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Melvin Guillard and trainer Greg Jackson: Dave Mandel | Sherdog.com

It started out amicably enough, just a couple of guys willing to express mutual admiration through Octagon combat.

Back in November, when Melvin Guillard crossed paths with Jeremy Stephens during some UFC meetings, the two lightweights broached the subject of what it would be like to trade punches.

“We were just hanging out shooting the breeze, no animosity,” Guillard said. “He was like, ‘Hey man, we ought to fight some day.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, you’re right. It would definitely be Knockout of the Night or Fight of the Night for one of us.’”

When Guillard defeated Waylon Lowe at UFC 114 in May, he took things a step further by calling out the 24-year-old Iowa native. Guillard got his wish soon after, and the two will square off at UFC 119 on Sept. 25 at the Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

What once seemed like a friendly agreement has gotten ugly. Stephens has been video blogging since the fight was announced.

In one episode of the blog, Stephens dyes a training partner’s hair blond and dubs him “Marvin Guillard” as a sort of mock imitation of the Louisiana native.

In another blog, Stephens has a message for Guillard: “You shouldn’t have called me out, bro. That’s a big mistake brother. I’ve been wanting to fight you since (Josh) Neer beat your ass. I was a little kid growing up. I’ve just been gaining strength, gaining momentum. I’m mentally tougher than you. I’m going to break you; going to break you down at your own game.”

Guillard isn't happy with some of the content, but he insists that Stephens will not get into his head.

“What was good turned into something bad,” said Guillard, who trains at Jackson's Mixed Martial Arts in Albuquerque, N.M. “It’s all part of everybody’s strategy to mentally break people, but being here with coach Greg (Jackson), it’s real hard to break me mentally now. I don’t play into the hype.”

Stephens' endeavor might be all in good fun. He wouldn't be the first person to drum up some animosity to promote a fight, a fact that Guillard acknowledges.

"On the inside, he's a nice guy," the “Ultimate Fighter 2” veteran said. "He's not the guy he's portraying himself to be. That's the same way (it was) when I was a young brash guy just talking a lot of crap.

"People didn't like me because I said certain things. Being a fighter is not all about fighting."

A younger, less focused Guillard might have responded differently. Early in his career everything from his conditioning to his focus was brought into question. And it wasn't just fans -- UFC president Dana White would often wonder aloud whether Guillard would ever fulfill his vast potential.

Now that Guillard is training under the watchful eye of Jackson and the rest of the team in New Mexico, positive change has been evident.

"I even think now the UFC accepts me in a different way. That was always Dana White's argument for me. Every time he saw me in the four fights I've lost, (those) were fights I was winning," he said. "He would say, 'Kid, the only thing you're missing is a good coach and a good training camp.'

"When I made the move to Albuquerque, I think it was a shocker to Dana as well. He came to me after my first win with Greg back in February, and he congratulated me not only for the win, but for making a good career move. He told me that coming here was the best thing I could have done."

The bout with Stephens will be Guillard's third fight under Jackson. He took a unanimous decision over Ronys Torres at UFC 109 and defeated Lowe by knockout in his first two fights with the respected camp.

Of his eight career losses, seven have been by submission, something he has been training diligently to avoid in the future.

"I'm still not a black belt in jiu-jitsu, not even a brown belt, but I'm holding my own against real good jiu-jitsu guys in my camp," he said. "For instance, Cowboy (WEC lightweight Donald Cerrone), he's one of the toughest guys I have problems with in here with jiu-jitsu because he's so long. Even when I'm posturing up, he's still able to pull off certain submissions on me."

Improved submission defense could prove to be a moot point at UFC 119, because the pairing of Guillard with Stephens looks more like a contest that starts and ends with striking.

Guillard counts 16 knockouts or TKOs among his 25 victories, and he has yet to be finished by strikes. Stephens has earned 12 of his 17 wins in similar fashion, and he too has never been finished on the feet. "The Young Assassin" maintains that his skills make everyone at 155 pounds wary.

"I know I'm one of the best lightweights in the division. Everybody that steps into the cage against me, they all fear me because I have knockout power, very good athleticism and I'm a great wrestler,” he said. “Guys that come in against me, it's hard for them to prepare."

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