If you've seen Clay Guida fight even once, then it will not surprise you to learn of the type of a football player he was as a child.
Guida grew up in the Chicago area and, like many boys his age, played youth football. Guida, though, wasn't your typical defensive player.
"You know, I just loved to run around on the field," Guida said. "I used to just love to run and go and tackle the guy with the ball."
He chuckles nervously and then continues.
"But I used to love to run and tackle the guy without the ball, too," he said. "I was no different than I am now, I guess. I just loved to run around and hit people."
Guida will get a chance to hit Takanori Gomi on New Year's night in Las Vegas during one of the most anticipated fights of UFC 125 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Guida, 29, is one of the Ultimate Fighting Championship's most popular athletes because of his energetic, frenetic style. He's a whirling dervish who has rarely failed to disappoint in terms of action, if not in terms of results.
He's only 7-5 in the UFC and he's largely come up short when he's stepped up in competition.
Guida, though, is targeting the UFC lightweight title and insists it's not a pipedream of an out-of-touch athlete. He's been so intent on putting on a show, he says, that he's often lost sight of his game plan and chosen to fight his opponent's style.
In no fight was that more clear than in his 2009 loss to Diego Sanchez, a bout many view as that year's top match. The bout, which the UFC put 13th on its list of its 100 greatest matches, began with Guida charging out of his corner as if he were running the 100-meter dash.
Sanchez kicked him in the head and landed a series of powerful strikes before Guida could recover and control most of the last two rounds.
Guida says he's worked on being more disciplined and sticking to the game plan rather than trying to just put on a show.
"What's happened in a lot of those fights is very simple: I didn't fight my fight," Guida said. "In the Diego fight, I fought Diego's fight for the first minute or so, when he kicked me in the head, but then I won the second and third rounds. I implemented my game plan a little bit too late.
"Against Kenny Florian, I started off pretty good for the first two or three minutes, but then I started fighting his kick boxing style as if I was a pro kick boxer, which I'm not. Wrestling is what got me here, but in a lot of those fights, I got away from what Clay Guida is and it cost me. But now, I'm focusing on fighting my fight and 90 percent of the time, I get my hand raised."
Guida did plenty of soul searching after the loss to Florian at UFC 107 in Memphis, Tenn., on Dec. 12, 2009. It was his second loss in a row and seemed to bump him from the list of title contenders. The lightweight division is loaded with top talents, and back-to-back losses are going to make it extraordinarily difficult to get into the title picture.
It wasn't a good time, but Guida said the loss made him take stock of what he'd been doing.
"I thank Kenny for that fight, because the loss really caused me to rededicate myself to this sport, to learning and to improving and trying to get everything out of myself," he said. "I've worked on repetition and technique and when I fight my style, I know I'm a tough guy for anyone to handle."
He's won back-to-back fights since then, submitting Shannon Gugerty and Rafael dos Anjos. That earned him the fight with Gomi, a former PRIDE lightweight champion and a man who briefly was regarded as the best lightweight in the world.
Despite his own loss to Florian, Gomi is still one of the more highly regarded lightweights in the world and a win over him carries a lot of significance. Gomi rebounded from a lackluster performance against Florian, in which he was tapped to a rear naked choke in the third round in his UFC debut, to knock out Tyson Griffin in August in a more typical highlight-reel manner.
Given that Guida's goal is to one day wrap the UFC lightweight belt around his waist, a win over Gomi would be significant in moving him along that path. His coach, Greg Jackson, has spent hours working the plan with Guida to prepare him for what is one of his most important bouts.
"Everybody is different in how you work with them, but with Clay, we work on the plan over and over and over until he doesn't have a choice and that all he can think about is the plan," Jackson said. "Some guys, you can give them a sense of what they should be thinking about and they can work it in during sparring. With Clay, we're constantly talking to him about what he needs to do to win the fight. We give him a heavy dose of planning."
The result, Jackson said, is that Guida is undergoing a metamorphosis. He will never lose his fan-pleasing style, but he's no longer playing to the strength of the opposition and away from his own strengths.
As they've worked together, Jackson has come to realize that Guida is far gifted than his 7-5 UFC record would suggest.
"His last two fights have been good and he's shown a lot of progress," Jackson said. "He's one of those guys who has great heart and great determination and that got him to a certain point. But now, he's been working on the technical aspects and becoming more a more technical fighter and that's helping him a great deal.
"He's an unbelievable guy. He has a great work ethic and he's done a great job at trying to develop his talent the right way."
He's not, though, changing his style. He's always going to be the Tasmanian Devil of MMA, roaring out of his corner and fighting at a pace few can imagine.
"I don't know any other way," he said. "I love what I'm doing and when you're happy with what you're doing, it shows."