It was the crown jewel in 2009's Fight of the Year. Clay Guida, back against the cage, trading punches with Diego Sanchez. Stunned momentarily by Sanchez's onslaught, but bravely firing back with punches of his own.
It was extremely entertaining. But it was not in Guida's best interests.
"You saw the first exchange with Diego Sanchez. The first minute, he swung for the fences, used elbows, punches, uppercuts, whatever - then I took over in the second and third rounds," said Guida "But I didn't stick to my game plan to not stick to the fence."
Guida is clearly a fighter who, even more than most, has a good time when he fights. He fights with a furious, messy intensity, and unmatched energy. He thrives off the crowd, and wants his fights to be entertaining, which they are, without fail. But "The Carpenter" also wants to win, and he is chasing the lightweight title. To achieve those ends, he knows that he needs to stick to a good plan in the Octagon. He attributes his loss to Kenny Florian, too, to a lapse in strategic judgment.
"Two minutes into the first I fought my fight, and then I started trying to be a striker with a very legit, a very solid, game planned fighter. Kenny is a very patient striker, pinpoint accurate with his strikes and very rangy" said the Illinois native. "That was a huge turning point in my career, and I thank Kenny Florian for that."
The turning point has directed Guida to his fighting roots - relentless takedowns and ground and pound. Coming off wins over Shannon Gugerty and highly touted Rafael Dos Anjos, he believes this epiphany will steer him to a victory over a man once considered by many pundits and fans to be the number one lightweight in the world, former PRIDE champion Takanori Gomi, in their bout on January 1st at UFC 125.
"Just being the Clay Guida of old, taking people down and massacring them on the ground," said Guida, “that's what got me here and that's what going to take me to a victory over Takanori Gomi."
Gomi (32-6, with 1 NC) is a fighter who can punish those dabbling in his world -- trading punches -- like few others. "The Fireball Kid" is likely the greatest knockout artist ever at 155 pounds, with knockouts over fighters like Hayato Sakurai and former UFC lightweight champion Jens Pulver. Yet Gomi's UFC debut was a resounding defeat against common opponent Kenny Florian. A flustered Gomi had no answer for the technical boxing of Florian, stubbornly looking for the knockout until he was taken down and submitted with a rear naked choke.
Even if some of that lackluster loss is ascribed to Octagon-debut jitters, Florian's skills and game plan highlighted what has been one of Gomi's downfalls, historically - his over-reliance on his punches. But his next fight was a reminder of why boxing as plan A, B and C has taken Gomi to the top of the fight game, as a counter right hook at 1:04 of the first round made him the first man to KO lightweight stalwart Tyson Griffin. Guida is solid on the feet: he is increasingly technical and has a granite chin. It would not be shocking to see Guida comfortably exchanging with the Japanese fighter. But Gomi's punching power and unique technique make him a rarity, and Guida (27-8) knows that.
"I think Gomi's the hardest puncher in two or three divisions; I put that guy up against most strikers in the welterweight or middleweight division," said the 29-year old Guida. "He's kind of like the Thiago Alves of the lightweight division, just more unorthodox."
While Guida intends to stick to his foundation against Gomi, he can't avoid the stand-up game entirely. Every fight starts on its feet. Moreover, setting up the takedown on Gomi (who is an excellent wrestler) would be difficult without creating openings with strikes. So when he is exchanging with the Japanese fighter, he knows what to do.
"A lot of head movement and lot of good footwork and stuff; I'm not going to stand in front of him like his last opponent Tyson Griffin did, and he (Griffin) was actually getting the better of the exchanges in the fight and then just kind of got clipped. He (Gomi) has got a lead hook that catches people quite a bit, he's got a nasty cross right down the middle, and he's got a lot of good body shots. He switches up from southpaw to orthodox, which opens up the takedown and makes him easier to take down."
And that's just one section of the blueprint Guida will be fighting with this weekend. Following his loss to Sanchez, Guida sought out an apprenticeship under MMA guru Greg Jackson (and striking instructor Mike Winklejohn) and he is quick to praise his mastery of the game.
"He (Greg Jackson) is the guru of MMA. He is the Yoda of mixed martial arts. He's the Coach of the Year two years back-to-back for a reason."
On January 1st, it will be around a year since Guida's loss to Kenny Florian thrust him to the edge of a dreaded three fight losing streak at the close of 2009. Now, at the outset of 2011, he fights a legendary competitor following two wins inside the Octagon and he has the opportunity to propel himself into lightweight contender status. So while Guida is an admirer of the former SHOOTO and PRIDE champion, in "The Carpenter"'s world, Gomi will only have one significance at UFC 125.
"Gomi's just another guy that's standing in the way of the UFC lightweight title." said Guida. "This is a fight that's going to put us (my team and I) on the map as contenders, not saying the number 1 contender, but a win over Gomi solidifies us as a UFC lightweight contender."
New Year, Same Goal for Guida
"Just being the Clay Guida of old, taking people down and massacring them on the ground, that's what got me here and that's what going to take me to a victory over Takanori Gomi."