UFC's return a long time coming, long-awaited opportunity for one fighter

Thursday, December 1, 2011 at 10:57pm
By Matt Erickson

The Ultimate Fighting Championship's show in Nashville and headlining fighter Melvin Guillard will have something in common come January — better late than never.

The UFC returns to Nashville for the first time in nearly three years with a nationally televised mixed martial arts card at Bridgestone Arena on Jan. 20. And Marc Ratner, the promotion's vice president for regulatory affairs, said the company's hope was to be back in the city sooner.

"We had been wanting to go back there, actually, earlier this year," Ratner told The City Paper on Thursday. "It's always about the arena availability and our TV schedule and our pay-per-view fights. But once we signed that new Fox deal, it opened up some new fights for us. Tennessee has been very, very good, both Nashville and Memphis, and we're thrilled to come back."

The UFC in August signed a seven-year deal with Fox, its first network television deal, and will hold four live fight cards on Fox in 2012, an additional eight on the FX cable station and four on Fox subsidiary Fuel TV. FX reaches roughly 100 million U.S. homes, and the "Fight Night" show in Nashville will be the first for the UFC on FX.

The UFC last visited Nashville for a Fight Night show at the then-Sommet Center in April 2009. In December 2009, it held a pay-per-view event in Memphis.

Guillard, a lightweight fighter who has been with the promotion since 2005 after appearing on the second season of popular reality series "The Ultimate Fighter," spent Wednesday and Thursday in Nashville doing early promotion for the show.

Tickets for the general public go on sale Friday.

As a fighter with a well publicized troubled past, including a suspension for drug use in 2007, Guillard has become one of the UFC's most successful and popular athletes. He said he jumped at the chance not only to be in the main event against Jim Miller but also to take on some of the marketing burden, as well.

"For me, it's always a privilege to be able to work closely with the UFC because I didn't have these things in the past," Guillard said. "A lot of fighters don't like to do this part of the job, but I love going out there and talking with the fans. At the end of the day, if it wasn't for the fans I wouldn't be who I am, and I probably wouldn't be as reliable to the UFC without people yelling and screaming and wanting to see Melvin Guillard get in the ring."

Against Miller, Guillard has a chance to get back what he lost in October, which was a shot to be the top contender for the lightweight title. On a five-fight winning streak heading into UFC 136, the New Orleans native was upset by Joe Lauzon and went back in the pack.

Miller is in a similar position. In August, he had his seven-fight winning streak shut down by Ben Henderson, who in February will fight champion Frankie Edgar for the title.

Guillard knows the loss to Lauzon kept him from a title shot for now but believes a win over Miller gets him back in the mix.

"When I get in the cage, everyone knows what to expect," Guilard said. "In this case, I'm fighting Jim Miller, who is a tough guy who can really bring it. And I'm pretty sure there's going to be fireworks. It's going to be like New Year's on Jan. 20. It's a phenomenal card with a lot of good fights, so the people of Nashville are really going to get a reward with this show."

And that's the kind of thing Ratner knows will have fans asking the UFC to come back again soon — much sooner than the nearly three years between the first and second visits.

"We know we'll do fine there and we'll get a good, representative crowd," Ratner said. "It's very important for us to move the show around. The fans want to see it in person when they get a chance. And they do come out. The smaller markets are great, and we're happy to be there."