Leading into The Ultimate Fighter 13 Finale's marquee bout between Clay Guida and Anthony Pettis, UFC announcer Mike Goldberg made an interesting comment. He stated that Guida is so popular among many fight fans for his numerous exciting fights that people often forget that he's one of the best Lightweights in the world. Over the course of 15 minutes, Guida managed to prove Goldberg right, controlling the former WEC champion to win the unanimous decision. With this win, we have to ask - is Clay Guida ready to graduate from his role as gatekeeper? Is he finally ready to make his run for the UFC Lightweight title?
Guida made his UFC debut in 2006, and in just his 3rd UFC fight he faced Tyson Griffin at UFC 72. The fight was an incredible war that firmly established Guida's place in the UFC, both for good and for bad. On the good side, he was the fighter you could count on to turn in an exciting performance full of unmatched energy, making him one of the organization's most popular fighters. On the bad side, he lost that Griffin fight, and established his place as the gatekeeper to the division's upper echelon. Guida's role was set - the work horse you knew would entertain in a war, but who wouldn't win those wars.
In 2009, Guida decided to change that role. To prepare for Kenny Florian, he made the switch to training with Greg Jackson. With Jackson in his corner, he has pulled together a four fight win streak, but it was last night's fight that really showed how far he has come.
Guida's performance against Pettis demonstrated exactly how Jackson has fine tuned the Carpenter's game. Coming into the fight, Guida had the advantage in wrestling, Pettis the advantage standing. But many, including myself, thought Pettis would succeed in dragging Guida into a stand-up fight. That didn't happen, as Guida played to his strengths, wrestling his way to the win and not allowing his desire to entertain get in the way of a victory. When they were standing, we also saw changes, as Jackson seems to have harnessed Guida's manic energy. Guida has always been a fighter who constantly bounces and moves during stand-up, but those movements were typically unfocused. Against Pettis, as he did against Takanori Gomi, Guida utilized that energy and motion to his advantage. No longer was he moving just to move, he now was using that motion to evade incoming strikes, while setting up different angles and combos for his own attack. It worked wonderfully - Pettis never came close to putting together his normally strong stand-up game.
With this win, Guida is poised to take on one of the very upper names in the Lightweight division. He's been in this position before - his fights with both Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez could have led to title shots had Guida been successful. But in the past he has always come up short. Now, with his improved game planning and striking, Guida may finally be in a position to keep that momentum alive, and turn those fights into wins.
If Clay Guida fights his next opponent the way he fought Anthony Pettis, we could see his years of dedication finally result in a UFC title shot. Should that happen we will have to ask ourselves a new question - has Jackson taken Guida's game to the point that he can actually win the UFC title? Is it time for the Guida Era to begin?