Months ago, while waxing poetic about his newly-signed Bellator contract, Melvin Guillard divulged that the deal included provisions which would give him the ability to fight when he wanted against who he wanted. While the remarks sounded overly optimistic in theory, they turned out to be prophetic in reality.
Guillard is now scheduled to debut this Friday in the main event of Bellator 141. When he does so, the man standing across from him will be Brandon Girtz, a rugged Division II wrestler who the veteran lightweight says he handpicked from a variety of possible opponents presented to him by Bellator matchmakers.
"In the UFC I fought Waylon Lowe, I fought Shane Roller, and they were good wrestlers, they were brawlers, they liked to come forward aggressively," Guillard explained to MMAFighting.com. "So when I watched him on tape, that was a big reason why I picked him.
"I want to come out and have a spectacular debut that people are going to remember for a long time. I didn't pick him because I thought he was an easier fight, so I don't want people to get that twisted. Because like I tell everyone, at this level everybody is tough, everybody is strong, everybody is game. Right now he probably thinks he has an opportunity to make a name for himself by fighting me, so I know he's going to be a tough opponent. But I think as far as aggression and the technical part of the fight, I really think he matches up very well for my style."
If Guillard is right, Aug. 28 could prove to be a dramatic launching point to the latest chapter of his prizefighting career.
An alumnus of the second of The Ultimate Fighter, Guillard has seen it all throughout a 14-year journey that's taken him through each of the major three MMA promotions on the North American scene. The abrupt end to his 22-fight UFC tenure led to a brief and tumultuous run with World Series of Fighting, and now that he's landed in Bellator, Guillard is afforded a unique perspective on the sport's shifting landscape.
Guillard is just one of several familiar UFC names to board the Bellator train since the arrival of Scott Coker, co-signing the move alongside the likes of Phil Davis, Josh Thomson, and Josh Koscheck. But Guillard's departure is different from the others for two main reasons; one, he was cut by the UFC whereas the others fought out their contracts, and two, his exit came before the Reebok sea change that so intensely overhauled the UFC's sponsorship system.
The disenchantment with the Reebok deal and its effects capping fighter sponsorship incomes has been voiced by many fighters within the UFC, most notably figures like Brendan Schaub and Tim Kennedy who draw sponsorship interest that far outpaces the four- and five-figure stipends handed out by Reebok. And when Guillard walks through the halls of American Top Team in Coconut Creek, FL, he says he hears the cynicism from his UFC teammates.
"I've been hearing that a lot around my gym," Guillard said. "A lot of the guys are really unhappy with how things went with the UFC. I'm just happy that I was released before all of that went down, because I never left with bad blood, I never left in a bad way. I was the one released, so I'm kind of glad it happened like that because a lot of guys are really not looking forward to re-signing. And I'm just thinking to myself, damn, the UFC is really just dropping the ball on a lot of guys. They're going to lose a lot of talent."
If Guillard was fighting in the UFC on Friday night, he would earn $20,000 from Reebok for his extensive Octagon experience. That number is eight times larger than the $2,500 starting figure which is handed out to UFC newbies, but is one that Guillard says still pales in comparison to the $50,000 or $60,000 per fight he claims was commonplace for him around 2008-2009, before the UFC instituted its sponsor tax.
With those numbers in mind, Guillard likened the new Reebok figures to "a slap in the face" for his veteran teammates.
"Guys aren't happy with how things are going as far as the Reebok deal, obviously," Guillard said. "Guys are losing money with sponsorships because they can't make any money with sponsors. I never ever understood when I was with the UFC and they started charging companies to be in the UFC. That's when everything started affecting our money. I never understood that, but I was always optimistic to think that maybe they would pay us more money on the back-end because we were losing money on this end, but it never happened. So I don't know what the motive for what they're doing is.
"If I was still in the UFC, I know I wouldn't be paying my agent no 15- or 20-percent for marketing because there's no point now," Guillard added. "You might as well just pay them for lining up your fight."
Guillard, more than anything, is curious to see how the marketplace plays out in the coming years and whether more fighters are going to start fighting out the lives of their contracts, regardless of which promotion they're in, if only to understand their value on the open market.
While his road to Bellator hasn't exactly been smooth, Guillard says he learned a lot after hitting free agency twice in the past two years, and that more fighters would benefit from doing the same, no matter where their final destinations may be.
"Me personally, I'm ecstatic and happy being with Bellator, man," Guillard said.
"It's something new and it's fun, and you look forward to doing something different. So right now I'm happy with where I'm at, especially financially. I think financially this is the best move for me, being with Bellator. For me, I will always love the UFC. I will always be respectful to the UFC, because the UFC was my childhood dream. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a UFC fighter. So I have no disrespect to the UFC about how they run their business. They run their business how they want to run it, and when people aren't satisfied, people have to do what they have to do to survive and live."
For Guillard, that survival begins anew at Bellator 141. Despite the many miles on his body from his 50 professional fights, the 32-year-old says he feels as fresh as he did five years ago. His shift towards positivity started after he emerged from a year-long depression during his WSOF days. While moonlighting a fulltime job as a bouncer at an adult club, Guillard struggled to figure out whether professional fighting was still for him, and his flippancy showed with his many indiscretions while with WSOF.
That's all behind him now, though. Guillard is itching to erase the stink from his past two performances and remind fight fans why "The Young Assassin" was once considered must-watch television.
"I'll give them the reminder when I get in the ring and fight," Guillard said. "It'll be a quick reminder. They won't forget. They'll be like, damn, that's the guy I remember fighting. You know, I took a little time off in the midst of competing. I wasn't myself. But it's good to let people think that (you're done). That way you can give them that surprise."