Melvin Guillard was a healthy underdog going into his main event match against highly touted prospect Evan Dunham. Guillard’s past struggles with submission specialists caused many to envision Dunham’s arm around Guillard’s neck when it was announced he would replace Kenny Florian.
But Guillard reminded us that that these matches are not fought on paper when he notched his fairly easy TKO victory. This win helps Guillard move from being considered "talented but too inconsistent" to now being listed among the UFC’s many lightweight contenders.
In a division that is currently dominated by wrestle-boxers, Guillard brings crisp, powerful striking to the table to go with an evolving grappling game that includes Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to go with his wrestling and judo background.
The UFC 155 lb division is the deepest single division in any promotion, so there are no shortage of elite level fighters for Guillard to test his growing skills, but many have been booked for fights already.
The champion Frankie Edgar and No. 1 contender Gray Maynard are scheduled for a rematch following their New Year's draw. The other two major top contenders Jim Miller and George Sotiropoulos are both scheduled for treading-water matches during the first half of this year.
Anthony "Showtime" Pettis’ promised title shot was deferred because of the draw, and he is now slated to face newly crowned contender Clay Gudia. Former WEC Champion Ben Henderson is set to fight Mark Bocek this April. And B.J. Penn has left Lightweight for bigger fights at 170.
So that leaves sparse pickings for Guillard if he wants to fight sometime this spring or summer. The first name that jumps out is Kenny Florian, Dunham’s original opponent, who had to bow out due to a knee injury.
Florian has stated that his targeted return time is sometime his May or June, which would give Guillard ample time to recover and have a full fight camp. Florian possesses an interesting matchup for Guillard; he certainly brings the submissions to beat Guillard, but also would prove a stern test for Guillard’s new, more measured striking.
Now Florian could be too far of a step up for Guillard, who is still just entering his prime at age 27 and in no way needs to be rushed. Another elite level fighter who could be a more suitable matchup could be former UFC Lightweight Champion Sean Sherk.
Sherk brings strong, explosive wrestling that would test Guillard’s defensive grappling, but not much beyond that with which to threaten. If he is able to stop the takedown, the Young Assassin should have no trouble out-striking the former champ.
If the UFC wants to take it slower with Guillard, a matchup that would make sense would be Matt Wiman, who is fresh off an impressive win over Cole Miller. Pitting two up and comers would help build the name and resume of the winner and put them solidly into title contention talk.
Who is next for Melvin Guillard?
As for the loser Saturday night, Evan Dunham, I don’t know if all the shine is taken off his rising star. He is still in his twenties, and has outstanding grappling and power in his strikes. Charles Oliveira would give Dunham an excellent match that would challenge him and give him a chance to work on his stand up. The winner of this match would immediately be deemed a top prospect again.
The UFC Lightweight division is looking like to could provide a very, very exciting 2011.
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