Reviving an ‘Assassin’

Finding Inspiration

By Tristen Critchfield Jan 20, 2011
Melvin Guillard (top) | Dave Mandel/

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- In at least one way, Melvin Guillard is the same person as the 14-year-old boy who rode his bike to wrestling tryouts at Bonnabel High School in Louisiana more than a decade ago.

While Guillard is admittedly more mature, more focused and more driven now than he has been at any other time in his fighting career, he still possesses the same unyielding goal of an adolescent who was not quite sure if coach Warren Donley’s program was for him.

“I’d do silly things with the kids,” Donley says. “Clowning around with them, I’d say, ‘You can have a different woman every week or be Ultimate Fighting champion.’ Now, most of the kids, they’ve got to think about it, and they want the women. From day one, [Guillard] said Ultimate Fighting champion. From the time he was a freshman in high school, he didn’t even have to blink.”

After going 3-0 in the UFC’s lightweight division in 2010, Guillard appears to be closer than ever to achieving his dream. “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 2 alum was set to take on Yves Edwards at UFC “Fight for the Troops 2” on Saturday in Killeen, Texas, until Kenny Florian pulled out of the main event against Evan Dunham due to injury. Guillard jumped at the opportunity to take Florian’s place.

“I’m excited about the main event, but I feel like I was rightfully deserving of it. I had an up-and-down couple of years, but this last year I went undefeated. That was my ultimate goal, to stay consistent,” he says. “I was a little bit more nervous about the Yves Edwards fight because he’s a longtime friend and training partner. He’s like one of my mentors; I really look up to him. I was a little more nervous going into that fight. It’s like a blessing in disguise.”

Finding Inspiration

Donley took the wrestling job at Bonnabel with the intentions of turning the program into a power in the mold of Louisiana’s Catholic schools, which dominated wrestling in the state. The kids from Kenner, La., were more interested in fighting than wrestling, however, and many of Donley’s principles fell upon deaf ears, including Guillard’s.

“I came in there, [and] they weren’t too hip on what we were doing,” Donley says. “They thought the drills were boring; they thought the practices were too extensive. It was a battle for me and those guys. I would have to go chase Melvin out of CiCi’s Pizza-type jobs. He would leave the team because he would get tired of it.”

MMA was not yet part of mainstream sports culture, but wrestlers such as Randy Couture, Mark Coleman, Mark Kerr and Kevin Jackson were all having various degrees of success in the cage around that time. Donley needed a way to get through to his team if he was to have any success as a head coach. The best way to do that, he concluded, was to fight as a mixed martial artist -- his way.

“I was already getting kind of old for MMA, and I’d been out of competitive wrestling for a dozen years or so. I was kind of discouraged that I wasn’t getting as many kids as I thought I should have on my team. I wanted success immediately, which was kind of unreasonable for me to think that, but that’s what I wanted,” he says. “I thought, ‘Let me go do a couple of these MMA fights that I’ve been interested in these last couple of years and just try to win them with wrestling so I can show these kids the value of wrestling. A lot of the kids in that situation, they wanted to fight. They didn’t think wrestling was any use in fighting. That prompted me to use MMA as a tool to lure kids out for the team.”

File Photo

Guillard will headline UFC “Fight for
the Troops 2" against Dunham (above).
In trying to impress high school kids, Donley did all right for himself in the cage, winning his first four bouts in local shows around the state. The coach’s success had a positive effect on Guillard, who began to exhibit a new sense of commitment his junior year.

“He was a bit of a dick to us at first,” Guillard says. “When I found out that he was a cage fighter, I kind of clinched on to him. As a kid, my whole dream was to be a UFC fighter. Even before the UFC, I’ve always loved to fight and compete.”

Guillard, like many professional fighters, dabbled in other sports. Being cut from a youth basketball team coached by his uncle only reinforced the notion that he had one true athletic calling.

“He cut me twice, man, two years in a row, and after that, I just went on a rampage of fighting,” Guillard says. “If you get cut by your own uncle, that was bad. I was always the aggressive kind of kid, so basketball wasn’t really my sport because I would probably foul out in the first quarter.”

While beginning his MMA apprenticeship under Donley, Guillard won a state wrestling championship in his senior season. After four straight wins, Donley lost his first fight to a rising Louisianan named Rich Clementi in May 2001. He would continue to compete until 2007, compiling a 12-4 career mark. Guillard ascended rapidly after high school.

“I was a young kid beating grown men,” Guillard says. “That’s how I came up with the name ‘Young Assassin.’ It just stuck with me all these years.”

Rivalries and Rock Bottom

Guillard’s talents eventually landed him on Season 2 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” but after the reality show he often found himself mired in controversy.

Prior to his bout against Joe Stevenson at UFC Fight Night 9, he accused the Victorville, Calif., native of using Human Growth Hormone. It was, he says, a misguided attempt to manufacture pre-fight hype rather than genuine animosity.

“We never had any bad blood. From the show, [the media types] were always trying to find something bad. ‘Give us something bad. I know you don’t like the guy. No, I like the guy. What do you want me to say?’” Guillard says. “I just made some s--t up. I was, like, ‘Cool, he’s on HGH. He’s choking people out because he’s on drugs.’ Ya’ll need some ammo, there it is.”

Stevenson applied his patented guillotine choke and made Guillard tap in 27 seconds, but that turned out to be the least of the Louisiana native’s worries.

I was a young kid
beating grown men.
That’s how I came
up with the name
‘Young Assassin.’

-- Melvin Guillard

Guillard failed his post-fight drug screening -- he tested positive for cocaine -- and was suspended by the UFC for eight months. Fair or not, Guillard had already earned something of a bad reputation in the sport before the suspension hit, and it now appeared that he was squandering his considerable physical gifts.

“Getting in trouble for drug use and seeing how bad your whole world can just crash right before your eyes, watching my whole life crash before me [was the biggest adversity in my career),” he says. “At the same time frame, my dad passed away. It was a lot of hard things I had to deal with, but I think that’s what makes me stronger today.”

Donley believed Guillard deserved another chance.

“I got upset when guys really criticized the kid when he got pinched for pissing hot that time,” he says. “This is coming from somebody -- I’ve never even smoked weed in my life -- this dude, I don’t think he really had a drug problem. He was using drugs recreationally, which I don’t think is right, but I guarantee you you’d be hard pressed to find many guys out there in MMA or not who’ve never experimented with things. It was a bonehead mistake, and he knows it.”

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