(Photo via Esther Lin/MMAFighting.com)
Before Clay Guida was a UFC star, appearing on television screens all across the world, he fought constantly in the U.S. Midwestern regional circuit. Often, he fought multiple times per month. He was a lightweight and the UFC didn’t even have a lightweight division at the time, to say nothing of the three divisions below it that they have since added. Clay fought in halls, bars — anywhere there was a tough guy and a crowd, really. His locker rooms were sometimes bathrooms and closets.
It was small-time, but the energy in those halls and bars would spike when Guida came out to fight. He was a spastic ball of energy from his walk to the cage and on through the fights themselves, and Clay built a fan-base in the area that raucously cheered for him and rabidly followed him.
On local MMA shows, fighters get paid very little, if anything, to fight. Promoters use the fighters to sell tickets, however, and then give a small percentage of the sales back to the fighters. Matchmaking at this level often takes who can sell tickets into heavy consideration. Clay sold a lot of tickets. And he didn’t exactly have a personal assistant or PR team to help him handle the transactions. Back in the day, Clay would hock tickets while training for fights, weigh in, show up on fight night, and then combine warming up with getting tickets to those of his friends and family that needed them.
Since joining the UFC in 2006, Clay has moved beyond fighting in smoky suburban Chicago rooms, but his fans often follow him around the country and world for his fights. If it wasn’t for the amount of work he puts in at the gym that reveals how serious he takes his job, you’d think life is just one big party for Guida. He enjoys having loved ones around him, and the more people that come out to support him, the better, because it makes the celebration afterwards that much more fun.
That said, all the attention and work that goes along with taking care of friends and fans can take a toll on a fighter and affect their energy and focus. There’s always another request for the fighter to fulfill as he prepares for battle, always another favor for him to do. As best as can be observed, Guida does all that he can with a smile on his face. He knew, however, that if he held his training camp back home because he was scheduled to fight in Chicago this Saturday at UFC on Fox 6, it would be a mess. Instead, Guida chose to stay in New Mexico and keep his camp there at Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn’s gym as he has the past few years.
“That’s why we’re out here in New Mexico,” Guida told CagePotato last week. “We’ve really got to focus. I love everyone back home and we’re going to have a great time there during the fight, but training camp needs to be just about preparing.”