Back in early 2001, there were many big names in the world of professional boxing—Oscar de la Hoya, the up-and-coming Floyd Mayweather Jr., Lennox Lewis, Roy Jones Jr. and others—but one name kept on coming up, time and again, as the best new boxer out there: Zab Judah.
With incredible hand speed, great reflexes, brutal knockout power and underrated defense, Judah was ripping through the competition. He was exciting as hell to watch, and he honestly looked unstoppable.
Then, a heaping helping of hubris and the hard right hand of Kostya Tszyu changed all of that, forever.
All the talent he had couldn’t save him from himself. He had the fight with Tszyu in the bag; it was his for the taking. He was hitting Tszyu nearly at will and having a ball making “The Thunder from Down Under” look like a rank amateur.
But he failed to adhere to the age old admonition of the fight game: “Protect yourself at all times.” In the case of Judah, he needed protection from himself more than anyone.
Now, with a career notched with defeats suffered at the hands of boxers who were never really blessed with as many gifts as he has squandered, Judah is somewhat of a cautionary tale in the boxing world: “Don’t let this happen to you.”
I can only hope Melvin Guillard doesn’t suffer the same fate as Zab Judah, because in many ways, his career as a professional fighter seems to be heading in the same direction.
This is not to say that Guillard hasn’t made improvements in his game, because he has. He continues to grow, and he’s still got the time to turn things around.
But something needs to change. Every time Guillard starts to build up some steam and looks to be cracking the top 10, heading for a title shot, he gets derailed—usually in ways he should have seen coming.
Guillard has many of the same gifts that Judah had: brutal KO power, terribly fast strikes, god-given athleticism and a love for fighting. These are attributes you can develop to a degree through hard training, but they’re better employed when they come naturally, and in Guillard, they flow out like a river.
But he always seems to falter when he’s on the cusp of what could be a shot a true greatness.
Of his 18 fights in the UFC, he’s suffered seven defeats, six of those coming via submission. For a fighter with so much going for him, he clearly isn’t putting in enough time on the mat against the kind of submission experts that will teach him the error of his ways.
At a time when training in large fight clubs with many big-name fighters is thought to be the best way to become great, it seems Guillard may reap more rewards by taking a drastically different approach and deciding to go with a smaller group of trainers who are able to give him the time and focused attention he needs in order to take the next step.
Guillard has all of the physical advantages a fighter could ever want. If champions were decided based upon talent alone, Guillard would be the champion—not Benson Henderson—but that’s not the case.
I have often wondered how Guillard would look if he took a year (or at least six months) off from fighting to train hardcore in nothing but jiu-jitsu and boxing. Time spent as an honest student of both games would demand he develop the necessary skills and motivation needed just to keep up—and those are the exact things he seems to be missing.
It’s hard to imagine Guillard enjoying any time in a gym like the one owned by Freddie Roach unless he was about the business of paying attention and getting better; he’d be too busy climbing up off the floor if he didn’t—and those are the exact things he seems to be missing.
Whatever he decides, the time of Melvin Guillard is now, not tomorrow. He needs to do something different, or else he could wind up as MMA’s equivalent to Zab Judah—and that is a story with a very sad ending indeed.