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Sanchez-Guida: Fasten Your Seatbelts!

Michael DiSanto, UFC - Styles make fights—period.

I’ve written those words dozens of times on this website—so much so that more than one reader is undoubtedly tired of reading them. Nonetheless, there so few truisms in professional mixed martial arts that one must give the proper deference to the one undeniable statement of fact that dominates each and every fight card.

By Michael DiSanto

Styles make fights—period.

I’ve written those words dozens of times on this website—so much so that more than one reader is undoubtedly tired of reading them. Nonetheless, there so few truisms in professional mixed martial arts that one must give the proper deference to the one undeniable statement of fact that dominates each and every fight card.

Putting on exciting fights is all about matchmaking. It’s an art, much like pairing food and wine. The components don’t necessarily need to be great on their own because the marriage of the sum of the pair is always, if matched correctly, better than the individual parts because they work harmoniously to magnify each other’s strengths, while often masking any shortcomings.

For example, barring some quick knockout, it was easy to predict that Sam Stout and Spencer Fisher would engage in a war for the ages. Their styles matched up perfectly. Stout was yin to Fisher’s yang. Both men strongly prefer to stand and bang it out, eschewing takedowns and transition jiu-jitsu in favor of fighting in a phone booth. Both have granite chins, thus neither shies away from eating a shot in order to deliver one in kind. And, most importantly, neither man has truly devastating knockout power. Thus, everything about the matchup screamed long, drawn-out slugfest.

In other words, Stout is perfectly grilled chingale steak (or succulent osso bucco) and Fisher is a 2001 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva. If you don’t like Italian, then Stout is a dry aged, prime cut rib eye and Fisher is a 1999 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (or a 1961 Chateau Latour Pauillac, if life has no price tags).

Aside from my addiction to the pain business, I’m consumed both by food and wine, so I can go on for days. But I digress.

The same can be said for Georges St-Pierre versus Jon Fitch, Marcus Davis versus Chris Lytle, Randy Couture versus Pedro Rizzo, the rematch between Matt Hughes and Frank Trigg, and the highly anticipated bout between Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva, among others. The annals of UFC history are replete with timeless wars between perfectly matched fighters. Yet, those same individual combatants don’t necessarily go out and put on “Fight of the Year” caliber fights each time they step into the Octagon. Instead, the pairs relied on each other bring out the very best fighting spirit from their souls.

The main event of ninth finale of The Ultimate Fighter features a bout that could very well be the next timeless UFC fight. Diego Sanchez versus Clay Guida is compelling on so many levels that it is difficult to figure out where to start breaking down each man’s chance of success.

Love him or hate him, Sanchez lurks somewhere among the top contenders for BJ Penn’s lightweight title; Guida is just now starting to breakthrough at 155 after scoring consecutive wins over former TUF winners Nate Diaz and Mac Danzig in his two most recent bouts.

And while this fight is surrounded on the calendar by marquee matchups such as Rich Franklin versus Wanderlei Silva, Brock Lesnar versus Frank Mir, Dan Henderson versus Michael Bisping and Georges St-Pierre versus Thiago Alves, Sanchez-Guida has a very real opportunity to outshine each of those fights in terms of non-stop, back-and-forth action.

Sanchez’s style is best summed up with one simple word—bully. On the feet, Sanchez has stiff, unorthodox strikes. But like his punches on the ground, they are laced with bad intentions. He is looking for a knockout at all times and has enough power to score dramatic, single-strike stoppages if his shots find pay dirt. With that said, Sanchez knows that he isn’t going to win kickboxing matches with the division’s top strikers, so he wisely uses his punches and kicks just enough to get the fight to the ground, where he undoubtedly possesses the scariest ground-and-pound game in the lightweight division.

Unlike guys who throw arm punches on the ground with their head buried in their opponent’s chest, Sanchez postures up and throws his punches and elbows with bad intentions. His goal isn’t to convince the referee to pull him off an opponent; it is to cause as much damage as physically possible with each and every strike. He wants to beat up opponents, not just beat them. It is the bully mentality.

Of course, bullies often struggle when they cannot impose their will on their opponent, and Sanchez is no different. His two career losses both came against better wrestlers who he could not take down. Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch were both physically stronger and much better wrestlers than the former Greg Jackson student, so they both dictated the action to Sanchez. Kos forced him into a kickboxing match and Sanchez simply had no answers for the far superior standup fighter. Fitch mixed up punches on the feet with good takedowns, leaving Sanchez to play the guard game, which is a tough road to hoe against a guy with Fitch’s elite submission defense.

Guida is not all that different from Sanchez in terms of style. He too needs to come forward in brawling fashion to be effective. He throws crazy punches on the feet, Tasmanian Devil-style. That isn’t to say that he wants to engage Sanchez or anyone else in a pure kickboxing match. Guida throws just enough shots to close the distance and then it is all about the takedown and controlled, annoying ground and pound. I describe it as annoying not because it irks the crowd, but rather because it truly drives his opponent crazy.

Guida doesn’t have the same power in his strikes as Sanchez, whether on the ground or on the feet. Thus, his whirling-dervish style is designed to accumulate damage from dozens of shots, rather than maximizing the impact of any single one. It is an extremely effective approach because the constant flow of conservative punches and elbows allows Guida to remain focused on hip control and balance, thereby minimizing the risk that his opponent will escape the position.

Not surprisingly, Guida often struggles when he cannot take down an opponent. His crazed caveman attacks on the feet thrill the crowd and the judges, but he knows that he is not the best striker in the game. He has a very good set of whiskers, but he lacks the sort of power in his strikes to cause even the slightest semblance of fear in a guy like Sanchez.

The difference between the two, aside from the commitment to power shots, is that Sanchez has superior Brazilian Jiu Jitsu from his back and is among the best in the division during transitions. Guida is not an effective fighter from his guard. He is very good at using transitions to improve his position, but not like Sanchez.

So, what will happen once the action gets underway?

Sanchez will come out like he does in every fight looking to throw big shots on the feet. Guida will oblige his opponent and fire back with wild shots. Exchanges are bound to occur early and often.

Few fighters can thrill the crowd with elementary striking like Guida. He has no problem throwing caution to the wind and attacking furiously with his long locks flying around like a crazed homeless man. He is willing to take a shot in order to deliver one. Fans love that approach to fighting. Sanchez will embrace it because he knows that his arsenal contains both more powerful and technically superior strikes. Guida doesn’t care. He will attack anyway. Sanchez may land the bigger shots, but Guida will land more often.

Guida’s superior physical strength and non-stop commitment to takedowns should carry the wrestling day early in the fight. But that won’t last for long because as good as he is at controlling the action from the top position, Sanchez is equally good at fighting from his guard and scrambling back to his feet. Guida’s takedowns, therefore, will often result in quick transitions leading to near submissions by Sanchez before the pair end up back on their feet throwing crazy bombs throwing crazy bombs.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Sanchez is the better fighter. But nobody gets more out of his skills than Guida. Sanchez is the rightful favorite. But Guida has made a career out of scoring upsets over seemingly superior opponents. Both men are excellent wrestlers, so the action should evolve into an old fashioned gun fight, OK Corral-style, which makes it a complete toss up, in my opinion.

If any fight in 2009 has all of the necessary ingredients for greatness, it’s this one. In fact, I’m calling it now. Barring a quick knockout or submission, which is possible anytime two men step into the Octagon, this fight will be a finalist for my good friend Thomas Gerbasi’s “Highly Unofficial” Fight of the Year award come January 2010.

Who is going to win? Honestly, who cares who wins the fight? The true winners on Saturday night will be the fans because this one is going to be a barnburner from start to finish.