The career paths of Rousimar Palhares and Melvin Guillard are fairly parallel, as both have shown to have immense talent, while also coming across as miserable/comical failures on various occasion. Despite their aforementioned talent, both of these men have been held back repeatedly by mental blocks that keep them from performing at their best.
With their respective mixed martial arts (MMA) match ups this weekend, this may be their final chance to make a run at legitimacy.
Guillard will compete at The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 16 Finale this weekend, and he is in for a difficult challenge in Jamie Varner. His game is largely based on his striking and power, but despite what many will tell you, Guillard is actually extremely well rounded. His submission defense has long been his Achille's heel, but not for a lack of ability or technique.
It has been his mental disposition to panic, or occasionally, his weak chin.
I won't lie to you, Guillard is my favorite fighter, and in evaluating him as a fighter, I may be biased. But, I will not accept the notion that he is not a great talent. Even on the ground, he flashes brilliance when he's on his game, utilizing terrific sweeps and defense, as well as thunderous ground-and-pound or guard passing.
Where Guillard struggles is finding a balance between offense and focus. In many of his recent performances, this flaw has been very prevalent. Against Donald Cerrone, he nearly had the finish, but laid off the gas when he could've gone in for the kill, ultimately destroying a great chance to win. In his fight with Fabricio Camoes, Guillard fought extremely calmly, ultimately winning the fight and surviving multiple bad positions, but not putting on the show he usually does.
When he fights Varner, he will have little margin for error. If Guillard lets opportunities to finish pass him by and fights too calmly, he may whither as Varner presses forward. If he is overly aggressive, he may run in to a counter punch and find himself in a compromising position.
Guillard has to find his balance early, and if not, he may be relegated to gatekeeper status for the rest of his career.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the tracks, Palhares has found himself facing many of the same problems as Guillard. Clearly a tremendous talent, Palhares' clear mental instability has held him back time and time again, but he still has time to turn it around, starting at UFC on FX 6 when he collides with Hector Lombard in Australia on Dec. 14, 2012.
Truth be told, "Toquinho" has never really put together that significant of a resume. He's been in the cage with some of the best, but he's come up short more often than not. His immense strength and tenacity have helped him become an entertaining middle-of-the-pack middleweight, but nothing much more.
His submission skills, specifically his leg attacks, are feared by his opponents, but he doesn't usually show much more than that.
Though his main advantages are mainly from athleticism and submission prowess, Palhares does pose a threat in the striking phase of MMA. In his fight with Dan Miller, Palhares showed off a tightened (but still raw) striking attack, even creating a near finish against his notoriously tough opponent.
What did Palhares also show against Miller? A mental hiccup, one of many that have plagued his career. When he went in for the finish against Miller, he was ever so close to a referee stoppage, but let off and separated when he thought Herb Dean told him to stop. This was similar to his odd performances against Nate Marquardt and Alan Belcher, when he seemingly let up on all defense after a failed submission attempt.
Palhares has the athletic ability and tremendous skill to be a threat to most anyone at middleweight. But similarly to Guillard, he'll face an opponent who will probably test his mental game, as Hector Lombard isn't your regular fighter. Lombard is exceedingly patient, but he is like a loaded spring, because if you disturb him, he will lash out with a quickness. Palhares' patience will be tested, as it may be very difficult for him to press forward or even commit to any offense until he can find something that works.
If he makes one mistake, it may very well be night-night for "Toquinho."
Both Guillard and Palhares have some interesting challenges that face them this weekend. Not only are their opponents ones that may be very skilled, these opponents will also challenge them mentally. Patience will be key for both of them, but they will also need to know when to pull the trigger, because if they fail, that may be their last knock on the door of contendership.