For a lot of fight fans, it might seem like Melvin Guillard fell off the face of the earth.
Much of that is his own fault. “The Young Assassin,” now a 36-year-old man who has been competing professionally in combat sports for two decades, hasn’t officially been in the win column in mixed martial arts since 2014 (a knockout of David Rickels in Bellator was marred by Guillard later testing positive for a banned substance) even though he’s been as active as ever. And then there’s the 13 months he spent in prison after being involved in a bar brawl last September.
Losing. Having your name in the headlines for the wrong reasons. That’s a combination that has felled even the most seemingly untouchable athletes. For Guillard, an early standout in the UFC’s boom period who has always had a reputation for being mercurial, it has put him on a road to infamy and possibly obscurity.
Guillard returns this Saturday at Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship 7, an event that will air live in North America free of charge on YouTube. Though “returns” may be inaccurate. As Guillard will tell you, he’s been here the whole time.
“It’s a chance for me to show the world that I’m back and I really never left,” Guillard said of his BKFC debut in an interview with MMA Fighting. “I never took no time off. I never retired I never quit and came back. I’m back to winning, I’m back to fighting hard, and in a matter of months, hopefully before the end of this year, I can be the champion for BKFC and hold the title.
“If I can win the title here, that will be my 10th title that I’ve ever possessed since I been fighting and to me that’s a milestone. That’s a great accomplishment for me.”
Counting a quartet of bare-knuckle bouts that Guillard took over in England, he actually fought nine times from January 2017 to his most recent bout in July 2018. Since leaving the UFC in 2014, Guillard has appeared for a who’s who of promotions including Bellator, World Series of Fighting (now the Professional Fighters League), and Rizin Fighting Federation, while trading shots with names like Takanori Gomi, Justin Gaethje, and current UFC interim middleweight champion Israel Adesanya.
Those are the kinds of matchups that usually keep a fighter in the spotlight, but Guillard was essentially the B-side in those pairings and he acted like it. He’s missed weight at least a half-dozen times over the past few years and by his own admission, took bookings more for the experience and travel than any sort of competitive desire.
So he doesn’t blame fans who believe he’s become a punchline; if anything, he takes responsibility for setting up the joke.
“It’s simple, it’s because I wasn’t winning. If I won those fights, everybody would be talking, ‘Oh man, Melvin should be going back to the UFC.’ I probably would have been back in the UFC already, but because I lost those fights—and not to mention I fought those fights in weight classes I shouldn’t have been in. I wasn’t an 185-pound fighter, but I had opportunities to fight for titles in the AFC over in Australia against Israel, I had the opportunity to fight in Mongolia when I fought [Muslim Salikhov],” Guillard said.
“At the same time, I got to experience world travel, I get to move around. I didn’t do it so much for the fight. At that point, around that time I probably should have taken some time off. A lot of fighters retire and come back. I didn’t want to be that guy. I didn’t want to say I quit and then come back. I’d rather go through the storms. I should have hung it up for a little bit because I wasn’t loving it, I wasn’t having fun anymore, but instead of hanging it up, I stuck it out, I kept my job going. Because I’d be damned if I go punch the clock, so instead of punching the clock and hanging the gloves up, I said, ‘f*ck it,’ I just wasn’t training as much, I was traveling a lot. I was doing it more for the world travel than I was trying to win. And that’s why I was taking fights at 185. It made no sense to the world, but it made sense to me and at the time, that’s all I cared about.”
During all this, Guillard’s personal life was no laughing matter. Last September, footage emerged of what appeared to be Guillard knocking someone out at a bar in Denver and he was later charged with felony assault. He would plead guilty to misdemeanor assault (a previous assault charge from June of that year that also took place at a bar was dismissed) resulting in jail time.
Guillard was released in July and is currently on two years probation. All things considered, his legal situation could be a lot worse (on Thursday morning, TMZ reported that he is potentially facing a longer jail sentence for multiple charges tied to an April 2018 domestic violence incident and MMA Fighting confirmed that he is due back in court for a status conference on Aug. 26.). Guillard though feels that the bar incidents were misconstrued.
“I’ve got a lot of criticism from the media, from fans, people’s feeling like, ‘Melvin’s out there beating up people in bars.’ No, Melvin’s out there defending himself from getting himself hurt inside of a bar,” Guillard said. “But whatever people see it is, I could care less. …”
“I knew I would, I knew I could do this,” Guillard added in regards to his incarceration. “The reason I want to do it and complete it and make it done the right way is to prove to the world that I’m not a bad person. I just got put in a bad situation. And I’m pretty sure any one of us when put in that same position, where you had no choice, at least I was able enough and skilled enough to defend myself and walk away with nothing wrong. I’ve seen some people in those same incidents working in clubs get put in that same situation and they get they face split open with a bottle or knocked out or unconscious and kicked in the face and stomped on, I’ve seen a lot of bad things happen to people.
“It is what it is, I’m moving forward, it’s all behind me, and I’m just ready to get back to work. I’m ready to do what Melvin does best and that’s beat people up. Legally.”
One fight isn’t going to turn everything around for Guillard. He knows this. There is so much lost time to make up for, something he admitted as much in a public apology he made on Instagram on July 11:
In the clip, Guillard touches upon a number of subjects. He talks about making amends with fans. About taking people for granted. About heartbreak. And about finding himself.
Asked to elaborate on his apology, Guillard did not hold back.
“I lost my marriage. I lost a 10-year marriage because of all this,” Guillard said. “Me and my wife, we’re not even on talking terms. If anything, that’s the biggest hit I took. I had to take that L. Right now, there’s nothing I can say that’s gonna get her back and it’s just, only time will tell. But to me that’s the most important thing. I couldn’t care less if I never fought again, but losing my wife through all this, that was a heartbreaker.
“But I’m over it. All it did was make me that much of a more dangerous person in the ring because now I can be angry. Now I can have something to fight for. Now I have something to prove not only to myself again, but to the whole world. For me, I spent my whole life having to prove myself to people. But now I want to prove it to myself that I can do it and go all the way this time.”
A BKFC title, that’s the prize Guillard has in his sights. He never quite reached elite status during his days as fan favorite in the UFC, once winning five straight and eight out of nine fights in the promotion’s stacked lightweight division, but always seeming to fall short of the big win that would get him a title shot.
His fight with Gaethje in July 2014 was supposed to be for a WSOF championship, but Guillard missed weight for the contest and then lost a split nod to “The Highlight.” Guillard’s run with Bellator also failed to bear fruit.
Now he steps into the bare-knuckle realm with fellow MMA transplant Isaac Vallie-Flagg and even in this there are shades of Guillard’s past. He and Vallie-Flagg have a close relationship dating back to their days as longtime training partners on the famed Jackson’s MMA team.
“Me and Isaac were sparring partners for seven years,” Guillard said. “Me, Isaac, ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone, Leonard Garcia, we all bled together, sweated together in the gym for seven years I lived in Albuquerque. Isaac’s a good friend. I even lived with Isaac for at least three years of the seven years I was there. Damacio Page, all those guys. So Isaac’s like family to me, he’s a real close friend just like Cowboy and all those other guys.
“But like I said, this is business. We’re no longer teammates. We’re always gonna be friends, Clay Guida, all those guys, but for me, I’m the black sheep. I’ve always been the black sheep. I’m kind of like The Lone Ranger right now, I don’t really per se have a significant team that I belong to like those guys anymore. I move around, I visit different teams, I train with different people. And a lot of times I end up doing things on my own.”
Having worked with some of the most renowned teams in the sport—Jackson’s MMA, Blackzilians, Grudge Training Center, American Top Team—Guillard knows what it’s like to work with and learn from the best; on the other hand, he’s also seen how these relationships can sour and mentioned that the politics at the big gyms and the ego of some of the coaches and trainers are what have caused him to strike out on his own more often than not these days.
He just needs someone to keep him in shape. Someone to hold pads for him. That kind of casual approach may be what put Guillard in the situation he’s in now, in danger of becoming a footnote in the annals of MMA history, but it’s also the kind of attitude that has helped him to survive 20 years in the fight game.
That’s the mindset he takes into his BKFC debut this weekend in Biloxi, Miss. The knowledge that even after dozens of high-profile fights, people don’t really know him. And after everything that’s happened over the last 18 months or so, they definitely don’t know what to expect from his comeback.
Just remember that from Guillard’s viewpoint, he was never gone.
“A lot of people are are always going to have misconceptions, but like I always tell people in life: You’re gonna have people that love you. You’ve got the people that hate you. And you’ve got the ones in the middle that’s going to jump back and forth,” Guillard said. “They’re going to switch. If you win a fight they love you, if you lose a fight they hate you. I’ve been dealing with this my whole life, in my personal life and in my superstar life. Me now, I’m just kind of numb to it. It doesn’t really bother me. I don’t care what people say. I don’t care what people think. At the end of the day, it’s my life, it’s my job, it’s my career, and it’s my childhood dream. Most people, I’m a say 95 percent of people in the world can never look you in the eye and say they love their job and this is what they want to do since they were a 13-year-old kid. Everybody working to survive or working just for comfort, just so they can have money or just live that next day and they hate themselves, they hate their lives. I love my life.
“Even with the good or the bad, the wins or the losses, I love the fact that I can be the baddest mother f*cker in the room and I can also be the nicest guy in the room, but I can also go and have fun and do what I want and travel the world and leave and go like I want to. I’m on probation and I can still leave and go more than most people can that work a regular 9-to-5. So I admire what I do for a living and that’s not gonna change. I’m 36 years old and I still love it as if I was 14 again.”