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Clay Guida vs. Tatsuya Kawajiri: Breaking Down UFC Fight Night 39′s Co-Headliner


(Guida’s evolution has been awe-inspiring. Just ten years ago, he was an overweight comedian with no direction in life. / Photo via Getty)

By Santino DeFranco

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing MMA fans that Clay Guida is exciting. He’s known for his energetic entrances, where he bounces up and down like a jackrabbit, lip-syncing to his walkout music, before getting slapped around by his brother prior to entering the cage. Unfortunately, the moment the bell rings that energy doesn’t equate to active, or exciting, fighting, which is a little misleading if you ask me. This Friday, April 11th, Guida takes on Japanese veteran Tatsuya Kawajiri in the UFC’s return to Abu Dhabi at UFC Fight Night 39: Nogueira vs. Nelson, and he’s going to need a lot more than an exciting entrance to escape the cage victorious against his tough foe.

Kawajiri will be making his second UFC appearance and, for some reason, is stuck once again on a Fight Pass card where his name isn’t even on the poster. (Not that he’d want to be associated with this train-wreck.) I’m assuming the promotion is paying him more than their standard entry-level pay, which begs the question, why isn’t the UFC promoting “The Crusher” heavier? Maybe a win against Guida will convince the UFC to finally introduce him to an American audience for his next fight.

To earn the victory, Kawajiri is going to have to keep Guida on the outside, where the American won’t be able to use the cage to slow down the action. The more minutes spent disengaged from any sort of grappling affair — either clinched up against the fence or on the ground — will favor the Japanese fighter. “Crusher” is going to need to circle, and spend some extra energy to fight out of the clinch and away from the cage. But in doing so, he risks overexerting himself and fatiguing those bulbous muscles attached to his small frame, which could be problematic in the later rounds as Kawajiri isn’t particularly known for having iron lungs. Although Guida doesn’t really do much with his famous cardio besides hop around and hug people very tightly, that’s not to say he isn’t capable of pushing the pace if needed — and we rarely see the man sleepy at the end of a fight.

If I knew a lick of Japanese, and was in “Crusher’s” corner before the fight and in between rounds I would tell him to use his feints and level changes to get Guida to shoot and try to time his upper-cut to Guida’s large head. Then, with a horrible accent, I would politely explain the next step: Fight hard to stay off the fence and wriggle away from the clinch at all costs. In order to conserve his energy, he should take his time after the grappling exchanges to move away from Guida, dance around the cage, and get oxygen back into his muscles so he can rinse and repeat.

As for Guida, he’s coming off of a loss to Chad Mendes, who is well on his way to another title shot in the near future, pending he doesn’t slip on a banana peel in aisle seven of Ralph’s grocery store. Guida hasn’t looked spectacular in his recent outings, but that could very well be more due to the elite level of competition he’s faced lately rather than his own performances. A loss here could really put him in line for being cut from the UFC roster based on their recent slashing of fighters, and would make him 1-4 in his last five outings. The good news: he has a winnable fight in front of him.

As mentioned earlier, the most exciting thing about a Guida fight is his entrance, but that is certainly due to his fighting style as opposed to his fighting ability. He tries to “win” fights, not finish fights. But, if he wants to see another number on the only column that counts, he better put that gas tank to use and keep the scrambles coming again and again. Guida has an underrated ground game and is great in transitions, where he regularly finds his way in top position when the dust settles, scoring him points. The problem he usually faces there is that he’s not known to take advantage of those top positions and inflict significant damage.

If he intends to beat Kawajiri, he’d better make the Japanese fighter pay whenever he finds himself on top. But taking down Kawajiri is not an easy task. If Guida is hoping to drag the fight to the mat, as I’m assuming will be his game plan — unless he plans on failing at life by trying to mimic his performance against Gray Maynard — he’s going to need to use a lot of level changes and feints to get Kawajiri off balance and guessing. If he can get Kawajiri off balance before initiating a committed takedown and scrambling incessantly after the first attempt is stuffed, he may be able to wear the Japanese fighter down and out-position him.

At the end of the day it’s going to come down to whether Kawajiri can keep enough separation to out strike Guida on the feet, or put the caveman on his back and ground and pound. Or will Guida be able to adequately move his hair in a frantic manner and pressure Kawajiri enough for the judges to be convinced he’s exciting and deserving of the win? Related question: Considering how badly things turned out in Abu Dhabi four years ago, is it wise to book a potential snore-fest for this card’s co-main event?

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