After an uncharacteristically quiet couple of weekends, the UFC will subtly break the silence on Saturday with its second annual Fight for the Troops show emanating from Fort Hood, Tex.; a card that will raise funds to benefit veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury.
The cause is good – great, even – though the lineup itself is admittedly fairly standard fare for free television. It features a bevy of up-and-comers, mid-carders and reality show veterans, and is headlined by a somewhat middling lightweight clash that will only still be relevant come Monday if the favorite does not win.
Problem is, pretty much everybody fully expects Evan Dunham to take care of business against Melvin Guillard. Well, everyone except Guillard.
After five up-and-down years in the Octagon, the often outspoken former “TUF 2” contestant still certainly does not want for confidence. Despite opening as a shade more than a 2-1 underdog this week, Guillard declared himself “the lightweight nobody wants to fight” and claimed that he’d vault Dunham in the 155-pound pecking order after this weekend. Further, he said that other, more proven vets like Kenny Florian (who he called out by name) need to “get out of the way” and let some fresh talent have a shot at the UFC’s most hotly contested title.
Most of this is surely just bluster, but Guillard has good reason to believe he can win. He went 3-0 in 2010 after turning his training camps over to fight guru Greg Jackson and his Albuquerque-based team. During that stretch Guillard has showed that he’s more than just the explosive striker we’d seen in his first nine appearances in the UFC, the one who had to revitalize himself with a win in a smaller organization after back-to-back losses in 2007.
These days – much to the chagrin of critics – he’s been playing things a bit more conservatively. His most recent split decision win over Jeremy Stephens in fact likely contributed to company president Dana White’s criticism back in November that Jackson and his fighters often take a “safety first” approach. Whatever you think of the methods, the final product has been fairly effective. “Safety first” could also be a good mantra for Guillard as he prepares to take on Dunham, a guy that most fans and analysts have ticketed for an express-lane trip to the top.
Despite a controversial split decision loss to Sean Sherk at UFC 119, the promotion has chosen to proceed as if Dunham is still undefeated. Probably the right move, as most agree he should’ve gotten the nod against Sherk.
Besides that hiccup, he’s looked fairly suffocating in his previous UFC performance, especially while catching former “TUF” winner Efrain Escudero in a nasty arm bar in January of 2010. Dunham seems to be cut from the cloth of the next generation of MMA fighters – guys who look just as capable on their feet as they do on the ground. It’s the ground skills however that most believe will give him the edge over Guillard, so long as he can avoid “The Young Assassin’s” potent punching attack.
If Dunham wins, it likely puts him just a fight or two away from a title shot in the shark tank that is the UFC lightweight division. If Guillard wins, well, the way he’s been talking about Florian it doesn’t take a promotional genius to figure out what should be next.
Chad Dundas writes about MMA for CraveOnline, Versus.com and CagePotato.com. He lives in Missoula, MT.