HOUSTON -- Melvin Guillard insists he is not the middle man.
Caught in the middle, however, is exactly how it must feel sometimes for the people on the edges of the Jon Jones-Rashad Evans feud. Ever since Evans divorced himself from Greg Jackson’s New Mexico-based training camp earlier this year to make a new professional home in Florida, guys like Guillard -- who’s trained at Jackson’s MMA since January 2010 and counts both guys as close friends -- must be treading pretty lightly around the two former teammates.
Maybe that’s why Guillard felt the need to explain himself this week when asked about his decision to do some of the prep work for his UFC 136 fight against Joe Lauzon at Evans’ Imperial Athletics in Boca Raton, Fla., instead of with Jones and the normal crew at Jackson’s.
“Yes, I’m still training in Albuquerque; yes I’m still affiliated with Jackson’s,” Guillard said. “But I have to make decisions in my career that are going to help Melvin. I don’t care about the egos or whatever Rashad and Jon got going on. They’re both my good friends. Rashad’s like my brother since Season 2 of 'The Ultimate Fighter.' I’ll never turn my back on either one of those guys. I just hope they can sort their stuff out and get their stuff together.”
The always upbeat “Young Assassin” feels very confident about the work he was able to put in at Imperial, which has established an immediate foothold at the top-level of MMA with fighters like Evans, Antonio Silva, Jorge Santiago, Anthony Johnson, Michael Johnson and Gesias Cavalcante. Still, any insinuation his time there shows him picking sides in the Evans-Jones beef is off-the-mark and misses the point, Guillard asserted.
“I’m there for me,” he said. “Right now, it’s kind of sad to say, but I have to be selfish to a certain extent. I have to get my title. Those guys have already tasted success, they know what it feels like to be a champion and have Dana put that belt around their waist. I haven’t tasted that yet, so right now I think I have a good formula for success and I’m going to stick to it.”
Reasons for his allegiance to the New Mexico camp run deep. Guillard has largely credited Team Jackson for his career hitting its stride these past couple of years. After an inconsistent start that saw him go 3-3 in the Octagon from 2005-07, and test positive for cocaine and get briefly booted from the UFC after back-to-back losses to Joe Stevenson and Rich Clementi, Guillard appears to finally be living up to his much-talked-about potential.
He’s 5-0 since moving his camp to Albuquerque and is believed to be on the cusp of top-contender status in the competitive lightweight division. Guillard himself says he’s never been more convinced of his readiness and UFC President Dana White recently lauded his surge up the 155-pound ladder, saying in typically blunt fashion: “I always thought he was the biggest waste of talent and he really turned that around and I’m happy to see it.”
Some might see that as something of a backhanded compliment, but Guillard just calls it realistic.
“Dana made those comments because he cares,” he said. “If he didn’t care, he wouldn’t have said anything. If he didn’t care, I wouldn’t be in the position that I’m in. At that time, when I got in trouble and fell into that black hole, the UFC could have booted me a long time ago. There’s so much talent [at lightweight], why they chose to keep me is they saw something in me. Right now, I just use that as motivation. I know I have the owner and CEO of the company in my corner and that’s the greatest feeling in the world.”
News broke this week that Jones and Evans will have to wait even longer to settle their longstanding differences, as Evans’ injured hand shuffled him out of an expected shot at light heavyweight gold and shuffled Lyoto Machida in. While the majority of the MMA world sees that as somewhat quizzical matchmaking, it’s probably good news for Guillard, who won’t have to worry about the distraction or the sticky situation it could put him in to have his two friends and training partners preparing to fight each other.
For now, he can focus on Lauzon and the bigger challenges that will surely result from a win. He can got on asserting that he doesn’t have a stake in the Jones-Evans fight and that the training he gets alongside one in New Mexico and the other in Florida gives him the best of both worlds. As Guillard said this week, for the moment he’s only worrying about himself.
“I feel like a champ right now,” he said.