 16 years old, bro. Y'all record book is not updated. I keep telling everybody that," he says defiantly. "I have well over 200 fights already. Some unsanctioned, some underground. I've been fighting professionally since I was 16. I started MMA at the age of 14. I have 45 amateur fights that I never lost."
Does that mean the time has eaten away at his love of the sport? 'The Young Assassin' claims it hasn't. In fact, he thinks the timing is right to take another turn only veteran fighters can make.
"It's my childhood dream. It's what I want to do for a living. I love what I do. I love every minute of it. Right now, at the age of 31, it's about making money. I've had the fun of becoming a famous fighter or becoming a UFC fighter. I'm already a known, famous fighter. Now I want to make the money.
"That's why everybody's really obsessed with me going back to the UFC. Unless the UFC can offer me more money when it's time when to return, then I won't be going back. I've had some great fights in the UFC. I want to go back to the UFC eventually, but right now I'm enjoying where I'm at with World Series," he contends.
Still, the difference in limelight between UFC and WSOF is not lost on Guillard. He says when he runs into acquaintances who ask about his career, they have a bit of trouble connecting all of the dots.
"A lot of people aren't up to speed and the funniest thing is, when I say I'm fighting for a world title in World Series, they're like, 'Who's the champion in World Series?' Justin Gaethje. 'Who the hell is that?' He's a champion nobody even know of. Right now, he needs the win over just so people can know who he is. I be damned if I allow him to be famous off of my name."
He knows Gaethje, too. The two spent roughly six months together training at Grudge Training Center before Guillard left the gym after a dispute over financial compensation with coach Trevor Whitman.
Guillard admits Gaethje is "a great guy," but isn't overly concerned. The UFC vet likens him to fighters he's defeated, such as Shane Roller or Waylon Lowe. In other words, good wrestlers who move forward. Those are the kinds of fighters he says are most likely to get knocked out.
"He's tailor made for a guy like me. When I say that, guys like him that like to come forward very aggressive, they all get knocked out.
"He's just like [Roller and Lowe]," Guillard continues. "I know he's working with Trevor, so in my mind, I'm guessing he thinks he knows how to box. That can be the end of his night if he definitely comes in here trying to outbox me. I'm definitely the better striker here."
Interestingly, Guillard says a habit of his that few other fighters do is going to give him the edge in the end, namely, he films almost all of his training sessions. That, he says, gives him a chance to see what that coach might teach other fighters - Gaethje still trains with Whitman - and remind himself of what he once practiced.
"I go back everyday and I watch myself with Trevor hitting mitts," he says. "I watch video of me working with Henry Hooft, when I was with the Blackzilians. What people don't understand is I'm a striker, but to be a great striker, you have to move around sometimes and visit different striking coaches and pick up different techniques from different things. I done that along the way. I wasn't crazy. Nobody's ever promised me. Your marriage is not even promised to you, so you know coaches aren't.
"When I would go to these places, I would have my session recorded. Of course I'm going to go back and study those tapes because the same thing he was teaching me, he was teaching Justin," Guillard explains. "To be a great fighter, you have to travel around and you have to get advice and you have to learn different techniques from different places."
Whether the nomadic jump from camp to camp has been a help or a hindrance will be shown on Saturday, to some extent, anyway. Guillard knows he's picked up a lot from a lot of different coaches and teammates, but made some enemies and detractors along the way. When he steps into the cage against Gaethje on Friday, he's carrying as much his wealth of striking knowledge as he is bitter feelings.
"I always have a chip on my shoulder," he admits. "I'm Melvin Guillard. Like I said, I got a lot of people out there who don't like me for a lot of unknown reasons. But you know what? None of them will be ever man enough to come to my face and tell me, man to man, because they definitely going to take that ass whooping with it.
"But I always have a chip on my shoulder, even as a fighter. That's the way you have to be in the game. Like I said, I respect Justin. He's a friend of mine, but there will be no pity on Justin when I'm in that ring with him on Saturday night. I'm going for the kill. I go for the jugular. I'm going to do whatever I can to win that fight. I'm going to make it ugly. It won't be a pretty fight. That's the way I fight. That's what makes me who I am."
As for now, Guillard is with American Top Team (ATT). There he pays coaching fees he's comfortable with (5 percent). He's happy enough now that, he claims, he plans on finishing out his career with the team. "When I retire from this sport, I'll be retiring from ATT as a world champion," he says.
It isn't just bad feelings and long years of training, though, that he's carrying into this fight. As he tells it, there's plenty of optimism, too. Guillard says he's held eight belts in his MMA career. He had to vacate a kickboxing title to sign with the UFC back in 2005. He hasn't had a title opportunity in over a decade.
On Saturday, that drought ends and if all goes according to plan, the next chapter in Guillard's long career begins.
"I'm long overdue for a piece of gold," he says. "I'm going to get that gold, man."