Clay Guida bounced around in his corner, eager to get back to work for what he thought would be the fourth round against Josh Thomson in their Strikeforce title fight. A corner man tried to tell Clay something, but it wasn't strategy or advice for the championship rounds.
His corner's words were hard to make out at first, through the noise made by the record-breaking HP Pavilion San Jose crowd, but eventually they sunk in with Clay. "They were telling me that the fight was over," Guida remembers with a chuckle.
Guida had just dominated one of the top-ranked lightweights in the world for five consecutive rounds, almost without realizing it, and wasn't even breathing heavily. Guida was a huge underdog in the fight with Thomson but was able to take and keep control over the course of five rounds, largely on the strength of a conditioning advantage.
That was six years ago. Guida has never had the chance to fight for five rounds in the UFC since, but that will change June 22nd when he and Gray Maynard square off in the main event of the UFC on FX card in Atlantic City. Just as against Thomson, Guida will be a heavy underdog against a higher-ranked opponent who has a stronger pedigree in the area of his own base skill-set, wrestling.
But Guida believes that his superior conditioning will help him get the upset once again. "This is something that we've been waiting for, for years now," Guida tells Yahoo!.
"We've always believed that if I could get to a title fight in the UFC, my conditioning would be a huge advantage for me. I haven't gotten there yet and was real excited once they announced that all main events would be five rounds from now on."
Guida stops short of saying that Maynard has suspect conditioning, but can't deny that in his title fights against Frankie Edgar , Maynard appeared to go hardest in the opening round and then lost a little pep in his step with each passing round. Both Guida and Maynard are coming off of losses - Maynard to then-champion Edgar last October and Guida to the man that has since gone on to beat Edgar and become the champ, Benson Henderson, in November.
It is the type of fight that, at once, is a must-win for each fighter, and one that keeps Guida and Maynard in title consideration. In a word, it's huge.
We're with Clay as he drives from his Northern Illinois home-town, southwest to New Mexico where he will set up training camp for Maynard with Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn's vaunted MMA team. Guida is big on DIY travel, and typically drives his RV cross-country to New Mexico for training camps himself. As gregarious and sociable as he is, Guida enjoys the quiet and solitude of the road before the storm of training camps and circuses of big fights.
Once Clay hits New Mexico he will find some space, perhaps on an Indian Reservation, park his RV and live there for the duration of his camp. When he fought Shannon Gugerty at a UFC event in Colorado, Guida went so far as to give up his company-issued plane ticket to a teammate and drove himself to the event from New Mexico.
And, oh yeah, Guida also gave up his hotel room so his corner men could be more comfortable, and slept in his RV during the week of the fight - a week that most fighters consider the most stressful and trying, considering that they have to cut weight then.
Guida certainly lives to the beat of a very unique drummer. But it's the rhythm he keeps in the Octagon that makes him confident he will beat Maynard in June.
Clay discusses an exchange he says was crucial in Maynard's last fight against Edgar. Just as he did in their second fight, Edgar had withstood a heavy onslaught from Maynard in the first round of that bout, steadied himself, and began landing his own shots.
It became conceivable that Edgar could once more even things out on the judges' scorecards or even edge out Maynard, but nothing more. Edgar, like Guida, is not considered to have any where near the punching power of Maynard.
But sometimes, Guida says, hustle can equal power. In that third fight, Maynard began stalking Edgar, right hand cocked, looking for a big punch. What he did not do was mix in shot attempts. Edgar did, and though he was not successful in taking Maynard down, his unpredictable attack paid dividends.
Edgar shot, got caught underneath Maynard for a moment, but scrambled out and, before Maynard could stand back upright and face him, "The Answer" fired a rapid uppercut from behind that hit Maynard on the button and dropped him. After that, it was academic.
By out-hustling Maynard and catching him with a blind punch, Edgar had created his own fight-ending opportunity. Guida says he can create similar opportunities for himself to sting the larger and more powerful Maynard.
"That was a turning point in that fight," Guida says. "I'm going to stay moving constantly against Gray. We're going to make him fight our pace."
Guida's game plan and confidence are typical of him. So is his position right now in the lightweight division. Guida has compiled impressive win streaks and gotten within one or two fights of a UFC title shot several times before in the past four years, only to fall short. The last time was his close decision loss to Benson Henderson last fall.
Guida is once more in a position of having to claw his way back to the top of the division. But instead of being discouraged, he says he feels like he's in a better place than he has been before.
"You can look at it as a situation where a guy you had a close fight with [Henderson] is now the champion and you're coming off of a loss. But I look at it like I'm better positioned to win the UFC belt than I ever have been before," Guida says.
"The guy who just beat me in a tough fight is now the champion. I believe I can get better, make adjustments and win against him. And right now I've got another top guy I get to fight, in a main event. I'm a better fighter than I was in the past when I got close to a title shot. This is a good time. This is the right moment for us."
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