As we get closer to The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) Season 9 Finale this Saturday (June 20), Clay Guida couldn't be more amped. That's because he sees the event as his chance to silence a lot of critics and cement his position on top of the UFC lightweight division's contender list.
It's a crowded list of fighters gunning for the lightweight strap, which has been held by one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, BJ Penn, since he claimed it back in January 2008. And while current number one contender Kenny Florian has certainly earned the next title shot to be held at UFC 101 in August, there's a host of young and hungry competitors vying for the next top spot, including Diego Sanchez, Gray Maynard, Frankie Edgar and Tyson Griffin.
For Sanchez's part, he feels he is the next deserving contender and has stated that the UFC informed him of potential title shot implications, should he beat Guida in convincing fashion. So where's the love for Guida?
He holds a win over reigning Strikeforce lightweight champion Josh "The Punk" Thomson, as well as UFC victories over TUF 5 winner Nate Diaz, TUF 6 winner Mac Danzig and Marcus Aurelio, among others. He also narrowly lost a split decision to Tyson Griffin (a fight that many think should have gone the other way), and he gave Roger Huerta all he could handle, winning the first two rounds of their fight, before "El Matador" caught Guida with a knee and eventually submitted him.
A win over "Nightmare" actually does more for "The Carpenter" than it does for Sanchez, as it would give Guida three consecutive victories over three TUF winners ... the poster-boys for the UFC.
We caught up with Guida this week to ask him about his own personal road to a potential title shot, his latest win over the talented Nate Diaz and what he has in store for that other TUF winner, Diego Sanchez. One thing is for sure, this is the most determined "Carpenter" we've ever seen.
Take a look.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): It's my understanding that the UFC offered you $10,000 to cut your hair so that your likeness could be included in the "UFC 2009: Undisputed" video game, which encountered some clipping issues when trying to make your hair look realistic. You declined, saying that your hair is part of your "trademark." Are you aware that your hair grows back?
Clay Guida: Yeah, yeah, well first of all, let me clarify. The UFC did not offer me (money), Dana White offered me $10,000 just for me to cut my hair as a joke. It had nothing to do with the video game at all. So to clarify that, THQ did not offer me money. Dana White offered me money, and there were no attachments that said "so you'll be in the video game."
I went out there ... THQ snubbed me from the game because they supposedly did not have the technology to perfect my hair. What they did was ... they didn't call, didn't email, didn't contact myself or my manager. And that's that, so we're over that one.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Were you a little disappointed not to be included in the game?
Clay Guida: Ah, it's every kid's dream, man, to be in a game (especially) when you're one of the top lightweights in the world. But it's all good. More fire for this weekend.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): You've recently beaten Mac Danzig, followed by Nate Diaz, and are now slated to face Diego Sanchez. That's three TUF winners in a row. Should Forrest Griffin be worried?
Clay Guida: (Laughs) Well, Forrest is a buddy of mine, and I'd have to fight that guy on a ladder if it were ever going to happen.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Let's start with Diaz. He's a good five inches taller than you, so he's got a mean reach advantage. Plus he's a wizard on the ground. Going into the fight - and with all due respect to you - I figured he had the edge both on the feet and on the ground. That said, you had the clear cut advantage in the wrestling department and were crafty enough to keep the fight exactly where you needed to in order to control it.
Can you talk a bit about your strategy going into the fight and how you were able to control where the fight went?
Clay Guida: Yeah, we had a lot of southpaw, lanky strikers that came out, with pinpoint striking, just like Nate did. I felt okay on the feet, but I felt a lot more comfortable on the ground, where I actually thought I would be a little more threatened on the ground with his jiu-jitsu - because of his length, he's very dangerous off his back.
But once we got the takedown and kept him in the clinch, I was able to transition to my striking and stuff like that. I just felt the fight was won by taking his back over and over. I felt a little out of place on the feet with him after a while. He's just very lanky, and he's got real good striking on the feet.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): With Diego right around the corner, both of you guys are well-rounded and known for pushing the pace. How do you see this fight going? Although he's already had a lightweight fight, he's still fairly new to dropping to ‘55. Do you expect to be able to wear him down? Do you think his conditioning will be a factor?
Clay Guida: I can assure you, I'm going to come out on top, with the better conditioning and better game plan than him. He's cutting from 180 pounds. (Laughs) I'm six pounds away from weight right now.*
*(Note: This interview was conducted on the afternoon of Tuesday, June 16, just as Guida was preparing to board his flight to Vegas for the fight.)
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): How have you been preparing for this fight, in terms of your camp?
Clay Guida: We've been preparing for this fight for about the last four months. We actually sought out this fight in preparations for a title shot in ‘09, but one step at a time. Diego, I think, is going to set us up for our best performance yet, Saturday night.
We've got a lot of big, good jiu-jitsu guys, good southpaw strikers, unorthodox. He's got that old, like, Sullivan-style boxing that's very robotic and kinda traditional in the old boxing ways. We've worked that into the camp.
I think I'm really going to be able to neutralize his striking. I'm not going to stand in front of him like Joe Stevenson did for 15 minutes. I'm going to be in and out, and I'm going to keep him at my range, and when I feel it's necessary to get the takedown to win the round, that's what I'm going to do.
We've fought some of the best MMA jiu-jitsu guys in the game, and we've weathered their submission attempts. Diego just got his brown belt a couple weeks ago - I respect that, I congratulate him on that, but it's not going to do anything in the cage.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): I've read some reports where he believes that he's going to be able to take you down. Do you think he's going to be able to take you down? I've seen a lot of guys have trouble doing that.
Clay Guida: I hope he tries to take me down. You want to see somebody go a 15-minute wrestling match? Good luck. That's what I do best. If you wanna wrestle back and forth with me in a fight, that's awesome, man, you're going to be tired inside of the first round. I hope he tries to take me down, ‘cause I got a couple little tricks waiting for him.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): A lot of people want to tout Diego as the next title contender at 155 pounds. Obviously you have other plans. The betting lines have him as a favorite. In that respect, it seems as if this fight was positioned as his coming-out party at lightweight. Does that give you any extra motivation? Does that get under your skin and make you want to work all the more harder?
Clay Guida: It motivates me a little bit more, but at the same time, I was just as motivated before. I wouldn't care who they had in front of me. I got nothing against Diego, but they say they're guaranteeing him a title shot if he beats me. I can tell you this: he ain't gettin' that title shot. It's that simple.
But like I said, even if it was someone who was 1-5 in the UFC that I was fighting, I'd be that much more motivated to fight them too. We perform better against top competition. That's why we asked for this fight, and that's why Joe Silva set it up. It's one of those things. We're the underdog, and I like that. I've pretty much been the underdog my whole life, and I'm always surprising people. Kinda my forte.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Were you disappointed that the UFC didn't say the winner of this fight, no matter who it is, gets that title shot, given the fact that you just beat two TUF winners?
Clay Guida: I think after I have a great display and finish Diego, I don't think they can deny me a title shot. But one thing is the UFC doesn't give away title shots. I've never had anything given to me my whole life. I'm gonna earn what's mine. That's what we've done, that's what we're going to continue to do.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): I know you have a plane to catch, so just one more. The TUF 9 Finale card also has Nate Diaz vs. Joe Stevenson. I was a little surprised when they announced this fight, just because Diaz had a lot of problems with your wrestling, and Stevenson is no slouch. What are your thoughts on that fight, Diaz vs. Stevenson?
Clay Guida: Diaz over Stevenson. I heard that they rolled in the past, and Nate I heard used to just hook him up all the time. He used to submit him a lot. I think Joe's really going to struggle with the length, ‘cause he kinda struggled with Diego's height.
I like ‘em both, I like the way they fight. Joe's back's up against the wall, and Nate needs a win here too. I'm going to have to go with the guy that I just beat. I think Nate might get him in a decision.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Well, Clay, again, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Do you want to thank any sponsors?
Clay Guida: Yes, I appreciate it. I want to thank the Chicago Carpenters Union. I want to thank Silver Star. Check out the new Clay Guida walk-out shirt at MMAStop.com. I want to thank MMA Stop Fight Management and the Midwest Training Center, Gilbert Grappling and IHP (the Institute for Human Performance). I appreciate it, guys.
I also wanna thank MMAmania for the exposure and the interview.