In all of UFC entrance music history, has there ever been a bout for which both fighters walked out to the octagon to the beat of the same song? It would be fitting for that to happen this week, with the tune being "Redemption Song."
Not to make light of the deeply personal and political vibe of Bob Marley's plaintive call for oppressed people's emancipation from mental slavery, but both Jim Miller and Melvin Guillard will be fighting for a measure of redemption in the main event of the inaugural UFC on FX event Friday night (9 p.m. ET, FX) in Nashville, Tenn.
Think that's a bit melodramatic of a characterization of Miller? You'd chalk up his loss to Benson Henderson last August as nothing more than a speed bump? That might be true if Miller had been speeding along in the UFC title chase. But no, this is a guy who, for reasons Miller and his fans and even a lot of impartial observers couldn't comprehend, had never been fast-tracked. Miller's career had spent what seemed like a lifetime on a slow build toward a shot at the lightweight championship. And he was on the verge. On the strength of his New Jersey feistiness, Miller went into the Henderson bout on a seven-fight win streak and with a 20-2 record, his only two losses having come against a pre-championship Frankie Edgar and a then-undefeated Gray Maynard. That was a terrific resume ... until it was sullied by a unanimous-decision loss to Henderson, the former WEC champion, who next month will challenge Edgar while Miller goes back to the drawing board, preparing to start the slow build all over again.
For Guillard, the fall from grace was no less sudden and even more surprising. He'd won five in a row, including a dominant KO of rising star Evan Dunham, when he stepped into the cage in October as the heavy favorite against Joe Lauzon. And less than a minute later, he'd been choked out. A quick loss is always sure to bring about career upheaval -- watch what being KO'd in 12 seconds last month does for Jon Fitch's standing among welterweights -- but even more troubling is that this was only the latest stumble for Guillard. At 29-9-2, with two no contests, "The Young Assassin" has shot himself in the foot a few times, with the biggest downer coming in 2007 when he tested positive for cocaine following a loss to Joe Stevenson. A couple of years earlier, just prior to joining the Season 2 cast of
Friday's fight is an opportunity for either Miller of Guillard to start another ascent. That's what's in it for the fighters. For fans -- and, yes, for the UFC, which wants to show off mixed martial arts at its best for any casual viewers who might stumble upon the sport on one of the Fox channels -- this is a chance to watch two guys simply go for it. There's no belt up for grabs. There's no bad blood (see "Fighting words," below). There's just a fight between two guys who don't back down, who don't ease up.
Winner gets to keep the Marley song. Although he might not need it anymore.
How will the team of Anik and Florian stack up against UFC regulars Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan? I think the usual cageside guys, for all the criticism they take on Internet message boards (and, yes, occasionally on SI.com, especially Rogan), do a pretty good job. But I'm looking forward to hearing new voices.
Anik and Florian have teamed up before, of course, on ESPN's