LAS VEGAS — Clay Guida stretched out on the couch in his hotel room Thursday, killing time until he had to begin his weight cut for his bout on Saturday at Apex against Claudio Puelles.
He looked out the window and could see the Mandalay Bay Events Center where, on the October night in 2006 Anderson Silva violently took the UFC middleweight title from Rich Franklin, he’d made his UFC debut against Justin James.
More than 16 years later, he’s still at it and while he didn’t return to Las Vegas for a nostalgia tour, it’s kind of turned out that way.
He’s fighting for the first time since he turned 40 on Dec. 8, facing Puelles at the co-main event of UFC Vegas 52. But few wanted to talk about the Puelles bout and how they matched up.
Rather, it was a time for celebration of a magnificent and badly underappreciated career.
Guida is 17-15 in 32 UFC fights, 37-21 overall. He’s already in the UFC’s Hall of Fame, his memorable 2009 battle with Diego Sanchez inducted into its fight wing even though that’s not the first fight he always thinks about.
His 32 boots in the UFC are the sixth-most all time, his control time of 2:25:20 is third-most of all time and his control time of 1:55:26 at lightweight is the most in division history. He’s got the fifth-most takedowns in UFC history with 72 and his 59th takedowns at lightweight are the second-most in that division’s history.
He’s also won six Fight of the Night bonuses, not far off the UFC record of eight.
Guida, though, is far more about what’s inside of him than any statistics on a computer screen. He’s the guy with the wild mop of hair, always bouncing, always moving, never able to burn off the excess energy.
That isn’t just when the cameras are on. Guida competes like he’s been given five shots of adrenaline before every practice and training sessions, not just in fights.
“It’s a question I get from coaches, teammates, other fighters I run into all the time,” Guida told Yahoo Sports. They’ll be, ‘Hey Guida, how do you keep doing this? How does your body feel?’ It’s funny to me when I hear that. Maybe we’ve found the Fountain of Youth. I say this time and time again, but I’m in better shape physically, mentally, endurance-wise than I was when I was at 21, or even when I was 25.
“Twenty-five, I’d just gotten to the UFC. I had 25 fights, pro fights, under my belt then and yes, I was in shape. But we were fighting so often. I think I fought 10 times in 2005. Now, we have all of these things at our fingertips, thinks like the different recovery tactics. There is so much of it and it’s changed the game for someone like me.”
He’s been one of the UFC’s most beloved fighters since he debuted because of his frenetic, never-say-die style. Even when it didn’t benefit him, in fights when he’d have been better off playing it safe and trying to kill the clock, Guida was pushing the pace.
Multiple times in a short interview he referred to being able to fight in the UFC as a privilege. He said he’s never forgotten it and geeks out like a fan when he sees big-name fighters like Forrest Griffin, the UFC Hall of Famer who now runs the UFC Performance Institute.
He’s aware of what the sport has morphed into. When he began, the UFC was still tens of millions of dollars in debt and there was no guarantee it would be around in five years, let alone be a multi-billion-dollar company.
“It comes down to our love of competition and the love of wrestling,” Guida said. “We’re built for the long haul because of wrestling, and it’s given us that longevity in the sport. The adrenaline rush I get and excitement I feel to go out there week in and week out, it gets me out of bed in the morning. I get to do what I love. I get to compete, and whether it’s a small crowd, a minimal crowd like there’s going to be at the Apex, or a huge one, it doesn’t matter. I know there are millions of people behind those cameras pointed at us.
“There are millions of people around the world who have learned to love this sport and there are millions of them training all around the world because of what the UFC has done with their production, the viewership they’ve created and what has been built. What Dana White has been able to accomplish with his roster of fighters and reach so many people in so many countries and cultures, that’s what does it for me and keeps me so motivated to do this.”
This is a guy who has never had a problem, never complained about salary or contract or anything. He’s been ready to fight and he’s competed as hard as anyone in the cage.
He was a little more than a year into his UFC career when he fought the fight that he thinks of the most. He met Roger Huerta on Dec. 8, 2007, at The Pearl at the Palms in Las Vegas. It was, of course, Fight of the Night. That’s what Guida does: He produces what White calls those “Oh s***!” moments on a regular basis.
He got submitted in the third round of that fight and it still gnaws at him.
“That was our first main event and there was so much hype around Roger then, it was almost like he was becoming the face of the UFC,” Guida said. “He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He had a ton of hype behind him, he was beating some guys in great fights. They were great performances, super-entertaining and always action-packed. We were asked to fight him in the main event and of course, that’s one you take.
“I had a great couple of rounds and I probably could have sat in the corner in the third and won the fight. But that’s never me. That’s never been me. I’m going to empty the tank all the time no matter what. I went to shoot and I got caught with a knee. He clipped me and finished me. If I had better fight IQ or fought more conservatively, maybe I would have won. Who knows? But you know what? People loved that fight. It entertained millions of people and they still talk about it. And I’m always going to be that way and fight with every drop of whatever is left in me until I can’t go any more.”