When we last left our heroes...Believe it or not, there was a time when Kawajiri had a near claim to the LW throne. Here's the cliff notes version for casual UFC fans: at one time the UFC threw its lightweight division out for fertilizer, with some of their best and brightest like Yves Edwards heading East. Without the UFC to push the lightweights, the only real hierarchy being established was in Shooto and Pride where guys like Vitor 'Shaolin' Ribeiro, Gomi, Hellboy, and Kawajiri were tearing it up.
Until Gomi beat him out in what I still believe to be the most entertaining event ever (Bushido 9), Kawajiri was for all intents and purposes...'the man'. He may not look it, but he's a very grizzled 35 years of age, sporting a solid 33-7 record, and still training out of the once very good T-Blood camp. He's also got a brief K-1 record, taking a pretty impressive win over the diminished but still dangerous Kozo Takeda, and losing impressively to Masato
In other words, Kawajiri has a long and rich history within the lightweight division. And now here he is at FW, trying to make some likeminded noise.
As for Guida, Clay is an interesting case study in fan backlash. People used to love him because when he lost, he would lose spectacularly. His fights against Tyson Griffin, Roger Huerta (one of my personal favorites, aided well by the pre-third round staredown), and Diego Sanchez are sort of legendary.
Now people just outright hate him. He's taken some unearned wins (Hatsu Hioki), and questionable performances (Anthony Pettis), and he's done it all lately by running and moshing his way to a decision.
MMA fans are very much a what have you done for me lately bunch. I'm not here to defend Guida's style; just to note that it's interesting how whatever good will he had with fans has completely evaporated. Feel free to courageously raise your hand in support of him in the comments section.
While I don't enjoy his newfound style, I don't begrudge him either. He wants to keep his job. If his opponents aren't sucessfully stopping him from convincing the judges that head banging and takedowns are all that's needed to win the fight, why should I blame Clay? It's odd how the winners gets blamed more for poor performances than the losers, but alas...on to the breakdown...
What both men can do: Kawajiri, despite an awful Strikeforce debut against Gilbert Melendez, has since gone on a 6 fight run with wins over Drew Fickett, Joachim Hansen, Kazayuki Miyata, and Michihiro Omigawa.
He's done it with his usual bag of well rounded tricks. He's always been a well rounded fighter, but in the past he would gamble in big fights, opting for home run punches, using his skill to benchwarm for his will. Yea his fights with Takanori Gomi, and Eddie Alvarez are classics...but the brawling style didn't suit him.
This is a quiet irony: Kawajiri has done the same thing Guida has done, becoming calmer and more calculated. Of course...I'm a professional when it comes to false equivalency, so obviously their games are anything but the same. Kawajiri is a very good grappler. In top control, he passes guard as swiftly as you'll find at FW.
As for Guida, despite all the jokes over his style of mosh and run, is still a danger to most of the guys he'll face in the division. While a lot of fans look at Guida and argue that he's regressed, that is simply not the case. Clay's problem in the past was similar to Kawajiri: if he couldn't get the fight to the ground, he would just say "screw it" and start swinging like a monkey humping a football.
Now he looks to time his takedowns, and he has a very tricky leg kick. As funny and amusing as the Maynard fight was (and I found it highly amusing...even after it was over)...I still felt like Guida deserved that fight...in part because he was still landing the better punches. it's quite possible Kawajiri gets similarly frustrated...or at least likely would have several years ago. As retroactive karma for the Hioki fight, however, I have no problem with it.
What both men can't do: While Kawajiri has quietly gotten better, his brawling style on the feet would benefit him here. Guida is much better at threading the needle with kicks and punches, and Kawajiri would be wise to keep the pressure on him.
Tatsuya is definitely not the sake pick. Yes, on the ground, he's better. On the feet, he's better. But Guida has done well lately in forcing a quicksand style fight ala Jake Shields that never allows either fighter to really get going with any momentum whatsoever. I would argue that the last time Guida really got beat convincingly (besides Chad Mendes) was against Kenny Florian.
As a big fan of Kawajiri, I still have to accept that he hasn't done well in 'big fights'. The fights where he was given the opportunity to really separate himself from the pack have never come to fruition. Is he holding himself back psychologically? In addition, he still keeps his hands low and always has.
The path to victory for Kawajiri is clear: defend on the feet, look to land punches, and look to score takedowns. He has incredible takedown defense and is a massive FW. But timing and persistence are on Guida's side. Expect another very ugly win if Guida takes it.
Odds and Ends: Duh. Kawajiri at +110. When you can make an argument that the odds should be flipped around completely, you know this is a good bet, cashing out or not. Guida isn't half as good as Josh Thomson, belongs to a similar archetype as a fighter, and Thomson got a grappling lesson out of it.
X-Factor: Besides judges getting hypnotoaded by Guida's style? While I've used it before, it's important to consider it again. Perhaps this helps explain why Kawajiri has been awful on North American soil.
Prediction: Tatsuya Kawajiri by Decision.