Melvin Guillard never saw the end coming until the morning he awoke and it was already lurching through his front door. Sometimes, that's just how it goes. Close your eyes and you're a 10-year UFC lifer, open them eight hours later and you're unemployed. Cord-cutting without the grace of a goodbye; no severance package, going-away party or tearful embrace over a decade of service. Just 23 fights worth of memories and a dizzying sense of how things are about to change.
And things certainly did change.
Few expected Guillard, the cocksure TUF 2 relic with the bleach-blonde fade and heat-seeker of a right hand, a lightweight who'd headlined handfuls of events and latched himself atop the bonus list, to be handed his UFC walking papers after a single loss to Michael Johnson in early 2014 -- least of all Guillard himself. Guillard went on to become World Series of Fighting's resident malcontent, a short-lived bust who twice missed weight and openly feuded with promotion executives, tumbling slowly into irrelevance while losing the life he fashioned over a decade.
"When I got released, man, I was battling with my own mind," Guillard admits now. "I was depressed. I didn't even know if I wanted to fight anymore. I told my wife I didn't want to fight anymore."
Guillard's WSOF approach was more than a little misguided. That much was obvious then, and even more so now that the he-said, she-said is all over. His was a terrifying thought though: to wake up at 31 years old, in mid-free fall, any semblance of identity cast out into the cold while the game marched on by with a double-finger salute.
"Not being in the UFC anymore, and dealing with out-of-the-ring issues financially, it just put me in a real bad spot," Guillard says. "When you're married you've got to do certain things a certain way, and not fighting in the UFC, not making that same money, my lifestyle had to change.
"I took a security job working as a floor guy at a gentleman's club out here. I hadn't had a regular job in over 20 years. You know, everything I've been doing in the last 20 years has been just MMA. So that was hard to adjust to, I went from being my own boss to having to take a lot of crap from people, especially strippers and the management at this particular strip club I worked at, man. And it was just horrible."
Guillard knows his personal struggles aren't excuses for his professional mistakes. Those failings were his own, and there were many. He missed weight for his WSOF debut, publicly chided the organization as a "B-league" on a conference call with its own executives, then bungled his weight cut for his title fight against Justin Gaethje so badly that insiders openly wondered whether he even cared at all. Tensions crested earlier this year when officials pulled Guillard from WSOF 20 for refusing to engage in media then failing to submit his pre-fight medicals, yet still find time to lambaste WSOF in interviews of his own accord.
Within a span of six months, Guillard became a pariah of public perception; public enemy No. 1 on the wings of his own self-sabotage.
"I got to a point where I didn't even want to watch MMA anymore because, you know, it's almost like I fell off the face of the earth," Guillard says. "Last year it was like I almost didn't even exist. The only time my name was even relevant was the two times I missed weight.
"A lot of people still didn't even know that I was released from the UFC at that time. There were people who were like, ‘damn man, you're one of the top guys in the UFC lightweight division, why aren't you out there fighting?' I was getting asked these questions, you know what I mean? These questions were always asked by different people all the time. It's hard when you've got to repeat yourself all the time. ‘Oh, I got released.'
"It kind of was like a ripple, it just affected everything around me."
Guillard left his job at the gentlemen's club shortly after the WSOF 20 fiasco went down in flames. WSOF released him from his contract two weeks later, a merciful split for two sides who had grown weary of each other's kinks. Now Guillard is the newest member of the Bellator lightweight division. It's a third and likely last opportunity for the once-reliable UFC banger, but one accepted with a new sense of understanding for the stakes.
"Right now, at the end of the day, Bellator is the last big show," Guillard admits. "After Bellator, where else would I go? There's no where else to go.
"Being able to work that regular job is what kind of humbled me. I told myself, you know what, I'm a fighter. Fighting is what I do. That's my job. It gave me a new appreciation for being a fighter."
The strange part to this whole saga is that, for all his shortcomings, Guillard is a fighter who still belongs among the world's best. He was successful more often than not in the UFC, gathering a 13-9 (1 no-contest) record and the scalps of Gleison Tibau, Dennis Siver, and Jeremy Stephens, to name a few. Even in WSOF, despite any out-of-the-cage ruckus, he still mollywhopped Gesias Cavalcante and forced Gaethje to sweat the anxiety of split scorecards.
Now, at 32 years old, Guillard only hopes to keep that fire alive. He calls his new multi-fight, multi-year deal with Bellator "a blessing of a contract," one that's "probably the most financially stable job, as far as a fighter" that he's ever put pen to paper on throughout his 14-year professional career. "It's the first contract I've ever gotten where I have total control over where I fight and when I fight," Guillard says. "So basically I have all-out control over, basically, my career. I get to fight where I want, when I want."
It's not a catch-all rule, but in the hurt game, as in life, things tend to end up in their right place. The action-fighter with an old-guard name, penchant for brawls, and goliath-sized chip on his shoulder -- that's essentially the Scott Coker Special.
So for now, Guillard's goal is simple: debut in July, then bang out three fights to close out 2015. The way he figures it, the sooner he can get this train a'rolling, the sooner he can make amends for the year that got away.
"I'm already ready. I'm still in the gym right now, keeping my weight down," Guillard says. "I'm not as heavy as I was before. So my main thing right now is to make weight easy and give all the naysayers something to not talk about.
"People don't understand what goes on with fighters. We're human. When you're depressed and you really don't want to be somewhere, hey, you don't really give it your all. That's all I can say. Yeah, I feel bad about myself. I gave up an opportunity of a lifetime to fight for a title. But you know what? When I get a chance to fight for the Bellator title, fight my teammate Will (Brooks), if that day comes, I'll be ready."