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The Freedom of Being Clay Guida

"That’s my night, that’s my rock concert, and I’m gonna do my best to put on a show for the fans." - Clay Guida

UFC lightweight Clay GuidaWith his flowing mane, unbridled energy, and quality musical selections for his walks into the Octagon, lightweight contender Clay Guida is the closest thing the UFC has to a legit rock star. So it’s no surprise when he talks about fight night and says “That’s my night, that’s my rock concert, and I’m gonna do my best to put on a show for the fans.”

And more often than not, that’s the result of 15 minutes or less of watching the fiery Illinois native in battles with guys like Diego Sanchez, Tyson Griffin, Nate Diaz, and Roger Huerta. All were Fight of the Night award winners, and when you throw in his Submission of the Night victories over Shannon Gugerty and Takanori Gomi, odds are good that you’re going to see something special from “The Carpenter,” and it’s that reputation that gives him plenty of job security.

“I don’t go out there thinking if I lose this one, (UFC matchmaker) Joe Silva and (UFC President) Dana White might be knocking on my door,” said Guida. “It’s not like that. Here’s the deal – I’m going out there, I put in the time, and I’m gonna go in and cash in all my chips. I’m gonna set caution to the wind and come out there and perform and then leave it up to those guys. Some of my performances haven’t been as exciting as others, but in the end, it’s about having fun and putting on a show for the fans. My record (29-8) is nothing impressive to me, but I don’t think about losing. I go out there, the work is done, and it’s time to go out there and perform.”

You’d be surprised at how liberating a feeling it is to have a mindset like Guida does. When you’re free to do a job you love with the knowledge that if you leave everything out on the table, your paycheck is secure, it can leave you in a perpetual good mood, and if you’ve watched, interacted or spoke with Guida for any amount of time, that’s the impression you get. Outside of weigh-ins or the fight, you won’t see mean-mugging or angry stares from the 29-year old, and if there’s a happier guy in the organization, I haven’t found him yet.

That summation draws a laugh.

“It’s a great ride, a great career, and it isn’t really a job for me,” said Guida. “Most of my other jobs, I hated them. This is something I’ve been blessed with and very thankful to do on a daily basis. Everyone’s different and maybe they have to prepare differently for their fights and take a more serious stance than another individual, but I’m happy to be where I’m at, and even more happy about where I’m going in the future in my career. It’s an honor, and I couldn’t think of anything else I’d rather do. There’s not enough time to be upset or be grumpy or carry a frown on your face.”

And maybe his sunny outlook on life in the toughest sport out there comes from the fact that he did spend many years working jobs as a carpenter and commercial fisherman, trying to make ends meet just like everyone else, far from the spotlight he stands in now as he awaits his Saturday bout with fellow 155-pound standout Benson Henderson. It’s called being thankful for what you have because things could be - and have been – a lot worse.

“No question about it,” said Guida. “I could be out there in the Bering Sea like I was doing for a while, freezing my butt off in 30 below weather and rain and snow and sleet, ankle deep in stinky fish and fish heads and fish guts. Or I could be back in Illinois framing houses and being on a rooftop when it’s 30 degrees in the morning or 90 degrees in the summertime. So MMA definitely has its perks. (Laughs) Those were great jobs and it was an honest living, but I fight so that way I don’t have to go back to doing that, so I can provide for my family, my mom and dad, and provide for my future.”

Well, if you call 15 minutes locked in the Octagon with someone trained to put a hurting on you a perk, then you must be a fighter, Mr. Guida. And despite the smile and engaging personality, that’s something opponents find out as soon as they’re left with just him and the referee. He’s all-fighter.

“I know how to flip that switch, and that’s what it’s all about, being able to turn it on and turn it off,” he said. “As soon as I get out of that cage, you’ll hear me hootin’, hollerin’, and laughing and stuff, and even before the fight, me and my brother (Jason) and Greg (Jackson) and coach (Mike) Winkeljohn, we’re having fun in the locker room and cracking jokes, but we also know that it’s business as well. Doing this I think you need to be in a positive atmosphere to perform at your best. So we’re having a good time out there. Do I get nervous for my fights? Not as much. I get nervous for my teammates and for my brother because it’s out of my hands and you can only do so much. But when I go out there, I feel and I know that I have some sort of control over the pace of the fight.”

That pace is what has made Guida the fighter he is, and one who has sailed to the top of the division behind four straight wins over Gugerty, Rafael dos Anjos, Gomi, and Anthony Pettis. And it’s no secret to the world or Henderson what Guida wants to do in a fight – he wants to make you uncomfortable, push you to your limits, and make you go to places you simply don’t want to see. Thankfully for fight fans, Henderson has that same philosophy, giving this bout Fight of the Year potential, but Guida doesn’t expect that the former WEC champion will be able to match him for three rounds.

“I don’t care what my opponent’s doing,” he said. “I know that what I’m doing is more resourceful, it has more meaning, and I’m working harder. To me, I have that mental edge over my opponent. I just know that I’m getting more out of my workouts, and I obviously have the gameplan masters behind me in Mike Winkeljohn and Greg Jackson, and I have the teammates too, so I know that what we’re doing is going to trump what they’re doing. But I want to see Ben Henderson in the best shape because I think in the Anthony Pettis fight he kinda got overwhelmed a little by Pettis’ pace. The Mark Bocek fight wasn’t one I was very impressed with, but granted that was his first show in the UFC, and to fight in front of 55,000 plus people was pretty impressive. We saw the best Ben against Jim Miller, but the extra mile and all that stuff adds up, and I’m so ecstatic about this fight, I’m stumbling over words.”

That’s a difficult feat to pull off with the loquacious Guida, but it just goes to show how big this fight is. And to think, it’s only taken five years and 14 Octagon bouts to get here. For Guida, it seems like only yesterday when he was getting ready for his debut against Justin James at UFC 64.

“I still remember my first walkout against Justin James,” he said. “We were standing in the tunnel, me right behind him, I remember going into the arena and meeting my mom and dad even though we weren’t supposed to leave the locker room (laughs). I even bumped into Justin James and his wife and they were super cool, and it seems like it happened five minutes ago.”

Guida pauses to soak it all in, and then it’s back to business, because there’s no time for reminiscing in a fast-moving sport like this. And business for “The Carpenter” is beating Benson Henderson and making his case for a shot at Frankie Edgar’s lightweight title. It’s a moment he’s been waiting for.

“To me, number one right now is taking Ben Henderson out in a big way,” he said. “That way I can persuade the UFC with no question. Hopefully finishing him will make a clear statement that I made waves in the house and that if the UFC wants to see the most exciting lightweight title fight, Clay Guida has to be part of it.”