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 The Ultimate Fighter, Guillard had a win against Roger Huerta changed to a no-contest amid a greasing controversy. But succumbing to a Lauzon rear-naked choke in 47 seconds had to hurt Melvin the most, because he'd climbed to one of the top rungs of the lightweight ladder.
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.
55: Percent of his wins that have come by submission (11 of 20).
3: Bonuses won at UFC events for Fight of the Night (unanimous-decision win over Matt Wiman in December 2008) and Submission of the Night (vs. Charles Oliveira in December 2010 and David Baron in October 2008).
26: Career submission attempts in the UFC, placing him second in the organization's history (behind Chris Lytle's 31), according to Fight Metric statistics.
66: Percent of his wins that have come by KO (19 of 29).
2: UFC Knockout of the Night bonuses (vs. Dunham last January and Dennis Siver in July 2008).
11: Career knockdowns in the UFC, placing him third in (behind Anderson Silva's 15 and Chuck Liddell's 14).
What we should expect: Miller is a jack of all trades, though his competent standup is really just a tool he uses to get the fight to the mat, where he does his best work. Guillard has the wrestling background to ably roll on the canvas a little, too, but he'd much prefer to stay standing and knock you to that canvas. Miller is workmanlike and tireless, ceaselessly vying for a submission. Guillard has a spectacular streak in him, forever looking for a KO. Miller is the more disciplined fighter, giving him a better chance to stick to his game than the wild-card Guillard.
Why we should care: There's no belt on the line, and despite what Guillard has been saying, this isn't a No. 1 contender elimination bout, either. But the victor will thrust himself back into that special place in Dana White's matchmaker mind. You don't want to be on the outside looking in when the UFC president starts talking about fighters who are "in the mix."
"Although we're coming off losses, in my mind we're the two most dangerous guys in the division. When guys talk to Joe Silva on the phone, the last two names they want to hear is Jim Miller and Melvin Guillard. We're both still dangerous guys that are going to put on a show."--Miller, speaking to FullContactFighter.com
"Jim Miller, I'll go on record as saying, he's one of my favorite fighters to watch. I admire the guy. I love his style of fighting. I love his killer instinct. And I love to fight guys like that because I love to challenge myself."--Guillard, speaking to MMACanada.net
Jon Anik and Kenny Florian: Normally, this last section of a "Viewers' Guide" is called "And on the undercard ..." But this FX event, like the ones that used to be on Spike and Versus, doesn't have the kind of star-spangled undercard that the numbered UFC events do. A lot of tough guys, to be sure, and the fighting will be serious stuff, with careers on the line. But despite that, let's instead talk about the matchup behind the microphones.
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 MMA Live, so the chemistry will come naturally. Anik's background in calling play-by-play of college sports telecasts for the Worldwide Leader is a plus, as he'll bring a quieter and more polished -- but no less pumped up -- style than Goldberg. And that goes even more so for Florian in comparison to Rogan: a lot less bluster without sacrificing one iota of enthusiasm.