Two of the top UFC lightweights will duke it out for 25 minutes tomorrow night (June 22, 2012) as former two-time title challenger Gray Maynard takes on fan-favorite Clay Guida in the main event of UFC on FX 4 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Gray Maynard had a wild and crazy 2011, nearly knocking out then-champion Frankie Edgar twice but failing to score the finish in a pair of championship bouts. The first went to a draw and in the second, Edgar bounced back and finished "The Bully" in the fourth. Maynard has been on ice since October and he's raring to get back firmly in the mix.
Clay Guida is always in the fringe top 10 of the UFC's lightweight division. "The Carpenter" was nearing title contention after a huge victory over Anthony Pettis but he would be dominated by current champion Ben Henderson in the final preliminary bout of the first ever UFC on Fox show. A victory over someone as impressive as Maynard could get him right back in the thick of the division.
Will Maynard score his first win in nearly two years? Will Guida's frenetic pace be too much for "The Bully" to match? What's the key to victory for both men tomorrow night?
Let's find out:Gray Maynard
Record: 10-1-1 (1 No Contest) overall, 8-1-1 (1 No Contest) in the UFC
Key Losses: Frankie Edgar (UFC 136)
How he got here: Gray Maynard was a successful wrestler at Michigan State, and chanced upon mixed martial arts when he was asked to be a sparring partner for B.J. Penn. He sought out Randy Couture in Las Vegas and the rest is history. Maynard joined the cast of the fifth season of the Ultimate Fighter after just two pro fights and his inexperience caught up with him when he was submitted by Nate Diaz to eliminate him from the competition.
He made his debut in the UFC on the show's finale, knocking himself and Rob Emerson out with a slam to earn a No Contest. He took his frustration out on Joe Veras in his next fight, destroying him in just 9 seconds with a TKO.
After the Veras fight, "The Bully" won seven straight decisions in the UFC, scoring notable victories over Dennis Siver, Frankie Edgar, Jim Miller, Nate Diaz and lastly Kenny Florian to become the number one contender for the title. In his rematch with Edgar, he had him on the ropes but couldn't put him away and ended up with a split draw.
He battled Edgar in the trilogy fight last October, and after dominating early, he was clipped and finished decisively in the fourth. "The Bully" is on the comeback trail now and is hoping to make an example of Guida tomorrow night.
How he gets it done: Maynard doesn't have a speed advantage against Guida but he does have a power advantage and a big strength and size advantage. He has to play to his strengths if he wants to be victorious, and that means looking to hurt Guida and physically dominate him when he gets the chance.
Guida flies around the cage, so Maynard needs to be prepared to catch him coming in. I think his uppercut in particular could be extremely effective as Guida tends to lean forward and duck down a bit..
If Maynard can utilize his footwork to maneuver "The Carpenter" near the fence, he can cut off escape angles and pin him there to either do damage in the clinch or wear him down with takedown attempts. Guida will be a lot easier to hit when he's standing still or trapped.
Lastly, while he can clip Guida and hurt him, Maynard needs to be careful not to try to load up for the knockout with every strike. That gasses out his arms and it also makes knocking the Greg Jackson-trained fighter out that much more difficult. He's got to pace himself and if he doesn't try to hard, he's the more powerful, more technical, better wrestler and he should at least win a decision if he doesn't fade.
Record: 29-12 overall, 9-6 in the UFC
Key Wins: Anthony Pettis (Ultimate Finale 13), Nate Diaz (UFC 94), Rafael dos Anjos (UFC 117)
How he got here: Clay Guida, believe it or not, was once the Strikeforce lightweight champion. He defeated Josh Thomson for the title before losing the strap via split decision to current champ Gilbert Melendez. After a WEC fight, Guida made his way to the UFC where he fought a high energy and fan-friendly style that created incredible fights but also put him in situations to lose often.
"The Carpenter's" UFC record had dropped to 5-5 after a tough submission loss to perennial contender Kenny Florian and he needed to change.
Guida stepped up his training with Greg Jackson and put a focus on his offensive wrestling, footwork, head movement and submissions. The results have been amazing. The Chicago native scored three consecutive submissions against impressive foes like Takanori Gomi and Rafael dos Anjos.
In his last bout with Gomi, he perplexed the Japanese slugger with some of the most ridiculous and frenetic head movement of all time, eventually mixing in takedowns to put away "The Fireball Kid" with a guillotine choke. With the victory, Guida once again entered contender status and he solidified his claim as one of the promotion's best 155 pounders when he ground out an easy unanimous decision over the WEC champion and number one UFC lightweight contender, Anthony Pettis earlier this summer.
He accepted about against another former WEC lightweight champion, Ben Henderson and was beaten from pillar to post for three rounds in an extremely entertaining bout.
Now, after a long layoff, he'll be taking on an equally dangerous opponent in Maynard, this time on the biggest stage of his young career.
How he gets it done: Clay Guida has the best gas tank in the lightweight division and he'll need to utilize it as best he can if he wants to secure a victory on Saturday night against Maynard. He'll need to constantly be moving, trying to confuse his opponent in the stand-up like he did against Gomi and hopefully that will leave openings for him to land his punches.
Guida doesn't have one-punch knockout power, but if he can create the correct type of openings, he can definitely do damage. Who can forget his brutal uppercut to Roger Huerta, or when he broke Rafael dos Anjos' jaw with a nasty hook? Guida needs to harness his frenetic energy and go full speed for the entire 25 minutes. He's capable of pushing a pace that Maynard likely won't be able to keep up with.
If he can wear "The Bully" down, that will open up opportunities for takedowns later in the fight. I don't believe Guida is a strong enough wrestler to put Maynard on his back early, but he definitely could do it as the fight wears on. Conditioning kills at times and Maynard has slowed down at the end of his five round fights before.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight has to be the fact that it is five five-minute rounds. Yes, Maynard has fought in back to back fights that went into the championship rounds, but he's slowed down considerably in those bouts. Five round fights were created for fighters like Clay Guida. If he can push a tremendous pace and make Maynard work extra hard over the course of the fight, he might be able to take over as the bout wears on.
Bottom Line: Clay Guida always bring it. When he can't score takedowns and smother his opponents, he tends to have "Fight of the Year" candidates. I see that happening in this fight, especially in the opening few rounds. The firs three rounds of this fight in particular have potential to be incredibly entertaining. Maynard has power, love to bang on the feet and Guida will likely be forced to oblige him. This should be a terrific and fast-moving barnburner.
Who will come out on top at UFC on FX 4? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!