ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Kalib Starnes was vilified, punished by the judges, and ultimately fired when he ran from Nate Quarry at UFC 83.
Friday wasn’t like that exactly, but Clay Guida’s performance against Gray Maynard was closer to it than made UFC president Dana White comfortable.
In fact, White said Guida’s performance was exactly like that. Or maybe worse, given that this one was a main event.
“The fight sucked; I don’t know how to expand on it any more,” White said in the postfight news conference. “It’s one of those situations where you know, a guy like Guida, his style is to move forward. I think that’s the style that’s made him who he is, the style that’s made him a crowd favorite and won him fights. Is he the most talented, most well-rounded mixed martial artist’s in the world? No.
“But his thing is he’s got stamina for days. He’s in your face, he stays on top of you, he wears his opponent down and he takes them out or he goes out on his shield. That’s been his thing.”
Not on this night. Maynard was awarded a split decision victory (48-47, 47-48, 48-47) over Guida.
How it got there is a matter of open query -- this was a bizarre fight that played out almost exactly the opposite of what expectations were. Most people had the same idea of how it might go -- Maynard early, and Guida late. Instead, it was Guida early, and Maynard late. It was Guida circling, and Maynard closing. It was the crowd chanting Guida’s name early, then chanting Maynard’s name even louder late.
It was the greatest shift in rooting interest since Rocky IV.
“Nobody can win or lose a fight when a guy is running around in circles,” White said. “[Guida] was literally running. I had some guys, some fans on Twitter who were saying ‘great footwork.’ This isn’t f---ing "Dancing With the Stars," you know what I mean?”
Guida employed an elusive stick-and-move game plan in the headlining bout at UFC on FX 4. At first it looked smart. He was his usual bionic self, using head movement and footwork to present himself as a mirage to the stalking Maynard, who had his right hand coiled the whole time.
Then it looked like he was orbiting Maynard. Finally, just as the fight was closing in on what are traditionally called the “championship rounds,” it looked like running. At least to the 4,652 people that gathered at the Revel Resort and Casino. And it had to dawn on Maynard that Guida, reluctant to engage, was going to remain reluctant to engage.
The game plan surprised him as much as it did the crowd. One of Gray Maynard’s cornermen, Josh Thomson, told ESPN.com on Thursday night that the idea was to avoid chasing Guida.
Turns out Maynard didn’t have a choice.
“It took me two rounds just to know that, I think this guy’s going to do this the whole fight,” Maynard said afterward. “Personally, I wouldn’t act like that. This is a fight. I was p---ed off. I am human too, and I get mad. I’m here to work. Let’s work.”
By the time people understood that Guida’s game plan was to bounce and move and never stay close, the tide had already turned. When Maynard grabbed hold of Guida in the forth round and kneed him along the fence, the crowd went into raptures. When the fight then went to the ground and Maynard applied a guillotine, it was deafening in the arena.
Yet just before any of that happened, the unthinkable had already occurred -- people were booing Clay Guida, the one man who had always been a spark plug on fight night.
“It motivates me even more [to hear the boos],” Guida said later when asked what he thought of the crowd turning on him. “We’re on the Jersey shore, and I think there’s a misconception of what mixed martial arts is. Yeah, it motivates me even more than anything. The boos motivated me, and I was just getting into my groove. Three rounds is a warm-up; five rounds [and] I was still bouncing around.”
The game plan was scrutinized all the more -- overtly by White, and blatantly in the media -- because it was installed by Guida's coach, Greg Jackson.
Jackson, you might remember, has been accused of turning one-time exciting fighters into strategists. We saw it last with Carlos Condit, who steered clear of Nick Diaz at UFC 137 in the welterweight interim title fight. In that fight, Condit executed the game plan to perfection an got the "W."
Guida wasn't so lucky, though plenty of people on press row scored the fight for him. Dana White wasn't one of those. He said he thought that the split decision was bogus, that Maynard won it easily.
But given the turncoat nature of the fans on hand, ESPN.com asked Guida the question: If knew the crowd would turn on him going in would he have stuck to his game plan? Would he have changed anything?
“I’d stick to my game plan,” he said, his left eye swollen shut. “The game plan that they’re used to, just going in there and playing Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em robots and get my head kicked off and get punches in the face? No. I stuck to a smart strategy and wasn’t there for big punches. I liked my game plan.”
Turns out he was in the vast minority of those who did.