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Justin Gaethje vs. Melvin Guillard: Previewing This Weekend’s Most Barnburningest, Slugfestiest Matchup of Them All

(Photo via World Series of Fighting.)

Forget Ortiz vs. Bonnar. Forget Werdum vs. Hunt (lol jk). Justin Gaethje vs. Melvin Guillard is going down at WSOF 15 this weekend with the lightweight championship on the line and promises to be the most knock-down, drag-out, didyouseethatbro barnburner of them all. Both fighters have become well known for their relentless aggression and knockout power, and both have promised to put a serious hurtin’ on the other, so what else do you need to get excited for this fight, you buncha nerds?

“How about a few of their recent fight videos accompanied by some base-level insight and a noncommittal prediction, Danga?”

Well, YOU FUCKIN’ GOT IT. Here…we…GO!

The Challenger

(Sorry for the quality, but the original got pulled. GEE I WONDER WHY.)

Look, you already know who Melvin Guillard is, how he fights, which one-hit wonder he fashioned his look after, etc. Gaethje vs. Guillard is one of those rare matchups where the challenger is actually more of a household name than the champion — like Weidman vs. Belfort or Martinez vs. Zimmer. This fact has not been lost on Guillard, who recently told MMAMania that he is “an A-list fighter, fighting in the B-league” and that Gaethje is “nowhere near his level.”

While it’s evident that humility (and submission defense) cannot be found among Guillard’s many great qualities, a few things that *can* be found among them are a lightning fast jab, a murderous left hook, and at the risk of sounding racist, explosive athleticism. Simply put, when Guillard is having an on night, it’s his ability to get off first that usually leads him to victory. He may be in perpetual search of the highlight reel KO, but Guillard is also a tactician when it comes to how he mixes up his combinations with body shots and leg kicks. Guillard also has great head movement and takedown defense, and it’s his confidence in said takedown defense that allows him to throw from the clinch with reckless abandon, where he has overwhelmed many a fighter with the pure volume of strikes he is willing to throw.

Finally, let’s talk about Melvin’s ground-n-pound for a second. Melvin Guillard packs some of the most furious, ill-intentioned hammerfists in the game — see his absolutely brutal KO of Mac Danzig at UFC on FOX 8 above. Remember those punches Ryan Shultz finished Chris Horodecki with in the 2007 IFL World Grand Prix finals? Guillard throws *everything* like that. Simply put, there’s a few reasons why Guillard holds a UFC record 8 finishes by KO/TKO, and chief among them is his aggression when he has you hurt.

His most recent win over Gesias Cavalcante in his WSOF debut was a classic example of this. The evidence of his move to America Top Team was heard in every thudding kick to the body he landed that night, and while the final sequence of the fight resulted in what many would call an early stoppage, there was no denying that Guillard was eating Cavalcante alive that night.

Still, it’s inconsistency that has plagued “The Young Assassin’s” career, and the reason he finds himself fighting in the so-called “B-League” today. There is perhaps no fighter in MMA that looks greater in victory and worse in defeat than Guillard, who went 2-5 1 NC in his last 8 UFC appearances. When it’s not simple overconfidence has led to his undoing (see his fight with Joe Lauzon), it’s usually some other mental deficiency that has. His final UFC fight against Michael Johnson saw Guillard uncharacteristically tentative and unwilling to engage as the fight progressed, resulting in perhaps one of the most underwhelming performances of his career. Likewise, his losses to Cowboy Cerrone and Jim Miller came following split-second mental errors.

With nearly 50 professional bouts to his credit at just 31 years of age, Guillard brings an almost unprecedented amount of experience into his title fight at WSOF 11. But then, it’s never really been Guillard’s lack of know-how that’s cost him a fight, but rather his inability to apply what he’s learned to the fight itself. Let’s hope his time with ATT has curbed some, but not all, of his brawlerish tendencies.

The Champ

At 12-0, Justin Gaethje is already being heralded by some as “the best lightweight in the world.” Despite this, he is apparently not significant enough a fighter to warrant a Wikipedia page (one in English, anyway).

But it’s styles that make fights, not Wikipedia pages, and Justin Gaethje possesses a style that can be best described as “Melvin Guillard-esque.”

With 10 KO/TKO finishes in those 12 contests including 5 in the first round, Gaethje is a straight up assassin, whose wrestling background allows him to not only dictate where the fight goes, but when and how it goes there. (Spoiler: It usually stays in the feet and ends with a fury of uppercuts). He’s been rightfully compared to an early Chuck Liddell in his ability to stop the takedown and punish anyone who dares attempt one on the way out, and like Guillard, Gaethje is perhaps most dangerous from the clinch.

Just check out the manner in which he dispatched Richard Patishnock at WSOF 8 to win the lightweight title, if you don’t believe me. Gaethje only fights at one speed, and although his aggressiveness often leaves him open for the counter (sound familiar?), it is his solid chin and dynamic striking arsenal that leaves him the last man standing.

That, and his speed.

At 25 years old, Gaethje may very well be the first guy Guillard has faced that might actually be faster than him. Notice how Gaethje is able to bait Patishnock with the threat of the knee (3:15 in the video above ), then land both that knee and a follow-up right hook before Patishnock can even scramble to his feet. From there, Gaethje keeps Patinshock perpetually off-balance with a beautiful series of uppercuts followed by standing elbows until the ref is forced to step in.

Gaethje’s previous fight against Dan Lauzon was no different. The Arizona native rocked Lauzon early and often with body shots, knees, and even a spinning elbow in tight quarters while bringing Lauzon’s momentum to a complete stop with leg kicks from distance. But perhaps most impressive was the final sequence of the fight, wherein Gaethje was able to both drop Lauzon with a right hook and finish him off with a right uppercut while Lauzon was falling to the mat. If it’s Gaethje’s speed isn’t impressive enough, his accuracy sure as Hell is.

Noncommittal prediction: Believe it or not, my stance on how this fight goes is eerily similar to Gaethje’s prediction, which was that ”[Guillard's] either going to get really lucky and knock me out or I’m going to beat the (expletive) out of him and make him look really bad.” If Gaethje overcommits on a punch early and leaves his chin exposed, Guillard will put him away. Guillard can put anyone away. That said, I don’t see it happening against someone of Gaethje’s caliber. The WSOF champ will retain his title by outworking Guillard on the feet, mixing up the occasional takedown, and cutting the UFC vets legs out from beneath him with leg kicks en route to a second round TKO. Thoughts?

-J. Jones

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