"Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat." -Sun Tzu
In the main event of UFC on FX 4 last weekend, Clay Guida took on Gray Maynard ... and I can already envision that simple intro drawing the unrelenting ire of fight fans. "That would only be accurate if by 'took on' you actually meant 'ballet dance around like a fruit,' you stupid writer guy," a perturbed reader might elocute in response.
It's true -- the strategy that Clay Guida and coach Greg Jackson laid out for Gray Maynard was heavy on elusiveness and light on offense. Or: It was all show and no go, it was all bun and no burger, it was all steak and no sizzle. It's not my intention to convince anyone that the strategy was exciting, groundbreaking or undeserving of criticism. However, I would like to find some middle ground between unabashed support for it and sheer disgust.
But first, before I address those points individually, an important question: How would you have engineered a strategy for Guida against Maynard?
Keep in mind -- assuming the hypothetical role of Guida's coach and strategist means that common fan priorities, such as entertainment and excitement, take a backseat to "getting the W." Really, though it's been done before and wouldn't make for an interesting read, a friendly reminder that 'winning is the outright goal of a fight' could suffice as a counter-argument. Constructing a gameplan geared towards excitement and appeasing the fans -- rather than success -- will only spring up when the "you're only as good as your last fight" mentality ceases to exist.
So grab your pitchforks, sharpen your knives and decide whether to stab me with them in the full entry, where I'll offer a positive outlook on Clay Guida and Greg Jackson's contentious strategy in the Gray Maynard fight.Maynard was a hefty favorite on the betting lines, ranging from a low of -220 to a high of -325 ... and that's because everyone basically agreed that he was going to kick Guida's ass, myself included. Maynard is a horrible match up for Guida.
The genesis of a contemporary fight strategy should start with analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of both fighters and, with that baseline information, formulating a gameplan that achieves a minimum of two things, and in this order: how to prevent your opponent from defeating you and how to defeat your opponent. The first is more important because the second is unattainable without it.
If you review Maynard's past losses, he was (unofficially) submitted by Nate Diaz with a guillotine on TUF, he knocked himself (and opponent Rob Emerson) out with a takedown for a No Contest, he drew with Frankie Edgar and he was TKOd by Edgar. The likelihood of Guida mimicking Edgar's technical striking or Diaz's elite submission grappling is not good, to say the least. Now factor in Guida's signature style, which is to initiate a frenetic brawl and overwhelm his foe with a capable (but not great) combination of boxing and wrestling, and herein lies the challenge.
Does anyone actually think Guida could win with his usual approach and wasn't in desperate need of changing up his strategy?
In plain terms, Maynard does everything a little better than Guida: his striking is more technical, he hits harder, he's a much better wrestler and he's a little bigger and stronger. He's called "The Bully" because that's how he fights -- but that's also how Guida fights, yet Maynard (11-1) has demonstrated that approach more effectively, more consistently and against better competition than Guida (29-13). Guida isn't a power striker, he's not going to out-muscle or out-wrestle Gray and he just doesn't have the submission acumen to choke him out.
So while Guida trying to tear into Maynard like he does against everyone else him would have been fun to behold, it also would've been an abysmal strategy that played into his opponent's strengths perfectly.
Guida's strategy for Maynard was half-right -- he succeeded admirably in not getting steamrolled by one of the scariest wrestlers and power punchers at lightweight, but faltered in mounting offense significant enough to win. Jackson himself acknowledged the criticism in his post-fight statements:
"I wanted Clay to, after he drew Gray out, to engage a little bit more, but I think Clay was waiting for him to open up a little bit and he was able to land some combinations when he did that. But one of the things that I think both Clay and I learned is that … we need to do a little more right after the misses, kind of jumping on him a little bit more. I chalk it up to experience and a learning process, and hopefully we won’t be in that situation again where we have such a close decision. Hopefully we’ll be able to dominate the next time."
After a loss, it's common to look back and assess what worked and what didn't. In this situation, the fault was more with strategy than skill, and that strategy fully met one key requirement but failed in the other. The difference in this instance is that the internet doesn't simmer with heated derision when a fighter simply falls short of the mark -- but typically does when the end result wasn't a knee-slapping good time.
If there is one single source of evil in MMA, it's the constant warring between the opposing elements of sport and entertainment. It's why Jon Fitch is criticized for not being a finisher, it's why the ridiculous term "point-fighting" exists and it's why fans have taken issue with the surprisingly indirect strategies of Clay Guida against Gray Maynard and Carlos Condit against Nick Diaz.
The solution will never be either one or the other, but an acceptable compromise somewhere in between. Considering that Clay Guida is known for consistently performing, for his endless heart and determination and that this was his first forgettable performance, I'll judge him for his overall body of work rather than his most memorable shortcoming.