Let me preface this piece by saying that I had intended to write about Clay Guida's UFC future before the news of Jake Shields' release broke on Monday. The timing was coincidental but it sure as hell helps my argument.
Three years removed from a four-fight winning streak that had him on the cusp of a title shot, Clay Guida finds himself in the co-main event of a Fight Pass card against Japan's Tatsuya Kawajiri in the featherweight division. In the wake of several recent roster cuts, this may be the most important bout of Guida's UFC career.
Based on the Shields, Okami, and Fitch cuts, the UFC seems to be sending a very clear message that if you're not popular with the fans, you command a high salary, are no longer a contender, and you're not exciting even in defeat, you are expendable. By these standards, Guida is on incredibly thin ice. He earned $44,000 in his TKO loss to Chad Mendes, which is high for a featherweight (higher than Mendes' $31,000 base pay), is 1-3 in his last 4, on the wrong side of 30, and was memorably booed and berated by fans after his poor and bizarre showing against Gray Maynard.
Guida has never really been a high-level contender, but at a minimum he was a stern gatekeeper at 155 lbs who was capable of putting on some entertaining shows, much of it brought on by his limitations as a striker (especially defensively), cardio, ground scrambles, ability to "JUST BLEED", and his relentless pace. Many MMA publications overwhelmingly agreed he won a decision against Tyson Griffin, but two judges sided with Griffin in what was UFC 72's FOTN. Guida was also up two rounds on Roger Huerta in the TUF 6 Finale before Huerta unleashed a stunning comeback in the 3rd round to get the dramatic submission win. It's definitely accurate to say that Guida has seldom officially won any UFC fight deemed to be "exciting", but he wasn't an across-the-board non-competitive warm body in his "exciting" losses.
But all of that has disappeared. His granite chin finally cracked against Chad Mendes, his crazy, up-and-down movement as if the cage was a bouncy castle is no longer met with meaningful attempts at offense. Since moving to Greg Jackson's camp he's adopted this manic movement in his stand-up (replacing his old flat-footed, forward approach), and it's painfully ineffective. If anything, Guida has regressed as a fighter, and the simultaneous surge in the quality of the lightweight and featherweight divisions make him less and less likely to even effectively fulfill his gatekeeper status. His recent showings have drawn the ire of Dana White, which is a massive turn-of-events for someone who has had his praises sung by the UFC president and has frequently heard chants of "GUI-DA" in several of his bouts.
As of this writing, Guida is a slight favorite to beat Kawajiri in Abu Dhabi, and if he doesn't get the victory and once again has fans and UFC officials up in arms, he'll be headed for Bellator or World Series of Fighting next.