After winning three straight fights in the Octagon over the last year and a half, Clay Guida has the biggest fight of his career ahead of him on Saturday night against Diego Sanchez at the Ultimate Fighter Finale — a fight that Guida says will earn him a shot at the UFC lightweight title.
In an interview with FanHouse, Guida said he thinks he’s at the top of his game heading into the fight with Sanchez, and that he expects to beat Sanchez and earn a shot at the winner of the August title fight between BJ Penn and Kenny Florian. The full interview is below.
Michael David Smith: You’re on a three-fight winning streak. If you win your fourth, where do you think that puts you in the UFC lightweight division?
Clay Guida: After I win my fourth in a row against Diego Sanchez — and that will be my third straight win against a former Ultimate Fighter champion — I think I deserve a title shot. But in the UFC, that’s a privilege. In the UFC, they don’t just give away title shots. You have to earn it. If you look at my fights in the UFC, I’ve had a couple close decisions, a lot of exciting fights, and I think this will really put me on the map as the No. 1 contender, once I run through Diego.
When you look at Diego, what do you see as his strengths and weaknesses as an opponent?
His work ethic is definitely his strength. I think he’s got some holes, just like everyone does — I have holes in my game and I work on them every day. I think his stand-up is a little overrated. He’s got kind of that old-school stance for a southpaw, and I think he looks kind of robotic with his stand-up. He comes out with that right leg lead and everything is 1-2 and 1-2-3, like the old-school boxing style. I think he telegraphs a lot of his kicks. His ground game is getting better and I think he’s developing every day, but I’d have to say his heart and his tenacity in the cage, pushing the pace, is his strength.
How much do you tailor a specific game plan for a specific opponent?
Each fighter is different. Diego comes out southpaw but I wouldn’t be surprised if he switches it up during the fight once he sees that I adapt to southpaws very well. He might come out orthodox and try to come at me like a traditional striker, which would be fine, too. I’ve been training against, big strong southpaws in my gym ever since I fought Nate Diaz at UFC 94 because Diaz is a tall, lanky southpaw as well. I think three of my last four fights have been against southpaws, so it was a very easy transition for me. I go into every fight preparing like I need to step up my intensity level and improve, and go into every fight like it could be my last fight.
I think from watching you, you seem like you’ve improved quite a bit over the last year or so. You’re on a three-fight winning streak, and you look to me like you’re becoming a more complete fighter. Do you think you’ve improved, and if so what have you done to improve?
I definitely feel my fight has improved, ever since the Roger Huerta fight (a third-round submission loss in 2007). That was kind of a turning point in my career. I grew up as a fighter after that. We were standing toe-to-toe, and in the third round I kind of started to brawl, and when I shot in I got caught with a knee. But after that I kind of turned a corner in my training, and I learned not to be so careless. I learned to be a poised, patient fighter while at the same time keeping a fast pace. I want to fight with intensity and press the action but at the same time not fight with reckless abandon. The people I train with have helped me become that kind of fighter.
Who have you been training with?
I train with Midwest Training Center in Schaumberg, Illinois, and I train at Gilbert Grappling, and I do my strength and conditioning at the Institute for Human Performance in Deerfield. The way I look at it is I’m basically getting paid to train. It’s the most unique thing I could be doing in my life right now.
Have you ever thought you needed to go to one of the big-name MMA gyms, like American Top Team, or Greg Jackson’s gym, or Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas?
I’ve spent some time at those places. I’ve spent some time at American Top Team, working with guys like Mike Brown and JZ Calvan. I popped my head into Greg Jackson’s gym for a couple days. He’s one of the best around. And I’ve been to Couture’s. I’m always looking to change things up and get different looks. We have a very tight-knit gym where I am right now, and that’s my home, but it’s also been nice to see other gyms, and everyone’s been very, very welcoming. That’s one of the great things about the MMA community, is everyone is welcoming, and there’s usually a smile on everyone’s face, everywhere you turn. But I’ve got a lot of support right here, both from my gym and from the Chicago carpenters’ union, Silver Star and MMA Stop.
Tell me what happened with UFC 2009 Undisputed. There were rumors that you turned down the opportunity to be in it because you didn’t want to get your hair cut. Is that true?
No. Not at all. Dana White did ask me once if I wanted to cut my hair, and I said, “No, my hair is my trademark,” but that had nothing to do with the video game. Evidently THQ could not perfect my hair so they left me out of the video game, but they didn’t call me or e-mail me or communicate with me. I would have told me they could shave my hair off or put my hair back in a ponytail, because being in a video game is every kid’s dream. They called me afterward because Dana White was upset that I wasn’t going to be in the game, but they should have just called me in the first place. But there are no hard feelings.
Do you think you’ll be in next year’s game? Would you cut your hair if you had to?
I think with technology there should be no reason I’d have to get a haircut. But after Dana White was upset that I wasn’t going to be in the game, THQ was apologetic. But I use these things to make me a little more motivated and bring a little extra intensity into my fights.
You sound like you’re a very motivated person all around.
Yeah, I am.
Do you think you’re at the top of your game now and the best you’ve ever been?
Yeah, I’m 27 and I think a man doesn’t really hit his prime until he’s in his 30s. You look at guys like Chuck Liddell, knocking people out into his 30s, and Randy Couture was champion into his 40s. At this point I think I’m at a very high level and I perform when it counts in the cage. I think I’m at a very good point in my career. All I’m thinking about is Diego Sanchez and, after that, my title shot.
By Michael David Smith