Clay Guida has been in the fight business for a long time.
After beating Josh Thomson in March 2006, Guida became the first Strikeforce lightweight champion at the promotion's first event. He would retain the belt for just under three months before losing to Gilbert Melendez in Strikeforce's second event.
That would be the last time that “The Carpenter” would hold a belt in a major MMA promotion, but it is undoubtedly an experience that he has been looking to replicate ever since.
After beating Thomson, Guida was considered to be among the best 155-pounders in the world. Still, fighters do not fight for the honor of being sandwiched between Gesias Cavalcante and Tatsuya Kawajiri on the list of some guy on the Internet.
They fight to get a belt strapped around their waist.
When Clay Guida beat Samy Schiavo, Mac Danzig and Nate Diaz consecutively, a shot at then-champion BJ Penn seemed like a legitimate possibility. He was matched against Diego Sanchez, and the two put on one of the greatest fights in MMA history.
Guida, though, would come out on the wrong end of a split decision and once again was knocked away from the belt.
Guida's star was at an all-time high after the Sanchez fight. That said, there is no number of nonpaying Fight of the Year awards that make up for a single loss on his record. So when he was matched up against well-rounded finisher Kenny Florian, Guida decided to take his MMA career to the next level.
Like so many other fighters, he decided the best way to elevate his career was to switch gyms. Naturally, he went to Jackson's Submission Fighting, home of past and present champions such as Rashad Evans, Carlos Condit and Georges St-Pierre.
Under the tutelage of Greg Jackson, Guida would be able hone his existing talents and make the subtle tweaks to gain the definitive edge over fighters such as Sanchez and Diaz.
Although he lost to Florian, he won his next four fights over Shannon Gugerty, Rafael dos Anjos, Takanori Gomi and Anthony Pettis.
However, during his first nine UFC fights, he won four Fight of the Night bonuses. During this five-fight stretch with trainer Jackson, he won zero.
During this time, as he approached and shrank away from title contention, he found himself losing fans. Not because he was losing—because of how he was winning.
While Guida used to be beloved for his high-energy, fast-tempo, brawling style, a subtle evolution—or, perhaps, “reinvention”—took place. Guida, as so many fighters do when allegedly turning the corner in their career, returned to his roots.
His roots, by the way, are in wrestling.
Against other fighters known for delivering exciting, back-and-forth affairs, Guida went from matching their energy to using a grinding, lay-and-pray game plan. Against Gomi, the Pride FC lightweight champion and feared knockout artist, and final WEC champion Pettis, Guida turned to a wrestling-focused attack.
Effective? For sure.
Popular? Not at all.
Around this time, the Jackson name first started to pop up in a negative way. This was because of the ugly, public divorce between the camp's top fighter, Rashad Evans, and Jackson over the newest addition to the camp—Jon Jones, who rapidly rose to superstardom.
Despite the drama and worrisome fans, Guida ended up precisely where he wanted. He was back in title contention.
All he had to do was step over former WEC champion Benson “Smooth” Henderson.
In a microcosm of his career to that point, he lost the fight and once again found himself on the outside looking in on the title picture, but he walked away with another bonus for Fight of the Night.
It is worth noting that against Henderson, Guida was responsible for very little of the excitement. He was outstruck, outmuscled and generally bullied around the cage by a bigger, stronger and more technically proficient fighter.
Henderson, by the way, is no stranger to the Fight of the Night award, with two Fight of the Year awards under his belt.
As the months passed, the Jackson name again popped up in a negative light—this time, due to the interim welterweight championship bout between Nick Diaz and Carlos Condit.
Condit employed a counter-based striking style to great effect, slipping away from Diaz's strikes and peppering him with kicks and punches en route to a unanimous-decision victory. Diaz's inconsolable fanbase immediately turned on Condit and Jackson, questioning the direction MMA was going.
The majority of fans did not find the decision uproarious, but nonetheless Jackson came under fire. As the old saying goes, “Where there's smoke, there's fire."
Guida would go without a bout for a while. His return was a critical match against Gray “The Bully” Maynard.
Both fighters had previously skimmed the belt with the tip of their finger, only to come up short of holding it. Going into the fight, one believed that each man would look to make a definitive statement that he should be regarded as the No. 1 contender.
That was not the case. Guida circled Maynard for nearly the entire fight. The greatest number of significant strikes Guida landed in a round was 11—or just over two a minute—in Round 5.
In Round 3, he landed just four total strikes.
Guida's performance was absolutely ripped apart by fans. UFC president Dana White threatened Guida's job security in the UFC and fired thinly veiled shots at Jackson. Fans were not nearly as subtle as White, who has no reputation for subtlety.
Jackson and Guida were now nearly pariahs among MMA fans, and few were willing to defend the once popular pair. Even exciting proteges of Jackson like Donald Cerrone and Diego Sanchez could not preserve the trainer's reputation from the masses, who jeered fights like Guida vs. Maynard and Yushin Okami vs. Nate Marquardt.
Guida, though, was unrepentant about his fight with Maynard and took some time off to cut weight in order to drop to the featherweight division.
Matched against Hatsu Hioki at UFC on Fox 6, he once again demonstrated that his brawling days are over. He has irreversibly become a pillow-fisted grinder.
That said, Jackson remains one of the most sought-after coaches in MMA. He still remains high on the list of confidants for fighters ranging from champions to newcomers.
Guida is the only one suffering from this transition.
If Guida captures a belt in the future, the changes in his fighting style will be worth it. As it stands, though, his star is fading quickly. While he will likely be considered a top-10 featherweight after beating Hioki, he will not break new ground in any way.
Except for losing even more fans.
While Jackson does receive a great deal of unnecessary criticism, there is no doubt about this: When it comes to Clay Guida, he broke him.