Sunday, June 5, 2011 | 1:55 a.m.
Clay Guida wasn’t always capable of winning fights like Saturday’s contest with Anthony Pettis at the Palms.
Oh, Guida knew he had the ability to beat top-tier lightweights like Pettis. But Guida’s downfall was continually his inability to stick to his game plan or fight to his strengths.
Guida would oblige when the top 155-pound fighters in the world goaded him into wars, the style of fights they knew gave them an edge. Guida swore his approach had changed since the beginning of last year.
He showed it to everyone at “The Ultimate Fighter” 13 finale card by beating Pettis, the last WEC lightweight champion, via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) on his own terms.
“We watched some old tape on him and knew to look for his hands dropping, and knew when to shoot in for takedowns,” Guida said. “The game plan worked out great against him.”
Guida (29-11 MMA, 9-5 UFC) realized the only pronounced advantage he held over Pettis (13-2 MMA, 0-1 UFC) was in wrestling, so he looked to exploit it and excelled. According to MMA stats provider CompuStrike, Guida succeeded in six of his seven takedown attempts.
Once he got on the ground, Guida threw the periodic elbow but mostly imposed his will by keeping Pettis trapped on his back.
“There’s no secrets anymore,” Guida said. “Wrestling wins championships.”
Guida has now won four in a row and hopes he can become the next UFC champion with a wrestling background. His lightweight title shot still appears some time away without a scheduled date for the championship rematch between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard.
Jim Miller, who has won seven straight and fights Ben Henderson in August, is also likely still in front of Guida in the lightweight division. The possibility of Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez coming over to challenge in the UFC further complicates the situation.
But after Saturday, Guida has one basic argument over all the other contenders: He didn’t have any trouble beating the man who was previously next in line. The UFC promised Pettis the opportunity at Edgar or Maynard before he decided to not wait and accepted the Guida fight.
Despite the loss, Pettis said he had no regrets about forfeiting his title shot for the bout with Guida.
“I had some holes in my game,” Pettis said. “Clay Guida and (coach) Greg Jackson came in with a great game plan.”
“I’ll work on it and come back stronger,” he said.
Pettis is one of the sport’s most creative strikers, but Guida never let him stay on his feet long enough to be truly threatened. CompuStrike reports almost exactly two-thirds of the fight took place on the ground.
“He’s the trickiest guy I’ve ever fought,” Guida said. “The guy was throwing triangles and armbars. He hit me lights out a couple of times from the bottom —punched me, elbowed me — he’s a tough kid.”
Pettis’ strikes from the bottom accounted for some of the most entertaining moments of the fight. That’s a sign that Guida’s new style isn’t going to thrill many fans the way that fights two years ago against Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez did.
Guida put on a show in those contests, but ultimately came out a loser. He’ll take a performance that pleases the crowd less if it means a victory any day. Guida can only think of one downside to the changes he’s made.
“Obviously, a dominating performance or finish would’ve looked more highly in the eyes of the UFC,” Guida said.
That’s besides the point in the end. For the first time in his career, Guida is unarguably near the very top of the lightweight division. And he’s done it his way.