MMA: Clay Guida

Clay Guida: I'm a dangerous fight right now

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
6:22
AM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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Clay GuidaEd Mulholland for ESPN.comDespite his recent losing skid, Clay Guida is poised to bounce back Friday against Tatsuya Kawajiri.
As far as losing skids go, this latest one is nothing new to UFC featherweight Clay Guida.

Guida (30-14), who is 1-3 in his last four fights, will look for a big win at 145 pounds this week when he meets Tatsuya Kawajiri at UFC Fight Night 39 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

It's the third time in Guida's 11-year professional career that he has managed one win over a four-fight stretch. The first two didn't derail him, and neither, he says, will this one.

"I've been on a skid and then ripped off three or four wins over tough opposition in a big way," Guida told ESPN.com. "Right now is a dangerous time for anyone I fight -- I'll leave it at that."

It's not as if Guida has been uncompetitive. He lost a back-and-forth lightweight bout to former champion Ben Henderson in November 2011. Seven months later, he dropped a split-decision loss in Atlantic City, N.J., to Gray Maynard in a fight he believes he won.

"When a guy is swearing at you and flipping you off in the middle of the cage, that guy isn't winning," said Guida, describing the fourth round of that lightweight fight. "Those bonehead judges in New Jersey need to find new jobs."

[+] EnlargeGray Maynard
Ed Mulholland for ESPNClay Guida, left, feels he did enough to earn the nod against Gray Maynard.
Following a split-decision win over Hatsu Hioki in his January 2013 featherweight debut, Guida suffered the first TKO loss of his career to Chad Mendes in August.

At the time, Guida didn't forcefully protest the stoppage of that fight, but he says he was far from finished when referee Yves Lavigne ended things in the third round. Guida absorbed a few heavy right hands but was working to stand up when it was called.

"I was talking to Yves Lavigne like we were having breakfast," Guida said. "I said, 'Dude, what are you doing? You've seen me dropped before.' I was back up running around the cage.

"It didn't make any sense to get mad about it. It's not like they could have restarted the clock. I'm an adult. Getting mad, I don't think solves things."

Ultimately, Guida understands losing streaks are part of the sport at the highest level, which is why he's not too concerned about shaking things up in this current skid. And he welcomed the chance to fight a name like Kawajiri in Abu Dhabi.

"You look at the competition I've fought and you're bound to come up a little short in some fights, unfortunately," Guida said. "You change minor details and make tweaks your coaching staff wants. You have to believe in the system and what got you here, and what got me here was having fun and leaving it all out there.

"Kawajiri is going to be on my long list of a winning record, or however you want to say it. He's not going to win. I'm going out to show this guy what a true 145-er is all about."

Living up to older brother not easy in UFC

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
9:08
AM ET
Huang By Michael Huang
ESPN.com
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Sergio PettisAl Powers for ESPNWith brother and UFC champ Anthony over his shoulder, bantamweight Sergio Pettis is on the rise.
Just call it brotherly love.

Fans of UFC featherweight Clay Guida might recall a head-shaking prefight ritual between him and brother Jason Guida. Before every one of Clay's fights, in the prefight prep point, Jason would slap his younger -- and significantly smaller -- brother in the face, seemingly to prepare Clay for his fight.

Whap! Whap! Whap!

Whether this was the key to Clay's success is debatable, but he certainly has had a solid and fruitful career in the UFC, which is really what any older brother would want for his younger sibling. Clay first got into MMA because Jason was fighting on a local card in Illinois. They needed a volunteer to fill in for an injured fighter, so Clay jumped in and the rest is history.

There's always a little sibling rivalry between brothers. Younger brothers often look up to their older brothers, using them as yardsticks for their own success or motivation to succeed.

This Saturday, Sergio Pettis, the younger brother of UFC lightweight champ Anthony Pettis, faces Alex Caceres in a bantamweight bout on the undercard of UFC on Fox 10. Expect a smorgasbord of athleticism. Both young fighters are technically skilled strikers with a lot of bounce and speed. For Sergio, it can't get better having his UFC champion and world-class athlete brother to help in training.

"I've got a lot of good people around me, my coaches, training partners, and I have Anthony," Sergio Pettis said. "I can learn from his mistakes. Eventually I want us to be the first pair of brothers to have UFC belts at the same time."

And who better to give him championship advice than his champion older brother.

"Anthony's always said just have fun with it," Sergio Pettis said. "Before my first fight I was starting to get some bad thoughts and hearing too many of the comments people were making. He just said to forget all that and just have fun. So I'm much more relaxed for this fight."

[+] EnlargeNate Diaz and Nick Diaz
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesNate and Nick Diaz have become one of the UFC's more notable brother combinations with each becoming a top contender in recent years.
Mixed martial arts boasts a formidable list of brothers-in-arms. Some of the more notable sets of siblings include the Nogueiras -- Antonio Rodrigo and Antonio Rogerio -- as well as the Ruas -- Mauricio, Murilo and Marcos -- have long histories of success dating back to early PRIDE days. Likewise, the Overeems -- Alistair and Valentijn -- have enjoyed success across fight leagues, and the Millers -- Jim and Dan -- and Diazes -- Nick and Nate -- have been top contenders in the UFC for the last half decade.

Perhaps it's the fraternity of the gym or the brotherhood of combat sports that strengthens the bonds between these sets of siblings, but -- like the Guidas -- it's the older brother who usually introduces the younger brother to MMA. Likewise, Valentijn Overeem brought Alistair to a gym to learn how to defend himself.

But often it's the younger brother who outperforms the older brother. Heck, even Eli Manning has two Super Bowl rings, but Peyton only has one.

While Dan Miller is a UFC veteran respected as one of the best BJJ practitioners, Jim has probably experienced more career success than Dan. He doesn't see that as a feather in his cap, however. The brothers take the wins and losses together.

"It's not something I'm really happy about," Jim Miller said. "I want all the success in the world for Dan. He's capable of so much. But because he's the 185-pounder, I'm the one who benefits from our size difference. Fighting one of the best 185-pounders makes fighting 155-pounders easy. If it was reversed, and I was the bigger one, I'm sure he'd be doing better than me."

At 10-0, Sergio Pettis is one of the new breed of young fighters who have trained in multiple disciplines from an early age. After watching Anthony's first three fights, Sergio was bit by the MMA bug. Both have deep backgrounds in taekwondo, with Sergio starting at age three. They even owned their own dojo in Milwaukee at one point with their eldest brother.

Does he think he can eventually eclipse Anthony's success? That's a tall order considering the flash with which Anthony shot up the ranks and captured the UFC lightweight title. "Showtime" might be his brother, but Sergio isn't interested in the spotlight. Is doing better than his brother just a side effect of any success or an objective?

[+] EnlargeJim and Dan Miller
Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesHaving brother Dan, right, two divisions above him to spar against has only helped the growth of lightweight Jim Miller.
"I'm still really new to the UFC, just starting out my career," said Sergio Pettis, who had posted a 9-0 record in MMA feeder league Resurrection Fighting Alliance. "I have a lot of expectations for myself. But there's that possibility that I could be better than Anthony. I'm shooting for that!

"But right now it's about me just finding my way through the UFC and continuing to win. I want to stay active and fight four times this year. I'm still in Anthony's shadow and eventually I'm sure I'll step out from under it, but right now I'm just focused on winning as many fights as I can."

Duke Roufus, coach of the Pettis brothers, has said Sergio has the potential to be even better than Anthony. With Anthony sidelined with a knee injury, Sergio is the reigning Pettis right now. And against Caceres, fans should expect lots of leather flying.

"I know he likes to move around a lot and likes to use some flashy moves," Sergio said. "But I train with Anthony so there's plenty of flashy moves to practice against."

Perhaps for any younger brother, it might be most important to simply live up to the bar standard any older brother might set. That's a tough enough fight.

"Anyone who wants to learn how a man really holds himself with class and composure should watch my brother Dan," Jim Miller said. "I always try to live up to that."

Melendez, Sanchez delivered as promised

October, 20, 2013
10/20/13
2:12
AM ET
Gross By Josh Gross
ESPN.com
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video Gilbert Melendez's reaction to the news that UFC wanted him in the cage against Diego Sanchez looked something like this.

A deep breath. A pause. And acceptance.

"When you fight Diego, you get the chills, like, ‘ooh, It's going to be messy here,'" Melendez told media just days before he was scheduled to fight Sanchez on the pay-per-view card at UFC 166 in Houston, Texas.

"He's a guy I know I can beat, but it's a tough situation, its going to be a tough fight," he said. "It's going to hurt, it's going to be a battle and it's a dangerous fight."

The truth, it seems, can literally hurt. Such was the case for Melendez and Sanchez, who conjoined for three incredible rounds that deserves to be neck and neck with Jon Jones stupendous title defense against Alexander Gustafsson for fight of the year in 2013.

"That's what Mexicans do," Melendez said in the Octagon after taking a unanimous decision. "We hold our ground and fight. I'd rather go down on my shield than run in circles. Diego's a warrior. I respect him so much. I slept on his couch before to train with him. It was an honor to fight a warrior like that. But if I can get through any guy as tough as him, I think I can get through anyone in the division."

Reputations are earned, and Sanchez has been in enough wars over the years to gain Melendez's respect. Likewise, Melendez branded himself as a tried and true warrior over the last decade, which is why many people, including UFC president Dana White, said this was the fight to watch in Houston.

"We only have three rounds so we need to get this fight started fast and I believe it's going to be one of the fastest three round fights UFC has seen in awhile and a good one for the fans," Sanchez said Wednesday. Five of the last eight times Sanchez stepped inside the Octagon, he helped deliver a "fight of the night" worthy contest. Make that six of nine.

"Tell me one time you've seen a bad, boring Diego Sanchez fight," White said during a media scrum on Thursday. "There's no such thing. You know how he's going to fight. Guns blazing and it's going to be fun."

The promoter had listed Sanchez's clash against Clay Guida as his favorite. It was an uproarious fight from four years ago. The promoter can claim a new favorite, because Sanchez's fight with Melendez was that mind blowing.

"Without a doubt, the greatest night of fights we've ever had," White said, still visibly amped from everything that played out in the cage over five hours in Houston, including, and not to be forgotten, Cain Velasquez's incredible raging river of an effort over Brazilian former heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos. As good as the heavyweights were, they couldn't match up to Sanchez and Melendez.

Melendez had been the better fighter in recent years, though Sanchez suggested in the lead up to Saturday that his efforts inside the UFC are worth more than his opponent’s body of work outside the Octagon.

Melendez’s record away from the top promotion in MMA is considerably more extensive than almost any lightweight on the planet. Saturday marked bout No. 2 in the UFC for "El Nino," and since he couldn’t best Benson Henderson in the eyes of the judges, a fight many people felt he deserved to win, the 31-year-old Californian entered his meeting with Sanchez feeling as if he had something to prove.

“I think it’s important to fight and win in impressive fashion,” said Melendez, who hadn't departed California to fight in nine of his previous 10 contests. That attitude, plus an always eager opponent, set up a volatile mix.

[+] EnlargeGilbert Melendez vs. Diego Sanchez
Rod Mar for ESPN.comGilbert Melendez's crisp boxing helped sway the judges in his favor.
The opening round was a loud shot across the bow of things to come, particularly the closing seconds when both stood their ground and fired off a flurry of strikes. Round 1 belonged to Melendez. He was eager to exchange and Sanchez allowed him many opportunities. The former Strikeforce champion didn't need to engage like this. Yes, he wanted to entertain. He wanted to prove a point about being the "uncrowned King at 155" after coming up short on the judges' cards against Henderson. And he wanted to pay the proper homage to the man in front of him. But the point still is, this was a conscious decision on Melendez's part. He sought war and found one.

"When you talk about hardcore real Mexican fighters, it was a Mexican world war here tonight," White said. "It was unbelievable."

Melendez did best when he struck off of tie-ups and takedown attempts. He wanted to be first, and usually was thanks to superior hand speed and technique. Yet Sanchez kept coming, something out of a horror movie with a nasty gash occupying the space above his right eye. Down two rounds to none, Sanchez's corner, headed by Greg Jackson, told the Ultimate Fighter 1 winner that he needed a stoppage. So Sanchez went out to find one, and nearly did by catching Melendez with a stiff uppercut.

"You don't feel nothing when you're in here," Melendez said. Nothing but pride, that is. It's was this warrior spirit that bound both fighters, and prompted hellish training sessions four years ago between the pair. That same spirit propelled them to the final bell, which was the only thing that could get them to stop fighting one another.

"I want five rounds," Sanchez said afterwards, his speech slurred some by the difficulty of the last 15 minutes. "I want a rematch."

Of course he does.

Henderson's MO: Just win, at any cost

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
8:38
AM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
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MILWAUKEE -- Lightweight champion Benson Henderson has successfully defended his UFC 155-pound title three times in a row. The only other fighter to accomplish that feat inside the Octagon is former lightweight titleholder BJ Penn.

But as Henderson prepares to put his title on the line Saturday night against Anthony Pettis, some have wondered whether he has what it takes to retain the belt a fourth straight time. The concern is raised because of Henderson’s previous loss to Pettis and close calls in recent title bouts.

Henderson has won two of his three UFC title defenses by split decision. And the first time Henderson faced Pettis, in December 2010 while defending his WEC lightweight title bout, he lost by unanimous decision.

That loss, however, and the razor-thin outcomes of his more recent title bouts, don’t worry Henderson. His goal remains the same: just win. It’s that simple.

“What it all boils down to is getting your hand raised,” Henderson told ESPN.com on Thursday during a media conference to promote the title rematch with Pettis. “Whether you do it emphatically, impressively, whether you do it by split decision or whatever the case may be.

“Honestly, if a guy walks into the cage and slips on a banana peel and I win, I will take that win. I don’t care. The way I fight, I’m always out there to beat the guy up. I just want to beat him up. I don’t care about judges’ decisions or this or that, I just want to beat the guy up.”

Improved stand-up boosts Mendez’s confidence
Featherweight contender Chad Mendes has been on a knockout tear since coming up short in his title bid against Jose Aldo at UFC 142 on Jan. 14, 2012. Mendes was knocked out during the first round of that title bout, but he's knocked out each of his opponents in the three fights that followed.

Mendes, ranked fourth among 145-pound fighters by ESPN.com, went into that fight unsure of his stand-up skills -- both offensively and defensively. He wasn’t confident anywhere on his feet then.

As a result, Mendes was vulnerable standing against Aldo and got caught by a knee to the chin. His hopes of leaving the cage a champion that night came ended at the 4:59 mark.

But Mendes is better on his feet now. He is comfortable letting his hands go, and moving his feet and head comes naturally now. And he has developed into a solid power puncher. Mendes no longer lacks confidence standing in the cage.

“It’s not that I wasn’t confident as a fighter, it’s just that the stand-up part of the game wasn’t there for me,” Mendes said. “A lot of people said I took that fight too early in my career. But it’s a title fight; I’m not going to turn it down.

"I believe I was winning the first round until the final second. I’m a completely different fighter now. I know I can hang. I’ve grown and gotten so much better. I want another title shot."

With Wanderlei unavailable, UFC seeking foe for Sonnen
There are two things Chael Sonnen wants more than anything else in his professional fighting career right now: a showdown with Wanderlei Silva and a spot on the UFC 167 main card. But it's very unlikely one of his wishes will be met any time soon.

According to UFC president Dana White, a fight between Sonnen and Silva isn’t happening this year. White said Silva is injured and would accept only a pay-per-view deal to face Sonnen.

Pay-per-view deals are given only to champions, and Silva isn’t close to contending for the middleweight title. That puts the brakes on a Sonnen-Silva fight. Besides, Silva’s injury, which White says is back-related, will keep him out of action for the remainder of this year.

“Chael wants to fight in the co-main event of the [Georges] St-Pierre fight,” said White, referring to St-Pierre’s title defense against Johny Hendricks on Nov. 16 in Las Vegas. “Chael wants it. He wants to fight on that card. He has his heart set on it.”

There have been recent reports of Phil Davis getting the fight with Sonnen. White, however, quashed those reports. The UFC is still seeking an opponent to meet Sonnen at UFC 167. It’s possible that Davis is among the fighters being considered, but White refused to reveal any of the potential candidates.

“There’s nothing done [with Davis],” White said.

After Guida, Mendes wants Aldo rematch

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
2:40
PM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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Jose Aldo, Chad MendesJosh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty ImagesFighting Jose Aldo just four years into his career proved to be a case of too much, too soon for Chad Mendes.


If Ricardo Lamas fails to receive the next UFC title shot at 145 pounds, Chad Mendes says he’ll feel for him a bit. But Lamas should know: He only has himself to blame.

Twice this year, Mendes says he’s tried to book a fight against Lamas -- only to get the feeling Lamas wants nothing to do with him.

The first occurred when Manny Gamburyan withdrew from a bout at UFC 157 due to injury, just two weeks prior to the event. Mendes publicly called Lamas out, but was told he was already booked to an unannounced fight. Fair enough.

The second time, though, Mendes says he was willing to face Lamas on three weeks' notice at UFC 162, when Lamas’ original opponent, Chan Sung Jung, was pulled for a title fight. It didn’t happen and Lamas was eventually pulled from the card.

“I’ve called him out. I’ve tried to fight him a couple times,” Mendes told ESPN.com. “Once was on short notice for him so that’s understandable, but the other one was on three weeks' notice for me and he still turned it down.

“I think to be the best you have to fight the best and I don’t know if he’s willing to do it.”

Mendes (14-1) has been itching for a high-profile fight after several previous bouts have fallen through due to injury. He has a big one on his hands this weekend, when he meets Clay Guida at UFC 164 in Milwaukee.

A former No. 1 contender at featherweight, Mendes feels a win over Guida should net him a rematch against Jose Aldo, who he lost to early last year.

Even considering Mendes’ current streak of three consecutive first-round knockouts, a win over Guida is nothing to take lightly. Mendes says his veteran opponent has played spoiler to title aspirations before.

As for what specific challenges Guida (30-13) brings to the cage, Mendes admits he’s not sure what to expect. Whether it’s because Guida is “just getting old or what,” Mendes says his style has changed a lot in recent years.

“The old-school Clay would stand in the pocket and throw punches, scramble, grapple -- in your face the entire time,” Mendes said. “Lately, he’s been more of a points fighter. Pitter-patter on the feet and look to take you down and just lay there.

“We’ve definitely prepared for both Clays. I’m ready for whatever one comes out.”

Of course, earning another shot at the seemingly invincible Aldo is only half the goal. Taking the belt from him is what matters, and Mendes knows he’s capable of it.

Everyone asked him before that first title bout in Brazil, “Are you ready? Has this all happened too fast?” The answer, honestly, was yeah. Pretty much. Mendes, less than four years into his pro career at that time, probably wasn’t ready for Aldo.

But as he points out, it’s an irrelevant question. You don’t turn down a shot at the title. And even though things didn’t go his way that night, the loss, as it usually does for great fighters, has made him better. He’s evolved because of it.

Whereas before the Aldo knee, Mendes was typically looking for a “safe” way to outwrestle his opponents, he’s found himself looking for knockouts ever since it.

The wrestling background will always be there as a second option, which now only gives him more confidence in his striking game. It’s a feeling he never had prior to the Aldo fight.

“Going into the first fight after the loss, my mentality was just go pull the trigger and see what happens,” Mendes said. “Bam, I got a knockout. That fight showed me if I just let my hands go, I could put these guys away.

“Before my mindset was to not get hit. I’m becoming more confident on my feet and I’m excited from here on out.”

Of all the members of Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, Mendes will perhaps benefit most from the addition of head coach Duane Ludwig late last year.

In the first meeting against Aldo, the question was, “Can Chad get him down?” These days, Mendes and his team believe a question around the rematch could be, “Can Chad knock him out?”

“He’s going to be the world champion of the UFC, 100 percent,” Ludwig said. “Most athletes in general, you just have to get them out of position. I won’t elaborate too much on that, but we’re going to get Jose out of position.”

Bendo: 'It's going to be a fun night for me'

July, 18, 2013
7/18/13
4:01
PM ET
Gross By Josh Gross
ESPN.com
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Benson Henderson and Anthony PettisJosh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty ImagesBenson Henderson, left, has been looking forward to seeing Anthony Pettis one more time.
It's been a couple of years since Benson Henderson and his trainer, John Crouch, watched their 2010 WEC title loss to Anthony Pettis.

Henderson doesn't get "too tape happy" to begin with. He'll watch a fight once to find a feel for his opponent and be done with it. So in advance of the lightweights' Aug. 31 rematch in Milwaukee, Henderson may not even revisit the close decision and the Showtime kick. The truth is, he needs no refresher course on his only loss during 18 fights over the past six years. Lessons there to be learned, have been.

"I was able to man up and move on with my life," Henderson told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "It wasn't anything I was obsessing over. Now that we do get the chance to square off again and once I get my hands on him it's going to be a fun night for me. Let's put it that way."

The current UFC lightweight champion, seeking his fifth straight defense, is clear about where he could have done better the first time around. Outside of a few "stale moments" he classified his performance during one of the most dramatic title fights in Zuffa history as just "OK." Henderson and Crouch felt the effort in the cage that night was lackadaisical. In response, the trainer didn't ask his charge to get "mean," per se, but he wanted Henderson to be "more aggressive and try to have our way in the fight." Henderson, 27 at the time, stewed for a bit. He was quiet. Reflective. But also motivated.

"It would have been the same against anybody," said Crouch, who coaches out of The Lab in Glendale, Ariz. "He likes to compete. He hates to lose. He took it very hard."

Henderson's next appearance was his UFC debut. "As soon as we started in the UFC you could see the difference," Crouch said. "When he fought [Mark] Bocek, fought [Jim] Miller, fought [Clay] Guida, we were much more aggressive." Those wins set Henderson up for a title challenge against Frankie Edgar. All Henderson has done since is win, which considering his current status is the only thing he needs to do. Taking on Pettis is the next step. That's how Henderson and Crouch see it. Nothing more. Nothing less.

"When you've got the belt, every single person in this division wants to beat me up," Henderson said. "That's how it goes. It doesn't matter to me who my next defense is against. It's cool."

"It's the same thing for us," Crouch said. "It's going to be our fourth belt defense. We're gonna keep the belt for a while. It's just what we do."

If there's ever a good moment to fight Pettis, weeks removed from a knee injury that knocked him out of an Aug. 3 challenge of Jose Aldo, it would seem to be now. The 26-year-old challenger got the call after TJ Grant was concussed while training for his title shot. Pettis was in line for his own opportunity after the WEC win, but injuries derailed those plans and kept him out of action more than he’d like the past couple of years. In the meantime, the current champion strung together consistent performances against top-shelf competitors, including a squeaker in April over Gilbert Melendez.

"Benson has developed a whole bunch” since losing to Pettis, Crouch said. “You kind of overstate that with your own guy. I think he's better, but it's just part of the process."

Henderson has been pushed, prodded, and proven to be sharp. The challenger, spectacular yet sporadic.

The switch from Grant to Pettis is a "curveball," Henderson said, but nothing he hasn't dealt with in the past. And with five and a half weeks remaining until fight night, there's plenty of time for Henderson to properly prepare. The fact is Henderson had already cut down on the length of training camps because, Crouch said, "he works too hard and beats his body up.” Since they were just about to get in the gym to prepare for Grant, "timing is just fine," the trainer said.

Henderson sees the scenario in front of him as typical, which means there's no such thing as a perfect situation in MMA. At a minimum, Pettis is a guy with a chance, and that's all any fighter requires to pull off something special. This is how the lightweight champion processed Chris Weidman’s stunning victory over Anderson Silva: “The reason why we fight is that any given day the best can lose.”

Pettis, of course, is no long shot. Oddsmakers have pegged the challenger, who’s fighting in his hometown, as the slight favorite.

"It doesn't matter to me where it's at, who's it against, what hometown," Henderson said. "Bump all that noise. It doesn't matter to me. I'm going to beat him up. At the end of the night I'm going to get my hand raised."

Swanson light as a feather, strong as an ox

February, 12, 2013
2/12/13
12:45
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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Dennis Siver and Dustin Poirier are nothing alike. Siver is shaped like a fire hydrant with spring-loaded legs; Poirier is sleek and aerodynamic.

Cub Swanson understands these obvious differences better than anybody right about now. He first had Siver in his sights for Saturday’s fight in London. Then Siver got injured and morphed into Poirier, which required Swanson to reconfigure his settings on the fly.
[+] EnlargePablo Garza and Dustin Poirier
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comDustin Poirier, left, presents an entirely different type of challenge than was originally planned for Cub Swanson.

Yet if anybody’s been through the fight game’s most active pun of “rolling with the punches,” it’s Swanson. He’s had fights tailored, altered and scotched as much as the next guy.

“I had just gotten back from Albuquerque training with Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn, and they said, ‘OK, this is the way we’re going to fight this fight [with Siver], these are the things we like,’” Swanson told ESPN.com. “Then I get back my gym in California [Tru MMA], and I get on the same page with my boxing coach and then they go 'Siver’s out, here’s a new guy.'

“The other guy [Siver] was a short, stocky, standard fighter, and the new guy [Poirier] is a tall, lanky southpaw. I just kind of laughed. I had a feeling something was going to happen, so I said, let’s do it. I was excited because I like fighting guys who are a little bit different every time, and I feel like it shows depth in my game.”

The Poirier-Swanson co-main event at UFC on Fuel TV 7 looks good on paper. Poirier rebounded from his loss to Chan Sung Jung in a No. 1 contender spot by choking out Jonathan Brookins in December. Swanson is coming off of a knockout victory over Charles Oliveira at UFC 152, which will always be remembered for Oliveira’s delayed shutdown process after absorbing a couple of body shots and then the big overhand.

In fact, it was the third knockout win in a row for Swanson, who re-emerged in 2012 as a contender at 145 pounds. Just like that, there’s power in his game again.

“I thought about dropping down to 135, started dieting down, but I didn’t feel very good and started to get weak,” Swanson says. “I decided to give weightlifting and strength training another shot. The first few times I tried lifting weights I didn’t like the way I felt, and we finally developed a way of working out where I wouldn’t lose my speed.

“I walk around about 175-180 pounds, and get up to about 185. I was 185 when I got the phone call for this fight. I put on a lot of size, and I don’t feel like I’ve lost any of my speed. I have my accuracy and my speed and finally have some power behind it. I’m not worried about breaking my hands anymore. It’s all coming together.”

Suddenly the featherweight division -- which has always been a popular destination for resurrectionists and transplants such as Frankie Edgar, Clay Guida and Nik Lentz -- is strong. So strong, in fact, that the “Korean Zombie” and Ricardo Lamas are waiting on title shots while Jose Aldo defends his belt in August against Anthony Pettis. Figure in Chad Mendes and up-and-comers such as Poirier and Swanson, and 145 begins to look like one of the deeper divisions in the UFC.

So where would a win stack Swanson in the grand scheme of things?

“I know I’m right up there,” he says. “I’m not afraid of anybody. I have a pretty good record and my losses are to the top guys. I want to get back in that mix, and be mentioned in the top featherweights. As far as title fight talk, I just want to be mentioned -- I don’t really care about it right now, I’m just enjoying the ride and enjoying winning fights.”

Swanson refers to his rough patch between 2009 and 2011 as “growing pains,” mixed with a little bad luck. In that stretch he went 2-3, with losses to Jose Aldo, Chad Mendes and Ricardo Lamas. In other words, he lost to the division’s elite. At some point, he says, “I’d love to get those losses back,” but heading into Saturday’s fight there’s a renaissance going on with Swanson. It’s in his voice. It’s a kind of emphasis that comes with experience and prioritizing. What it says is that wins and losses and pecking orders are all fun conversations.

But his emphasis is on remembering why he’s in the fight game to begin with.

“I’m finally enjoying what I do,” he says. “I don’t do a whole lot of interviews usually. I just like training hard, fighting, and getting back to my normal life.”

And the wiser Swanson feels he’s looking at his past when he sizes up Poirier.

“I think he’s a tough kid,” he says. “He’s gotten this far off of being well-conditioned, having a lot of heart and being well-rounded. He kind of reminds me of myself a couple of years ago. I just don’t feel like he’s turned that corner yet and I feel very good about this fight.

“I feel like he plays into my style very well and it’s going to make for a good fight.”

Notes and nuggets from Chicago

January, 25, 2013
1/25/13
7:44
AM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
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CHICAGO -- Winning a UFC title is every fighter’s goal. For the few who are able to accomplish this feat, the celebration doesn’t truly begin until they make their first successful title defense.

UFC bantamweight titleholder Demetrious Johnson will attempt to solidify his position as a true champion Saturday night when he meets top contender John Dodson. The two will battle at United Center in Chicago.

In addition to defending his title, Johnson wants to put on an entertaining fight. Putting on a fan-friendly performance is something Johnson also relishes. And it’s something Johnson thought was being accomplished in September when he held off Joseph Benavidez to claim the 125-pound belt.

Johnson put on a stand-up fighting display. He demonstrated textbook footwork, head movement and striking en route to a split decision. But throughout the five-round title bout many fans in attendance at UFC 152 booed.

The booing continued when Johnson was declared the winner, and Johnson learned that being liked by fans is something he has no control over.

“You can never predict how fans will see you because there are some fans out there who just love my style: How I’m just a humble guy, but I have great technique, I have great footwork, the cardio, I have great confidence and I love video games,” Johnson told ESPN.com.

“On the other side of the board, there are guys who hate everything about me. They don’t care what I do, they hope I lose; they hate my ears, the way I look. So my job is to just go out there and perform the best I can.”

Teixeira seeks KO against Jackson



Not many fighters have entered the UFC with as much hype as Glover Teixeira. And in his first two Octagon appearances, Teixeira has not disappointed. On Saturday, he faces the stiffest test of his pro career, and fans will find out if the hype is warranted when Teixeira faces former UFC light heavyweight champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.

Teixeira believes he will defeat Jackson, who fights in the UFC for the last time Saturday. But he also believes victory won’t be enough to prevent his stock from tumbling if he struggles. So Teixeira is determined to end Jackson’s UFC career early.

“My motivation is to be a champion, just like he was. I’m hungry,” Teixeira told ESPN.com. “I want this. This is a big fight for me, the biggest of my career.

“Rampage is a tough guy, he’s hard to put away. But that is the key. You go into a fight, that’s why people love fights, because of the knockouts and the submissions. I’m going in there to finish the fight. And it does matter to me how I win.”

Cerrone to clash with sharper, more mature Pettis



It has been nearly one year since lightweight contender Anthony Pettis has fought inside the Octagon. That’s a long layoff for any fighter, except Pettis.

The former WEC champion says when he steps in the cage Saturday night to face Donald Cerrone, he will be as sharp as ever. Cage rust is never an issue for Pettis.

“I don’t think there is ring rust when it comes to fighting,” Pettis said. “A fight’s a fight. If I have to fight somebody tomorrow, I’ve got to be ready to fight.

“This is my job. This is what I’ve been training for; this is what I’ve been doing for a long time. I’ve kind of grown up with fighting, so I don’t think ring rust is going to be a problem.”

Pettis is also better prepared to deal with any unexpected situations -- inside or outside the cage. He takes all his responsibilities much more seriously these days.

“I’ve matured a lot,” Pettis said. “I’ve got a daughter [1˝-year-old Aria] now; I’ve matured a lot with decisions outside of my training -- what time I go to bed, what I’m eating, what I’m putting in my body.

“I’ve really matured in every aspect of my life. I’ve just matured as a man.”

Quick hits



• Former lightweight contender Clay Guida makes his featherweight debut with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. Despite what he says, the outcome of his June bout with Gray Maynard and the criticism that followed still sting. “My striking was pinpoint; I out-struck Gray. I out-grappled Gray,” Guida said. “Go down the list, I beat him everywhere, except in the judges’ eyes. But I’m beyond that now. And Hatsu Hioki is going to pay for it Saturday night.”

• Jackson talks often about no longer being happy in UFC and looks forward to leaving the promotion after Saturday night’s bout against Teixeira. But Jackson won’t be all smiles when it’s over. “I will miss a lot of things. I will miss Burt Watson backstage. He’s funny; he’s cool to hang around,” Jackson told ESPN.com. “Honestly, if you are on Dana’s good side, he’s one of the coolest guys. Lorenzo Fertitta’s always been cool with me; and Frank [Fertitta]. I will miss the good fans. When you’re walking back to the locker room, when you win, the fans are cheering you on. There are a lot of things about the UFC that I will miss.”

• Dana White would love to have Eddie Alvarez on the UFC roster. And he is willing to pay handsomely for Alvarez’s services. Now White is challenging Bellator to do the same. “This kid isn’t their world champion and his contract is up,” White told ESPN.com. “Everybody talks about Bellator like they’re some poor little company. Viacom owns Bellator! Bellator like you used to know it is over. Viacom sits on $5 billion in cash. Pay the kid! Pay the kid the exact monetary offer we made to him, and you will deserve the right to have him.”

Featherweights to take shape in Chicago

January, 24, 2013
1/24/13
3:23
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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There's a paradox going on for this weekend's Chicago card: People are talking about the flyweights not getting talked about.

In fact, the ever-coveted "casual" viewer has no way of knowing that there is such a thing as the flyweight division, because all those prominent ads leading up -- as you've seen by now -- don’t fuss over the details. As far as casuals know, it's a "world title" fight, which is of course one way of putting it. (Saying that two of the best flyweights out of a 15-man roster might play out somewhat less dramatically).

But the flyweights are actual and they are happening, whether this offends you, surprises you, or speaks to your fetishes. And if nothing else, it's novel. If the sword on Brock Lesnar's chest cut him in two, you'd get Demetrious Johnson and John Dodson -- guys with thrice the speed and half the brute power. We'll need to slow down the surveillance tape, but these guys will square off at shutter speed on Saturday night as headliners.

It's Johnson's first title defense. It’s Dodson’s chance to showcase his own rare blend of levity and levitation.

If it goes as one suspects it might, this will feel like 25 minutes of hydroplaning. What's not to love?

Of course, such a main event only works on a uniquely stacked (totally free) card like UFC of FOX 6. There's Quinton Jackson's UFC swan song and Glover Teixeira's fashionably late arrival. There's the battle of Anthony Pettis-Donald Cerrone, which is a cause for hyperbole. That looks like the greatest fight of all time. (You see?)

And then there's the featherweights. And this is where the plot thickens.

Right now the 145-pound division below challenger Frankie Edgar and current champion Jose Aldo is a free-for-all.

It's about to get some clarity.

Clay Guida will take on Hatsu Hioki in his first drop to 145 pounds, and Ricardo Lamas will fight Erik Koch. One of these will emerge as the next challenge for the Aldo-Edgar winner. At the very least, one of these four guys will get to fight Chan Sung Jung to determine who gets next crack at the Aldo-Edgar winner.

Saturday will give us a featherweight pecking order.

Koch was scheduled to fight Aldo twice in 2012, but both fell through (once because he was injured, once because Aldo was). You'd have to think that a win over Lamas would land him right back to where he was. If Lamas defends his Chicago turf, he'll have beaten 2012's brightest contender, so he'd take that spot.

Guida is making the cut to 145 pounds after he ceded his lightweight title bearings against Gray Maynard. Not only that, but he had the audacity to show up with a stick and skedaddle game plan that left a bad taste in fan's mouths. A solid performance in his featherweight debut against the former No. 1 contender Hioki would jump him into the mix pretty quick. If Hioki knocks off Guida, same thing. He'll have beaten one of the UFC's more familiar names, and the recent Lamas loss shrinks in his rearview mirror.

Come Sunday morning, there will be such a thing as the "featherweight title picture." With all the comings and goings at 145 pounds since the division was introduced two years ago, that's been a hard thing to establish.

Pettis/Cerrone the subliminal main event

January, 23, 2013
1/23/13
7:10
AM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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Title shots are nice, but they’re hard to come by in the UFC’s lightweight division. Anthony Pettis knows. Since coming over as the reigning WEC champion a little more than two years ago, he has lived in a world of obstructions.

There was the Frankie Edgar bottleneck situation, when every title fight extended into a classic title series. There was the Clay Guida setback (which exposed some wrestling deficiencies) and the Jeremy Stephens rebound fight (which showed he fixed some wrestling deficiencies). There was the ridiculous head kick to Joe Lauzon, which re-revved the title talk. Then there was a shoulder injury that docked him for a year.

Buzz kill.

And even now, as Pettis returns for his bout with Donald Cerrone on Saturday in Chicago, his path to a title shot looks more like a frontage road detour. Defeat his fellow WEC alum Cerrone, and the reward is to wait and see. That’s because Strikeforce’s longtime champion Gilbert Melendez has been expedited into a title tilt with Benson Henderson, which takes place in April.

Melendez gets the immediate shot, and Pettis’ world remains complicated. It’s limbo. It’s contention. It’s relevance. It’s ring rust. It’s trying to re-establish his bearings.

“It’s weird right now,” Pettis told ESPN.com's MMA Live Extra. “I’ve been promised title shots; I’ve been guaranteed title shots. So really [beating Cerrone] doesn’t put me anywhere. I’m right at the top of the top. I’ve just got to keep my performances clean and sharp and strong and a title shot will come when it comes. But right now I’m just focusing on getting back in there. It’s almost been a year.”

Let’s face it, UFC on FOX 6 is a kind of layered phenomena. You’ve got a flyweight title fight at the top between Demetrious Johnson and John Dodson, which is electric but not suited to everyone’s tastes. That’s why Quinton Jackson is in the co-main. Jackson is making his final Octagon appearance (allegedly) against the intrigue of the light heavyweight division, Glover Teixeira. Wheelhouse brawl, right? Maybe. In any case, that fight should be sad, fierce and brutal.

And it’s not even the heart of the card.
[+] EnlargeAnthony Pettis
Kari Hubert/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesWin or lose, Anthony Pettis isn't sure what the future holds after Saturday.

The heart of the card is, of course, the one in the middle. Pettis-Cerrone is the fight. Pettis always brings it. Cerrone always brings it. If Pettis wants to stand and bang, Cerrone will oblige -- “Cowboy” never shrinks from the terms. And so long as Duke Roufus’ protégé Pettis isn’t fighting a determined wrestler, he recreates Chinese “wire fu.” That’s just what he does.

So even as the implications are up in the air, so will the kicks come fight night. And that’s just about as far as Pettis is willing to look.

“For me, man, it’s just to get back in there and mix it up,” he said. “It’s been almost a year since I fought and I want to stay relevant and show people that ‘Showtime’ has skills -- that I’ve got talent. Fighting a guy like Cowboy [Cerrone] is definitely going to give me that chance. He’s a tough, tough guy, and it’s not going to take one or two shots to drop him -- it’s going to take a couple.”

Cerrone, who has won eight of nine fights, is in contention, too. He called out Pettis because Pettis was the man in his way. Each fighter sees the other as an obstacle to reach what has become a far-off kingdom: that elusive chance at a title shot in the UFC’s lightweight division.

That could be what’s at stake. But when you’re dealing in the Pettises and Cerrones of the world, the journey is just as much fun as the destination. As far as Pettis’ ongoing journey goes, the future can be shaped by a simple objective come Saturday night.

“Make a statement,” he said. “I’m tired of not getting the respect I deserve. Guys calling me overrated, ‘one kick’ this and that. I’m in my position for a reason, and I’ve got to show everybody why I’m right there at the top.”

UFCoF5 the blowout we’ve been waiting for

August, 15, 2012
8/15/12
12:47
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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PennRyan Pierse/Getty ImagesYou know you're getting a stacked card when B.J. Penn isn't even in the co-main event.
The first UFC on Fox was a “bonus” that we had never asked for, nor did we complain when we got it (or, at least until Cain Velasquez made the work too easy that night for Junior dos Santos). That was the table-setter for the seven-year relationship between the UFC and Fox -- a heavyweight championship fight, broadcast as a privilege to fans as a red carpet, prime time affair.

The event was so touted and singled out that Benson Henderson and Clay Guida, a guaranteed piece of entertainment that night, was relegated to Facebook status with no chance for TV air time.

In retrospect, it seems impossible that a bout like that would get neglected. But it kicked off a new era, and the triumph didn’t belong to the new champion dos Santos alone. He was the small picture. The real triumph belonged to the UFC and to MMA in general, for breaking down the partition between niche and mainstream.

Here we are after four network TV shows, and that wild-on-paper first one remains the biggest.

Since then we’ve seen some reaches, some cautionary tales and some "must never" repeats. There was Rashad Evans against Phil Davis, a pair of wrestlers who were intent on three rounds of nihilistic frustration. There was the Jim Miller/Nate Diaz fight that barely seemed audible in communicating to crossover audiences. There was Brandon Vera/Mauricio Rua, the fight with the golden Jon Jones sweepstakes, even if merit and good sense were the compromise. The fights on that card panned out great, if only it wasn’t going head-to-head with the Olympics.

And if, you know, the stakes were more sellable.

Yet for all those free shows -- shows that turned the media into ratings weathervanes -- none had the full artillery that we know the UFC is capable of. That changes in December for the fifth show. Whether it’s been put together on pressure to deliver after these so-so showings or otherwise, the fifth Fox card is a rare showcase of excitement, relevance and meaningful stakes.

It’s the kind of card that brings back the “ultimate proving ground” notion. The card, barring injury, controversy and fluke interventions, has it all.

There’s a belt on the line, as Henderson defends the 155-pound title against Nate Diaz. There’s a No. 1 contender fight between Alexander Gustafsson and Mauricio Rua. And then there’s Rory MacDonald and B.J. Penn, a scrap so fun to think about in nature that people speculated it might be the headliner for the show. The event is so stacked that it’s third on the depth chart.

When you break down these three fights -- and the UFC is working on a fourth fight, let’s not forget -- it looks like a blowout show. The idea of Henderson encountering the younger brother of “Stalkton” is enough by itself. Any Diaz brings polarity to the cage -- a Diaz fight is a talked about fight. And here is younger brother Nathan challenging the flying confidence of bigger/stronger/more athletic Henderson, who is setting out to break all of Anderson Silva’s records.

That’s a great stage for a title fight.

The others are showcases. The young Swede Gustafsson needs to beat a “Shogun” caliber opponent to warrant a title shot. Well, that’s what he gets. And if his name weren’t being bandied about as the last big intriguing fight for Jon Jones at light heavyweight, maybe this thing doesn’t attract. But his name does have that glint to it, and if he beats Rua, we can then begin comparing his long reach with Jones’ without adding the “he’s still green” asterisk.

Likewise, if Rua wins his stake for a title shot is no longer in question. He’ll have earned the right to fight again for the belt.

The last fight is classic, and you can thank all 38 of those stitches over MacDonald’s eye for jumping it from a pay-per-view to a free fight. Penn and MacDonald has the two ships passing in the night vibe. There’s Penn and his Hall of Fame resume coming out of “retirement” against the 23-year old MacDonald, who is so serious that he changed his nickname from the juvenile-sounding “Waterboy” to “Ares,” the Greek god of war.

Know why that one is fun? Because there’s a sense that MacDonald is moving closer and closer into his mentor/training partner Georges St. Pierre’s space. St. Pierre will have already fought Carlos Condit a couple of weeks earlier. If he defends the welterweight belt, and MacDonald shows up and blasts Penn as so many suspect he will, the inevitable conflict takes on added drama. Drama’s half the game.

In MacDonald and Gustafsson there is the future. In Penn and Rua, there are storied careers. In Diaz/Henderson, there is high voltage entertainment with a title on the line.

That’s a fun night of fights, worthy of a big pay-per-view event. But it’s free, and that’s telling. What exactly does it tell us? That the ultimate proving ground on Dec. 8 extends beyond the fighters. It extends to the UFC itself.

And the UFC is loading up to meet the challenge.

Guida/Maynard not what we had in mind

June, 23, 2012
6/23/12
8:51
AM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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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.
[+] EnlargeClay Guida and Gray Maynard
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comIt took a while for Gray Maynard to realize Clay Guida wasn't there to engage.

“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.

Gray Maynard, a lightweight reborn

June, 22, 2012
6/22/12
5:48
AM ET
Gross By Josh Gross
ESPN.com
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Gray MaynardJosh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesA recharged Gray Maynard is hoping a change of scenery has done him good.

Learn a lesson from Gray Maynard.

The 32-year-old lightweight contender felt "stagnant" and "boxed in." He wasn't living in a place he or his fiancee wanted to call home. So he did what many people often discuss but rarely do: He took action.

"I didn't want to talk about it a year or two later," Maynard said.

A month prior to fighting Frankie Edgar for a third time, he parted ways with Xtreme Couture, the only MMA gym he knew, and set up his own shop.

Maynard admits the situation "wasn't good, but it's not an excuse. That's why I never made it a big deal. It was my choice and I have to deal with it."

A few weeks after losing a chance to become the UFC lightweight champion when Edgar finished him in the fourth round, the 155-pound powerhouse left Las Vegas in the rearview mirror, headed west and settled in Santa Cruz, Calif.

"It's hard to leave a gym," Maynard said. "It's hard to leave your home. It's a tough move. It's not like I was gonna leave for [one training] camp. I was like, let's move. It kind of happened quicker than we were planning on, but it was good to do that."

As a result of the journey, when Maynard steps into the cage Friday night in Atlantic City against Clay Guida, he'll do so with a revamped corner and a new view on what it means to be a mixed martial artist.

"I felt like I hit a plateau, and it was time to get some new ideas," he said. "I needed a change. Xtreme Couture is where I started; it's awesome, I love them all there. I just had to evolve more. There's a lot to the game."

Maynard's 10-1-1 record serves as testimony to the effectiveness of his wrestling skill and raw power. He is strong and hits hard, which is why it was easy to succumb to the boxer-wrestler trap while forgoing other areas of his game.

His first stop was the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif.

"He was only doing one or the other when he first came to the gym," said AKA-trained lightweight Josh Thomson. "He was only boxing or wrestling, but the combination from punch to [takedown] shot wasn't that clean. It was decent but wasn't clean."

Maynard credits Thomson, whom he helped prepare for a May contest against Gilbert Melendez, heavyweight Daniel Cormier, AKA coaches Javier Mendez and Bob Cook, boxing trainer Rick Noble, UFC veteran Mac Danzig and the Nova Uniao camp for getting his "juices flowing again."

In Brazil, Maynard worked with UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo in advance of what turned out to be a late first-round stoppage against Chad Mendes. Maynard said he was impressed by the camp and its approach to MMA.

"I just saw a lot about the whole game," he said. "Nova Uniao, they're good in all areas. It was a lot more of the MMA game, and it got me going again, got me thinking about stuff."

He brought that attitude back with him to California and continued upgrading. Maynard expects to show some of those new skills and mentality against Guida in the main event of UFC's latest offering on FX.

Thomson, who works Maynard's corner alongside Noble and Danzig, acknowledged that the No. 4-ranked lightweight according to ESPN.com has "got a lot of things going through his mind right now as far as how to try and use the new tools he's developing."

Still, Thomson said the changes Maynard implemented in recent months are paying off in the gym.

"I just want to see how it meshes and comes together in a real fight," Thomson said. "He's not going to do it overnight."

Fans shouldn't expect spinning back kicks from The Bully, but his transitions between striking and grappling realms are said to be crisper. His boxing application looks tighter, more efficient and requires less energy. As a result, combinations are flowing the way he'd like them to. He also honed in on his wrestling roots with the impressive Cormier, Strikeforce's heavyweight grand prix champion.

Guida, ranked No. 7, will provide a stern test, which Maynard welcomes.

"It was a good choice for us," Maynard said. "He brings a little bit different approach for each bout, but he always goes hard. That's all I can ask for."

As for what unfolds in the cage, regardless of where he trained or the level of shape he worked himself into, Maynard is mindful that the plan of attack is up to him. He may have new tools to use, but it would be a mistake to shift too far from the attributes that brought him to this point.

Sometimes change is good. Sometimes it's not.

Guida gunning for finish versus Maynard

June, 21, 2012
6/21/12
6:32
AM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
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As has been the case with all of his fights, lightweight contender Clay Guida approaches Friday night’s showdown against Gray Maynard determined, focused and confident. Guida knows Maynard is a very tough out. And like Guida, the 10-1-1 Maynard enters their UFC on FX 4 encounter having lost his most recent bout. Neither contender can afford a second straight setback in the crowded 155-pound division. They meet in a five-round main event at Revel Casino in Atlantic City.

Despite the high stakes, Guida is as calm as ever. Under similar circumstances, most fighters would struggle to get their nerves under control.

That just isn’t the case with Guida. He could not be in a more peaceful state of mind days before what is possibly the most important mixed martial arts contest of his professional career. For one, Guida has no doubt that his hand -- not Maynard’s -- will be raised when the five-rounder concludes -- if it lasts that long.

Then there is the matter of what’s happening in Guida’s non-UFC world. Things are so good in Guida’s personal life that training camp has been a virtual breeze. That’s what happens when a fighter isn’t experiencing personal distractions -- especially those of a financial nature.

“I have a couple of good business things going on outside of mixed martial arts,” Guida told ESPN.com. “I have a very successful gym [Clay Guida’s MMAStop Fitness in Crest Hill, Ill.].

“There are good people looking over my gym back home. I’ve made some good investments with people I grew up with, and good financial advisors. This makes it easy for me, knowing that I can train every day to become a better fighter and get closer to my dream, which is to become the lightweight champion.”

Guida is extremely happy with the growth of his gym. It doesn’t hurt that several high-profile fighters and trainers have taken time to visit and offer instructions to wide-eyed youngsters. UFC interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit is slated to conduct a seminar there on June 30, and he's just the latest in a line of mixed martial arts' celebrities to grace the gym with their presence.

Former UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, trainer Greg Jackson, lightweight contender Donald Cerrone, retired light heavyweight Matt Hamill and UFC bantamweight titleholder Dominick Cruz are some of the fighters who’ve conducted seminars at the gym.

The fighters, however, aren’t simply offering specific mixed martial arts instructions. Guida is quick to point out that he isn’t running your standard MMA facility.

“It’s a family fitness center,” Guida said. “It’s not necessarily a mixed martial arts or fight gym. It’s targeted toward families and kids, who want to try kickboxing, wrestling, jujitsu and personal training, things like that.

“It helps them build a healthy lifestyle.”

And maintaining a healthy lifestyle isn’t limited to nonprofessionals. Guida (29-12) is the biggest beneficiary of practicing what he preaches. While many big-name fighters have been hit by the injury bug recently, Guida has taken extra precaution to reduce the odds that he will join the list.

Being in the best physical condition possible for his bout with Maynard is a very high priority for Guida, and it's a delicate balancing act.
[+] EnlargeClay Guida
Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com Balancing act: Clay Guida has managed to go all out during training while also avoiding injuries.

“It’s about pulling back the reins,” said Guida, who still trains at Team Jackson-Winkeljohn in Albuquerque, N.M. “We train hard, but we’re also very smart about our training. We’re not trying to knock each other out in the gym. But at the same time we are going at it 100 percent and trying to give each other the best workout we can.

“It’s just about being careful. But when you lighten up in practice, sometimes that’s when you get hurt. And when you lighten up, you’re not getting the most out of your training session. So it’s 50-50; anything can happen.”

Everything has been clicking for Guida during this training camp. His weight is on point, his timing couldn’t be better and his confidence level is off the charts.


It’s not enough to win against Maynard; Guida wants to deliver a strong message as well: that he is as deserving of a lightweight title shot as anyone in the division.

“Finishing Gray Maynard puts me right back to being the No. 1 contender," Guida said. "It puts me right there."

“I know they said Nate [Diaz] is getting the title shot. Nate has beaten three guys in a row -- one of my teammates [Donald Cerrone], Takanori Gomi and Jim Miller, [but] who did he beat before that? Before I lost to [Benson] Henderson, which was a very close fight, people say it could have gone either way, I won four in a row -- three submissions, and I beat two former world champions on the way.

“Gray Maynard hadn’t lost in two or three years. But a finish over Gray is what I’m looking for.”

The stakes are unclear for Guida/Maynard

June, 19, 2012
6/19/12
5:47
AM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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In the most compelling of the 22 UFC fights going on this weekend, Gray Maynard and Clay Guida will scrap in Atlantic City.

It’s a fun fight to handicap. It’s an aggravating fight to try and figure out exactly what it is that’s at stake for the winner.

Let’s start with the obvious -- the Friday night headliners on the Jersey Shore have a lot in common. They both have wrestling, though Maynard’s is thought to be better. They both are coming off losses to current and erstwhile champions. They both hover near the top of a division where the UFC hoards its talent.

They both beat Nate Diaz.

It’s this last thing that makes everything complicated and turns promises into fleeting little things. Diaz, riding a three-fight winning streak, is penciled in as the next in line to face the winner of Frankie Edgar/Ben Henderson. That fight isn’t set to take place until Aug. 11 at UFC 150 in Denver (and here we should knock on wood, given the rash of injuries plaguing this summer). That means Diaz could be in limbo until at least November, depending on how badly they hinder each other.

Realistically, Diaz could be looking at December should he wait.

But the winner of this UFC on FX 4 fight will have three things going for him. One, he will have beaten the other. Two, he will have beaten the other plus Nate Diaz. Three, he will have won last, and everybody knows what’s latest has a way of becoming what’s most relevant.

Of course, it gets even more complicated when you stick the recovering Anthony Pettis into this company. Guida beat Pettis, too. But Pettis beat Henderson. Henderson beat Guida. It’s a mad round-robin that could give matchmaker Joe Silva existential vertigo if he doesn’t have a stubborn battle plan.

So what’s at stake for the winner of Maynard/Guida this weekend? Search me, brother.
[+] EnlargeAnthony Pettis vs. Clay Guida
Ric Fogel for ESPN.comClay Guida, left, holds a win over Anthony Pettis, who has defeated Benson Henderson, who has defeated Guida ...

If Maynard beats Guida, perhaps he’s too early for another title shot. A bout against Pettis -- whom he’s had choice words for in the past -- could be in the cards. Or, if Diaz can be tempted into redeeming himself from that Fight Night card back in 2010 where he lost a split decision to Maynard, maybe the UFC syncs up the schedules and makes that a No. 1 contender’s bout.

Then there’s also the off-chance of Maynard/Edgar IV, should Edgar win too. After all, they are 1-1-1 in the series. (This couldn’t possibly happen, could it?).

But if Guida wins, it’s a little different. Guida has wins over both Pettis and Diaz, so he would look like a more obvious No. 1 contender. The problem there is the UFC may not want to play back Guida/Henderson, the greatest Facebook fight of all time that took place on the first UFC on FOX card in November. Guida lost a decision to Henderson in that one. So, if Guida were to win Friday night, it would either be Diaz again -- whom he beat by split decision at UFC 94 -- or Edgar, should he beat Henderson. That is, unless Edgar beats Henderson controversially to dial up the trilogy.

In other words, there’s absolutely nothing clear about where the winner of Guida/Maynard will stand. There are so many trump cards in play that it’s going to boil down to druthers. Right now, it looks like Diaz is next for a title shot. By Saturday, it could look like Guida. Or Maynard. The only thing we can be semi-certain of is that the UFC will try and avoid unwanted repetition.

Looked at as a whole, Guida and Maynard will be fighting for, if not for title contention, at least the right to hold onto their arguments.

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