There are few things more fleeting than fame and celebrity. This is particularly true for professional athletes, whose popularity is directly related to their success in their sports. A guy can be riding a massive wave of adulation from so-called fans, only to have that wave come crashing down squarely on his head when his athletic prowess begins to decline or he makes some mistake in his personal life. When that happens, so many of the fans who claimed to love the athlete when he was on top suddenly become his harshest critics, taking to social media to take shots at a guy they’ve only seen on television.

We’ve seen stories like this play out dozens of times, just in the last few decades. Todd Marinovich was a phenom of a quarterback who led USC to a Rose Bowl victory as a freshman in 1990. Many predicted that he would be the greatest quarterback of all time, but his personal life got in the way and his NFL career was limited to two seasons. In the outstanding ESPN documentary The Marinovich Project, the 43-year-old recovering drug addict talks about the way complete strangers would look at him with total disgust after his playing career had ended and he was in his darkest place. They were angry, he said, that someone with such talent could seemingly flush it down the drain. Even during the prime of his athletic career, though, the reaction among USC’s faithful to Marinovich was ever-changing, and would sometimes swing back and forth over the course of a single game. Such is the fickle nature of the sports fan.

I experienced a more personal version of this drama just a few years ago. As a 28-year-old man who grew up in Green Bay, Wis., I know a little something about athletic hero-worship. For people who grew up with me (and, to be honest, a lot of their fathers), Brett Favre was the be all, end all of sporting greatness. He was definitely not the only person who helped turn the Green Bay Packers from a league-wide joke into a Super Bowl champion in just a few years, but he was positively the face of the franchise in the 1990s and 2000s. During his run of three consecutive seasons as NFL MVP, Favre was a god in Wisconsin. He was winning on the field, and Packers fans remembered just a few years before when a playoff birth was but a pipe dream, so the state basically dismissed rumors of less-than-professional behavior off the field and stood steadfastly by him during his well-publicized battle with painkillers.

Flash forward to 2013 and you know that all did not end well between Favre and Packers fans. The quarterback was wishy-washy about his desire to stay with the team in his career’s twilight years and ultimately ended up leaving to play for the New York Jets. The next season, though, Favre signed with the Minnesota Vikings, one of the Packers’ fiercest rivals. His return to Lambeau Field for the first time told you everything you needed to know about how quickly sports fans change their minds. The greatest quarterback in the history of the Green Bay Packers, a man who helped reignite a once-storied franchise and revitalize an entire city (the commercial center of Green Bay has migrated closer to Lambeau Field since the mid-1990s) was greeted with some of the loudest boos ever heard in the state of Wisconsin. It’s incredible how quickly the attitude toward Favre in the state changed as soon as his usefulness to the Packers and their fans was exhausted; from complete reverence to complete hatred in just a few months.

The world of MMA is certainly not immune to this phenomenon of fickleness either. Take, for instance, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. Once one of the most popular fighters in MMA and a former light heavyweight champion, Jackson was, for a few years, one of the UFC’s biggest draws and one of the fans’ favorites. After a bizarre traffic incident and brief retirement, though, the MMA world was left a bit wary of Rampage. It was only after he stopped winning, though, that fans truly turned on Jackson. He went 0-3 in his final three UFC contests and left the promotion in thoroughly unheralded fashion.

Perhaps no fighter in MMA experiences greater fluctuation in fan base than Melvin Guillard. The longtime UFC veteran began his career in the promotion on the second season of The Ultimate Fighter. While he did not win that season’s welterweight tournament, he went 3-1 in his fights following its conclusion, including two straight wins following his transition to the lightweight division.

Things were looking up for Guillard, and then he lost to Joe Stevenson and tested positive for cocaine following the fight. Another loss in his next fight resulted in his ouster from the UFC, but he was brought back less than a year later. He won his next two fights and found himself flirting with title contention. A submission loss to Nate Diaz stifled those plans—and demonstrated Guillard’s difficulty against the submission—but “The Young Assassin’s” most sustained period of success in the Octagon was yet to come.

Before his UFC 109 fight against Ronys Torres, Guillard traveled to Albuquerque, N.M., to train with the vaunted Jackson/Winkeljohn camp. Whatever happened there must have worked, because Guillard proceeded to go 5-0 in his next five fights, winning three of those bouts by knockout or TKO. He was then slated to face fellow contender Joe Lauzon in another fight that would propel the winner closer to a lightweight title fight.

Despite his success in New Mexico, Guillard opted to travel to Florida to train part-time with the Blackzilians. The change in training scenery also yielded a change in fight result, as Guillard would lose by submission to Lauzon inside of their fight’s opening minute. Still, Guillard chose to remain with the Blackzilians, moving his camp there full-time after his loss to Lauzon. Unfortunately for him, his time in Florida would not lead to the same success he previously saw in the cage. Guillard has gone 1-3 in the four fights since his bout with Lauzon, most recently dropping a split decision to Jamie Varner (another fighter about whom fans have repeatedly changed their opinion depending on his performance in the cage) in December 2012.

Guillard stayed mostly out of the spotlight in the time between then and now, but resurfaced recently with a tweet that he would be returning to Albuquerque to resume his training with Greg Jackson and company. That plan might have sounded good to Guillard, but it seems the folks at Jackson’s gym had a different idea, as they are apparently denying their former teammate re-entry to the squad. What’s more, Guillard is reportedly facing multiple misdemeanor criminal charges in New Mexico dating back to 2010 and could end up doing jail time. Suffice it to say that Guillard’s wave has crashed.

Throughout the ups and downs that have come to define Guillard’s career, the attitude toward him has fluctuated in kind. When he got popped for cocaine use and tried to attack Rich Clementi after their fight had concluded, he faced understandable criticism. During his three- and five-fight UFC winning streaks, though, many of those same people probably thought he could be one of the guys who could legitimately contend for the title. His explosiveness and power were his primary weapons, and if he was given an opportunity to fight for the lightweight belt, those weapons might have been enough to earn him a reign atop the 155-pound division.

But take a look at the comments below the story linked above about Guillard’s rejection from Jackson’s MMA. Granted, online comments typically skew more negative in tone, but there are a great many quasi-anonymous fight fans who have decided to make their disaffection for Guillard be known. The fact that Guillard is in the midst of a multi-fight losing streak probably makes it easier to pile on, and if he’s released from the UFC as a result of his recent losses and criminal charges, expect even more vitriol from the internet’s MMA community.

Unless Guillard somehow fights his way back into contention, he’ll soon become another of the dozens of mixed martial artists who used to fight for the UFC. If he chooses to remain in the fighting profession, he’ll no doubt be able to earn a decent paycheck in other promotions for a little while, but, again, only if he wins. If he doesn’t win, “The Young Assassin” will quickly fade from the public eye, replaced by other more successful fighters.

Guillard’s future in MMA is very much in question. What’s a certainty, however, is that the fame he was able to achieve during his years in the UFC has basically been dashed at this point. The only thing left for Guillard from a public perception standpoint after what will likely be a moderate period of relative infamy will be, well, nothing. His legal matters (which, frankly, are no one’s business but his and the State of New Mexico) will resolve themselves one way or another, he might or might not continue to fight professionally and everyone else will move on with their lives.

Time and time again we see athletes rise to fame, get a bunch of fans, do something to draw the ire of those fans and then experience a fall from glory. Sometimes it’s legal trouble that leads to their downfall, sometimes it’s drugs, sometimes it’s bad decision-making and sometimes it’s just plain losing. Todd Marinovich and Brett Favre are two great (and unfortunate) examples of professional athletes whose fame and talents were undone by one of these things, and Melvin Guillard appears to be the latest to experience the downside of sports celebrity.

Photo: Melvin Guillard (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

Eric Reinert
Staff Writer

Eric Reinert has been writing about mixed martial arts since 2010. Outside the world of caged combat, Eric has spent time as a news reporter, speechwriter, campaign strategist, tech support manager, landscaper and janitor. He lives in Madison, Wis.