Miller and Guillard are both 28 years old and both are longtime veterans of the UFC lightweight division; Miller with 11 fights inside the Octagon since 2008 and Guillard with 15 dating back to 2005. Both were assumed to be on the verge of top contender status before suffering upset losses during 2011 and now each faces a road back to the top that will be either greatly hastened or seriously complicated by what happens when they get locked in the cage together come Jan. 20.
The winner arguably gets shuffled back to somewhere near the top of the deck, where another win or two could finally earn him a chance to fight for Frankie Edgar’s 155-pound title. At least, that’s the future Miller and Guillard both said they envision for themselves this week. The loser? Well, the loser inherits the unenviable position of having lost two consecutive bouts in MMA’s most competitive division.
Translation: Both Miller and Guillard pretty desperately need to win this one.
Their fight will be the gem atop an otherwise fairly lackluster card -- one that made it look like the UFC was easing into the FX pool one toe at a time even before it was scrambled by a slew of injuries -- not only because of their respective talents (which are many), but also because of the stakes.
It took Miller, for example, seven straight victories and nearly three years to work himself into an assumed title eliminator against Ben Henderson last August. Once there -- just like Evan Dunham, George Sotiropoulos and Anthony Pettis before him -- he slipped up, dropping a unanimous decision to Henderson that shocked many observers in it sheer lopsidedness.
Despite the loss, Miller maintained a spot in the ESPN.com lightweight top 10 and if he can defeat Guillard this week, he’ll likely vault right back onto the short list of contenders. If he comes up short again, however, all bets might be off. Certainly it wouldn’t take seven more wins to get him back into consideration, but with the way the sands of the 155-pound division are constantly shifting beneath everyone’s feet, it’s a chance he doesn’t want to take.
Things could be even more dire for Guillard, whose path to the division’s upper echelon included more setbacks and pitfalls. Once there, his fall from the top was also more precipitous than Miller’s; Guillard tumbled out of the top 10 completely after a first-round tap out by Joe Lauzon at UFC 136, a loss that came amid grumblings that "The Young Assassin" may have overlooked his underdog opponent.
In the wake of that defeat, Guillard has reportedly parted amicably with trainer Greg Jackson -- the man he previously credited as the chief architect of his rise -- and set up shop with Rashad Evans’ Florida-based crew.
A loss here would only further cast doubt on Guillard’s ability to win the big one and raise questions over his decision to split with a camp where’d found so much success. Given the stop-start nature of his initial march to contendership, it stands to reason that back-to-back losses could be even more damaging for his future prospects than they would be for Miller.
Considering each guy’s relative youth, a defeat this week would hardly be a backbreaker, but rather would only compound the troubles they’re currently experiencing. For either to get a sniff of the UFC lightweight title before he turns 30 though, a win is probably a must.