This weekend in mixed martial arts is going to be a wild ride stacked with twists and turns, the first of two events promoted by the Ultimate Fighting Championship to make its way to the airwaves takes place this Friday, the fight receiving top billing is a lightweight affair with something-of-the-night written all over it – Clay Guida vs. Gray Maynard.
Rarely in this industry do two combatants who failed to get their hands raised in their last octagon appearance garner a lot of interest, but this time it’s a little different – Both promotional mainstays lost to the two top-ranked fighters in the division.
Guida has a natural magnetism that made him a must-see entity since he first stepped foot in the famed octagon in 2006 – The Greg Jackson-trained fighter was a standout wrestler in high school, despite being one of the smallest additions to Johnsburg High and later William Rainey Harper College.
When he was 21-years-old he had his first professional fight by accident, attending a local event in Ottowa, Illinois to watch his elder brother Jason make his MMA debut they announced over the loud-speaker that were seeking a replacement fighter, he raised his hand and was choked out for it.
After getting his feet wet he became a weekend warrior, while serving as an apprentice carpenter in the next three years he would compile a 20-6 record while butting heads with several big-show veterans along his travels and capturing the Strikeforce lightweight title.
UFC commentator Joe Rogan famously said in relation to Guida that “He fights the way he looks” and it’s true. Guida at first glance looks like you’re watching Captain Caveman in fast-forward but fight fanatics couldn’t get enough of the frizzy-haired, energetic lightweight.
He lost more times than he won in his early tenure in the organization but earned ‘Fight of the night’ honors in his first three defeats, including his gutsy, hard-fought war with Tyson Griffin which still ranks in the best fights in UFC history.
Guida stated in a post-fight interview following his defeat to two-divisional title-challenger Kenny Florian that he wasn’t interested in just thrilling audiences, collecting fight bonuses and putting on great fights anymore, he also wanted to win and test his skills against the best.
He would get his hand raised four times in as many fights from there collecting two ‘Submission of the night’ bonuses forcing Shannon Gugerty and former Pride lightweight kingpin Takanori Gomi to tap, dominating Rafael dos Anjos and de-railing the Anthony Pettis hype train before he was expected to challenger for the 155-pound crown.
Last time we saw “The Carpenter” his four-fight winning streak was snapped by reigning UFC lightweight champ Benson Henderson in a thrilling title-eliminator but now he’s hungrier than ever to get back to the top of the mountain.
Maynard started out his career first and foremost a wrestler but has blossomed into a well-rounded power-puncher that can put your lights out – Gray’s father, Jan, was a two-time Ohio state wrestling champ so he had big shoes to fill from when he first stepped foot on a wrestling canvas.
Wrestling alongside future UFC light-heavyweight champion Rashad Evans he went on to be a three-time Division 1 NCAA All-American wrestler at Michigan State University winning over 100 matches.
The Ultimate Fighter has proven to be a great launching pad for aspiring cage-fighters, with only two fights under his belt he joined the series as a member of BJ Penn’s team – Maynard actually got his introduction into MMA as a sparring partner for Penn so there was a natural connection there and the world-class wrestler would be the runner-up in the series after being forced to submit from Nate Diaz’ signature guillotine choke.
Although since it took place in the Ultimate Fighter house it does not count as a blemish on his record, Maynard was determined to get that win back against the younger of the infamous Diaz brothers and would do so in 2010.
In fact, in eleven trips to the octagon he has only been defeated once at the hands of recently dethroned champion Frankie Edgar – Couple the Diaz victory with victories over Frankie Edgar, Roger Huerta and Kenny Florian and he got his chance to fight for the top prize at 155-pounds.
As noted earlier, Maynard had already defeated Edgar heading into their title fight at UFC 125 and when the first round came to a close it seemed he was going to notch a second victory over New Jersey’s favorite fighter.
Maynard leveled the champion with a series of hard-shots that floored Edgar on two separate occasions but the under-sized lightweight was able to valiantly shake off the cobwebs and go back to brawling with the powerhouse for another 20 minutes but when the fight closed, neither had done enough to win with the fight being declared a draw.
Due to the way Maynard dominated the beginning of the fight UFC figurehead Dana White couldn’t deny him a second opportunity – This time, it wouldn’t be a draw and Maynard would taste defeat for the first time officially.
It seemed that the UFC might have been replaying their New Years Eve fight on pay-per-view at first as Maynard again dominated the first round, having Edgar against the ropes but he battled back to collect a TKO stoppage and retain his crown.
Now, the winningest lightweight in the history of the UFC wants to get be the king of the mountain and have the ultimate prize for his spoils of war, a UFC title – Unfortunately for him, that’s also what Guida has in mind.
When these two hard-fighting warriors step foot inside the octagon in Revel Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey anything could happen when this one starts out as a fire fight – While Maynard is considered a hard-hitter because of the way he handled Edgar early on in their fights he hasn’t actually knocked out an opponent since Joe Veres in 2007.
Maynard was linked with Xtreme Couture for most of his career and has blossomed into a well-versed boxer with great power but according to Fight Metric he only lands 33% of his strikes, this could be a real issue if he can’t get his hands on Guida.
Guida also isn’t a real menacing puncher in the division having only notched one knockout in the UFC but he relies on his high-tempo, frenetic pace to get in and out and land offence on his opponents and he has a great chin that’s been tested by some of the best in the game taking away Maynards ability to land one big power-punch to put his lights out.
Guida has shown in recent times that he is focusing more on using his wrestling base than relying on a jaw-breaking hockey brawl and has used it to take care of Anthony Pettis and Takanori Gomi in his past two victories but Maynard is a higher level of wrestler than he has ever dealt with.
Maynard is dubbed “The Bully” for a reason; he has incredible power as he’s able to rag-doll opponents around the fighting circle – Wrestling is his bread-and-butter as he can bully his opponents against the cage or force them to the floor with a powerful double-leg.
If he can get the Albuquerque resident on the mat it opens up a whole new world of possibilities since Maynard is a top-heavy ground-and-pound specialist while Guida possesses an incredibly active guard with 3 of his last 5 wins by submission and 15 opponents forced to tap overall.
Guida’s camp begged the UFC to make this fight over 25-minutes and they have got their wish in their main event affair which obviously works in his favor, but only slightly.
While Guida is an energizer bunny with the ability to go and go and go he also hasn’t been 25 minutes inside the UFC, not since his two title fights in Strikeforce against Josh Thompson and Gilbert Melendez in 2006 has he entered the championship rounds.
Maynard has the edge of having his last two fights be slated for five-rounds, even though the second fight didn’t make round 5 – That being said, Maynard expended a lot of energy in both fights early which allowed Edgar to get back in the fight, if he does similar against Guida it could be a long night.
Both men find themselves sitting in familiar situations heading into their major lightweight fight, both have been on the losing end of the last octagon appearances and proving their worth at the top of the hill.
After 22 fighters have left it all in the UFC’s eight-sided cage it will be time for these two to settle the score, one thing’s for sure, whoever gets their hand raised will make a major statement to the top of the division.