By Elias Cepeda
Whether or not he’ll admit it, Clay Guida hates being an underdog. It isn’t that the featherweight doesn’t enjoy proving people wrong – he does.
It’s the underestimation that bothers him. Most of his UFC wins have come over opponents who were favored over him before he broke them down and beat them. Even before his UFC career began back in 2006, Guida’s opponents were regularly favored over him.
The assumption that he is an “over-achiever” that has to defy our low expectations just to win smacks Guida like a backhanded compliment time and time again. He’s too polite to get visibly angry when the term has been brought up but in the past, but he’s made it clear to this writer that he doesn’t think of himself in that way. After about a decade of “over-achieving,” Clay would prefer if we simply started referring to him as the elite MMA fighter he truly is. On Saturday, Guida will once again be considered the underdog when he fights former featherweight title challenger Chad Mendes.
Like Guida, Mendes is a wrestler, but he is a more decorated amateur one. Like Guida, Mendes is happy to go wild and throw strikes on the feet, but the Californian has been putting people out with his shots. Both men are obviously in the same weight class, but Mendes would appear to be the more physically imposing, stronger fighter.
Mendes’ only career loss was a shocking one to division champion Jose Aldo. Since that fight, Mendes has won three straight fights by knockout. At some point, in some way, every successful fighter must be a giant in his or her own mind. And in his mind, Guida is the clear favorite in his UFC 164 match up with Mendes.
“Chad is a great wrestler,” Clay admits to me one afternoon a month ago from his New Mexico training camp.
“But we are going to show him what Midwest wrestling is all about. It is a whole different beast. It is just scraping, driving non-stop, relentless and winning scrambles.”
As for Mendes’ new found punching power and impressive streak of recent knockouts? Guida gives credit to Chad, whom he counts as a friend, but isn’t as impressed with Mendes’ recent opponents.
“Lately he has shown power but we are going to show him what it is like to fight a top fighter,” the Team Jackson/Winkeljohn stable member says.
Toughness. Toughness to grit out tiring scrambles on the mat, toughness to withstand shots on the feet and the toughness to stand up and fight effectively against the best – the Gray Maynards, Benson Hendersons and Nate Diazs of the world.
When it comes down to it, Guida’s confidence always seems to stem directly from the idea that he is simply tougher than his opponent and gone through tougher tests. That he was tougher in the training room, went to lengths that his opponent would not and so that, even though on paper his foe might hold multiple advantages, come game time, “The Carpenter” will out work and beat him.
Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said that “Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential.” There’s little doubt that Guida would agree with the Bulldog there.
Pundits are always talking about the talents of his opponents and Guida’s workman-like effort, as if a commitment to the latter couldn’t be an example of the former. Guida will fight in what will likely essentially be a hometown crowd in Milwaukee this Saturday at UFC 164, which has only motivated him all the more.
The leader of the “Guida Mafia” says he can’t wait to fight in front of his friends and family as he did last January in Chicago’s United Center. In his mind, Guida is the heavy favorite over Mendes and he’s sure to put forward a winning effort for his fans.
“I can’t wait. This is a great opportunity for me to climb the ladder. That’s the only reason I’m here – to win the featherweight championship,” he says.
The ability to push oneself mentally and physically, the ability to outwork everyone in the gym and cage, is a talent to Clay Guida. When it comes down to it, it is the only talent that he respects.
So, despite being a perpetual underdog to the rest of the world, in his mind, Guida is the most talented fighter in the world. And with talent like that, it is little wonder that he believes he’ll eventually become the best fighter in his division.