(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.”
That Guida told us this while sitting in a desert, adds credibility to the idea that he’s committed to doing whatever it takes to become a champion. So is the drop in weight that he’s attempting for his fight against Hatsu Hioki on Saturday.
Guida has campaigned at 155 pounds for his entire career, despite being one of the smallest in the division. Coming off of two close decision losses to Gray Maynard and Benson Henderson — as good as it gets in the world at lightweight — Guida decided to lose ten pounds and try featherweight on for size.
“We want to see how it goes at 145,” Guida said.
The fighter seems to have a similar attitude as that of former lightweight champ Frankie Edgar when it comes to dropping down to featherweight. Edgar and Guida both walked around just a few pounds over the lightweight limit, while fighters like Maynard and Henderson reportedly push 190 pounds in between fights.
For years, everyone in the world but Edgar thought he should at least move down to featherweight, to get the chance to compete against men more his own size. “The Answer” didn’t like the idea, considering featherweight a demotion of sorts, before ultimately accepting a title fight against 145 pound champ Jose Aldo.
“I definitely see where Frankie was coming from” Guida sympathized. “He is one of the very best in the world at lightweight. People told him to drop down because he was small but why should he, if he’s doing so well at 155?”
Guida had to be convinced, and perhaps still needs to be, that featherweight was a better weight for him. His loss to Henderson was close, and the split-decision loss to Maynard was even narrower, so no one can blame “The Carpenter” for thinking he can still do good work at 155 pounds. Nevertheless, Guida is on a two-fight losing streak and might have a long time to go before getting rematches with the likes of Bendo and Maynard. So, he chose to diet and test the featherweight waters.
As a lightweight Guida didn’t care too much about how he ate because he burned up all the fat training like a maniac. “I would go get tacos and sushi after practice and then do it all again at night,” Guida remembered. “I ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.”
To prepare for featherweight and Hioki, Guida has hired a nutrition coach and has only eaten with a purpose. For the past months, Clay has only put in good things and kept out anything unnecessary.
The result, he says, is pounds dropped without sacrificing strength and energy. “I didn’t want to drop to featherweight just by cutting water weight the day before the fight. We’ve been getting down in weight through diet. And I think I’m still as strong as I was before,” he said. “At least that’s what my training partners are telling me.”
Guida says that even though he’s stayed away from Chicago to prep for this fight, he’s eager to get out on the same floor that his beloved Bulls and Hawks play on at The United Center and party with his Second City family. Fans that have grown accustomed to Guida bouncing, screaming, and singing his way to the UFC Octagon before fights can expect the hometown hero to be extra hyped Saturday night.
“If they thought I was excited during my past walk-ins, wait until Saturday in Chicago,” Clay promised.
“We are going to blow the roof off that place.”