Johnsburg graduate moves down a class to featherweight division in UFC

Tyson Griffin (left), exchanges punches with Clay Guida at UFC 72 in 2007 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Griffin won the fight on a split decision.
Tyson Griffin (left), exchanges punches with Clay Guida at UFC 72 in 2007 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Griffin won the fight on a split decision.

Clay Guida has always been one to appreciate the journey more than where it ultimately leads, which makes moving in a new direction a critical step in any endeavor – including in his chase for a Ultimate Fighting Championship title.

For Guida, dropping down into the UFC’s featherweight division provides the Round Lake native and the Johnsburg graduate a clean slate. It’s a move that allows him to move past back-to-back losses, the second which left UFC fans booing, his fellow fighters seething and UFC President Dana White questioning the “goof” that came up with the strategy for Guida’s main event appearance.

But for now, that’s all in the past.

Guida began training this week in New Mexico, preparing for his Jan. 26 fight at UFC on Fox 6 at the United Center, which marks his debut as a featherweight. Guida announced the move in September after his camp, coaches and management team decided fighting as a 145-pounder was in Guida’s best interest.

The 30-year-old Guida, who has a career 29-13 mark (9-7 in UFC bouts) will face Hatsu Hioki, who until recently was widely considered the No. 2 featherweight in the sport.

But who he is fighting – or at what weight – won’t change the approach Guida takes in his pursuit to be the best at what he does.

And for Guida, that means bringing the fight directly to his opponent.

“People say it’s a chess match, but for me, it’s better when I just go out and react,” Guida said in a phone interview before leaving for his training camp in Albuquerque. “I don’t think too much – that’s always been a key point in my success is going out and fighting on instinct and reaction and using my wrestling to dictate where the fight goes.

“It’s a thinking man’s game, but if you think too much, sometimes, you miss the boat.”

Guida looks forward to fighting as one of the bigger featherweight combatants, shedding 10 pounds to move into his new competitive surroundings. Guida, who wrestled first for the Skyhawks in high school and then at Harper College, said he will depend on his speed and power while also relying on the aggressiveness that has been his calling card since he began fighting.

Doing so will make Guida a “force to be reckoned with,” according to his trainer Greg Jackson, who said the drop to featherweight makes sense although his toughness and talent allowed him to compete as a lightweight for seven years.

But ironically, it was his camp’s decision to move away from that approach that factored into Guida’s most recent loss – a 48-47 split decision to Gray Maynard. It’s a fight that Guida said avoided being taken down by Maynard while out-striking him “top to bottom from the first minute to the 25th minute.”

Despite saying the fight spoke for itself, Guida claims the judges fell short in their duties, handing Maynard the win. Afterward, though, White disagreed, saying the fight wasn’t even close. White also questioned the tactics of Guida spending much of the night eluding Maynard rather than attacking him.

“Some goof put it in his head that running around in circles would win him the fight and they were dead wrong,” White said in a post-Main Event interview “This is a fight and the thing about Clay Guida is that he’s a fighter. He’s not the most talented Mixed Martial Artist in the world – he’s an aggressive, in-your-face guy that wears you out and ends up beating you.”

The loss and the negative reaction – both by fans and by his fellow UFC fighters – to Guida’s performance have only motivated Guida since. While he admits he could have taken a more physical approach to the fight than he did, he still feels like he accomplished what he wanted to despite coming up short on the judge’s scorecard.

Guida insists those who couldn’t see him frustrate Maynard throughout the five-round bout either need “some sort of glasses or a new flat-screen”. But just as quickly, he refers to the loss as a chapter that’s behind him and that he has moved on to beginning his competitive life anew as a featherweight.

“I’m sure he wants to prove he’s exciting and prove that he’s still the same Clay,” Jackson said. “He wants to show everybody that he can still get in there and mix it up. If he puts on a great show [in Chicago], I think it will be business as usual.”

The fact his debut will take place in Chicago makes Guida’s next appearance on a UFC card even more special. The chance to fight at the United Center, where the Bulls and Blackhawks have claimed championships as well as being a venue where Guida has plenty of memories makes it the perfect setting for Guida’s first step as a featherweight.

The close proximity to a host of friends and family throughout the Chicagoland area as well as from around the Midwest will provide Guida with a sense of familiarity as he looks to take the next step in his career.

And while he wants to make sure he gets off on the right foot, Guida said he couldn’t ask for better surroundings to re-establish himself, proving that he’s always only a fight away from taking another big leap in his quest for a championship.

“This is going to be something else,” Guida said. “It’s going to be like the Fourth of July out there – New Years, Mardi Gras – all wrapped into one.”

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