We walk into a nondescript room in the MGM Grand, once the jewel of the Las Vegas south strip, now firmly entrenched as a midrange option for people who can't afford the Wynn or Caesar's, not knowing exactly what to expect.
It was a video shoot set up a month earlier and then never mentioned again. Worse, we had lost touch with our PR contact and were on an island all alone. Would they remember?
And if they did, seeing as it was just hours before the official weigh-in (and fighters are like starving beasts on the day of a weigh-in) would it even matter?
Signs were pointing to "no." A firm no. A definitive no.
As we walk into the room, there stands Melvin Guillard. He can only be described as chiseled, looking through the dresser for the gear he wanted to wear to the show before the show, only a pair of hot pink (or possibly red, opinions varied) bikini-cut underwear between us and the little Melvin.
And he does not look happy.
"Who are you motherf*ckers?" he bellows, putting all of the menace of New Orleans into his voice, channeling the hurt and rage of the post-Katrina devastation directly toward us.
Tony, my intrepid cameraman, and I are struck dumb. Moments go by, then seconds. Minutes. A lifetime.
Finally I find the nerve to speak. "We're from Bleacher Report." I'd like to say it was a statement made confidently. Professionally. With gusto. In my heart, I know it was a squeak.
And with that, we waited.
Finally the laugh came. "I'm just playing with y'all, Bleacher Report. I thought the little one was going to hide behind the big one. Come on in and make yourself at home."
As awkward moments go, it was near the top of the list. And for me, a person who has spent three decades putting his foot in his mouth as often as possible, that's saying something. At least I was the big one. It doesn't pay to be the little one when a man who could break the both of you into pieces has his blood up.
The Weight Cut
It turns out, however, that Melvin Guillard is in a fine mood. He came to Las Vegas on the Tuesday before the fight at 174 pounds. After a week of eating nothing but vegetables, then nothing at all, he woke up Friday morning before the weigh-ins at 157 pounds. The cut was easy—easier than it's ever been before.
So Melvin Guillard is feeling good, and as moods go, his is infectious. Even coach Dr. Ron Tripp, an American sambo legend who once beat the unbeatable Rickson Gracie in competition, cracks a smile or two.
Melvin is even feeling good enough to amble down the hall to the ice machine, where he carefully selects a single piece of ice to wet his whistle as the countdown to the scale begins in earnest. He's come a long way since a doctor's appointment revealed that, despite being a lean professional athlete, Guillard was at risk for diabetes thanks to a diet charitably referred to as "terrible."
"I've been getting by on just God-given talent," Guillard told Bleacher Report. "As I've gotten older, I realized if I don't eat right, my body will start to slow down. You start to think about the end of your career— I'm only 29 and I don't want to start thinking like that.
"If I didn't catch myself in time... I had very high cholesterol from eating too much candy, I was borderline, almost ready to be on diabetes insulin, so it kind of scared me. I'm getting a little older and I can't be eating all this candy. I started with that. It initially started with cleaning all candy out of my diet."
The culprit comes in four glorious pieces, each made up of three delicious wafers wrapped in chocolate. They call them Kit Kats, and they were killing Guillard. Quite literally. He would pile them beside his bed, his intake legendary. No more. Describing his body as a Ferrari, it's nothing but premium for Melvin going forward. It's part of a transformation led by manager Glenn Robinson, who hand-selected Guillard to join his Blackzilians team in Florida.
"(Glenn) basically offered me and my wife a better life. There's a lot of great things I could say about him and there's a lot of great things I love about this team. Our team, right now, is strong as a family. Look around. This is a family. My biggest drive, right now, other than wanting to win and be a champion, is to give him something back that he's given me," Guillard said, an evangelist's passion in his voice. "I'm so confident to go in the ring. Whatever happens, happens. But I'm going to make sure I'm controlling the outcome. Because the guy that I'm fighting, he's not better than half the guys at my gym.
"That's definitely a confidence builder. We want to be a winning team. Our team here is no stronger or weaker than when I was at Jackson's (the MMA super-camp Guillard used to call home. It's also the home of his next opponent, Donald Cerrone). We have the same chemistry here. The energy in the locker room, you couldn't cut it with a knife. I feel like, for the first time in my life, I'm on a professional team. I feel like, when I go to work, I'm going into an NFL locker room.
"That's the feeling we have when I go into the gym. The facility, it speaks for itself. But to me, it's the guys in the gym that make the facility. We have an amazing facility. But without the right guys, it would just be another room with walls. We definitely have the X-factor in our gym."
To say Robinson is an important figure in Guillard's new life is an understatement. But he's not alone. Melvin's other father-figure is Tripp, the gruff chiropractor who at first wanted nothing to do with Guillard. Melvin persisted, enlisting Tripp's pupil Joe Stevenson to put in a good word.
Perhaps it's the loss of his own father, who died in his 40s from cirrhosis of the liver, but there seemed to be a void in his life that Tripp filled. He's close to his mother and brother, who both called to chat in the few hours we were with him. They can't replace a strong male role model, a position Tripp fills and then some.
"He's basically like my dad," Guillard said. "I asked him three times to train me and he wouldn't do it. He didn't really care for my attitude when he first met me. Until he got to know the real me. Sometimes I rub most people the wrong way until they actually get to know me.
"He changed my life. I have some of the best guys in my life and I think that's why I'm walking around here more professional. I never wore a suit a day in my life until I met Doc. And I feel good about it. My closet has more suits now than any other piece of clothing. I have a hard time picking which suit I want to wear to the fight. I've never been like that before.
"And just that little bit of professionalism transitions over to how I train. He's always on my neck and I can't give him any lip back. So, that sucks. But it all pays off in the end. When I get my hand raised, I can accept all the punishment that I take in the gym."
Melvin Guillard fights Donald Cerrone in the co-main event of UFC 150, Saturday on PPV.
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