Blue Collar Fighter

Nothing soft survives the Bering Sea. A lone commercial fi shing vessel takes the repeated pounding of 30-foot waves off the coast of Alaska that make the 200-foot boat’s steel hull seem like it’s made from plywood. A veritable fl oating fi sh-processing factory, it is the essence of effi ciency with its workers putting in 20-hour shifts 7 days per week.

When the storm fi nally subsides, a group of workers attempt to negotiate a hockey rink that has glassed over the ship’s topside deck with ice and are instructed to bust off what looks like a glacier that has affi xed itself to the ship’s bow. The frozen waves are like granite, but 21-year-old Clay Guida is reminded that if he and his coworkers don’t hammer off the extra weight of the ice, the ship could sink.

Armed with a pickax, Guida reaches the bow with his mates and starts hammering. He is a long way from his hometown of Johnsburg, Ill. He is a long way from Colorado, where he was building houses for $10 an hour.

The last meal he ate was hours ago while sliding side to side in the mess hall, although nothing seems appetizing after standing ankle deep in fi sh guts all day and night. Sleep is a luxury. Five months at sea have hardened him, calloused his psyche out of necessity. Indeed, nothing soft survives the Bering Sea. done it a couple of times,” Guida says.

Beyond the glitz, glamour, and bravado of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Clay Guida remains humble and grounded, unaccustomed to fame. One almost expects him to show up at his fi ghts with a lunch pail and thermos. He is a dues-paying member of his local laborer’s union — hence his nickname, “The Carpenter.” He prides himself on his blue-collar background and takes it with him to the Octagon.

His immense popularity amid the UFC and mixed martial arts community is rooted in his laid-back and unassuming personality, as well as in the relentless pressure he places upon opponents in an effort to establish the pace of the fi ght. He has a populist aura about him, a common man’s appeal, and people are drawn to him. And while Guida himself admits he is not the most skilled or gifted fi ghter, his trainer, Alex Trujillo, is quite adamant:

“There are those guys out there who like to fi ght, but they don’t like to train,” Trujillo says. “Clay’s not one of those guys. No one will outwork Clay Guida.”

Outside Trujillo’s training facility in Schaumburg, Ill, Chuck Guida circles the parking lot looking for a spot. His van is your typical white utility van, and inside it are rolls of carpet and an assortment of tools for his carpet installation business. It is nondescript, devoid of advertising or promotion with the exception of a single square sticker affi xed just below the driver’s window. To the average person walking by, the letters might not mean anything. But to the Guida family, they mean plenty:

MMA DAD Inside Midwest Training Center, Chuck takes a seat on the fl oor near the heavy bags and watches both of his sons sweat it out on the mat, working on escapes, leverage, and takedowns. His jeans are torn at the knees, a product of the countless hours amid the 20-plus years working as a carpet installer. There was one fringe benefi t to the hard work, however.

“Clay and Jason were constantly wearing out the living room carpet wrestling all the time,” Chuck says. “They never stopped. I don’t know how many times I had to put in new carpeting.”

Like most little brothers, to Clay, Jason could do no wrong even when he was getting pounded. Jason, 5 years Clay’s senior, had an easy 70-pound advantage. As a teenager, Jason practiced his junior-highlevel wrestling moves with his third-grade brother as the unwitting and sometimes unwilling fi sh. “The race between us was who could get to the phone fi rst,” Clay recalls. “Jason would be beating up on me. So I’d run to the phone to call Mom or Dad at work, and he’d try to stop me. The receptionist would get three or four calls a day.

“But I grew up watching Jason play baseball and football,” Clay adds. “I actually played soccer, but once my brother started wrestling, I put that other stuff to the side and started going to tournaments every weekend. My old man would wake us up at 6 the morning for weigh-ins at 7 [o’clock].” The boys enjoyed fi shing either near their Johnsburg home or with Chuck in Canada past the Minnesota Boundary Waters. Even while fi shing their wrestling backgrounds came in handy.

“I remember this one time we were in Canada and Clay was casting out into the weeds like we told him NOT to do,” Jason recalls. “Sure enough, his line gets stuck, so I jump in to get it. Then I nearly freaked because Clay wasn’t stuck in the weeds — he had hooked a 24-inch Northern Pike! I had to wrestle the damn thing, and I was only 12. The thing was huge. Only Clay.”

“You should make practice so hard that the fi ght actually becomes the easy part,” Clay says. “We didn’t baby the kids,” says Clay’s mother, Debbie. “The boys were just naturally drawn to wrestling. Then Jason got into the mixed martial arts. I knew it was only a matter of time until Clay got into it, too. He actually tried to hide it from me at fi rst.”

THE ACCIDENTAL FIGHTER

Ottawa, Ill, is a quaint little town sitting about 85 miles southwest of Chicago at the point where the Fox and Illinois rivers meet. It once hosted the fi rst of the great debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas. On July 26, 2003, however, it hosted a different contest altogether. Having just returned from several months at sea hauling fi sh, Clay was salty. He lacked focus. So he and some friends traveled to Ottawa to watch Jason in his fi rst professional fi ght.

“He was fi ghting Adrian Serrano, who fought in, like, UFC 8 or something. I’m talking Dan Severn kind of shit,” Clay says. “So the guy had a little notoriety, and I was going to watch my brother fi ght for the fi rst time. “No sooner do I pay my admission, the public address announcer says one of the fi ghters dropped out and they needed someone to substitute in the exhibition fi ght. I just looked at my buddies and said, ‘Dude, I’m doing it.’ ”

Chuck Guida was reluctant, however. Clay had absolutely no training in mixed martial arts and hadn’t even wrestled competitively for some time. “But you know what, he came back from the fi shing job a grown-up man,” Chuck says. “He was different and acting, well, like a sailor. He was all full of piss and vinegar. I thought this might be good for him.”

After discussing it with the event’s promoter and his brother, Jason — who was understandably nervous about his own fi ght — Clay was allowed to participate, despite his lack of training. “My old man was yelling, ‘Let him go out there and get his ass kicked! He probably needs it!’ ” Clay recalls.

Clay suddenly realized the shackles of collegiate wrestling were completely removed and strategy also was reversed. “I was thinking it was like wrestling but I could punch and kick,” he recalls. “But in wrestling, you’re used to being in the referee’s position and on your stomach. But in Jiu-Jitsu, you want to go to your back. My coaches were yelling at me, ‘Go to your back!’ Before I knew it, he choked me out.”

And like that, Clay’s focus became clear. Like most top athletes, Guida knows how to learn from a defeat. “I thrive off losses. In a sense, losses are a huge step for a fi ghter’s career,” he says. “One time I had 15 wins in a row. Then I fought this guy who wasn’t a great fi ghter. Maybe I was looking past him, but the guy choked me out in a minute and 17 seconds. I thank him for that because it grounded me. It got me back to reality.

“By the same token, when I lost to Tyson Griffi n, it was my second loss in a row,” Guida adds. “But I learned what I needed to do quickly after Griffi n because they called me to fi ght Marcus Aurelio just 2 months later. I think I handled him pretty well.”

FOCUSED AND DETERMINED

Around the MMA community, Guida is known for his stamina and endurance. Trujillo says when training for a fi ght, he’ll start Guida 8 to 10 weeks out, going twice a day. The intensity ratchets up as the weeks progress. So does Guida. “The guy never stops,” Trujillo says. “He loves to practice, loves to work. You see the results in the ring. He never stops coming after the guy. Any opponent better be prepared that Clay Guida will keep coming at you.”

Indeed, in losing a close decision to Tyson Griffi n in UFC 72 in June 2007, Guida’s relentless pressure constantly forced the thick-bodied Griffi n to the defensive. Likewise, in another close loss, this time to Roger Huerta 6 months later, Guida continued to force the pace of the fi ght, bloodying Huerta with good strikes and a tenacious ground-and-pound strategy. While the close losses stung, Guida’s short memory served him well. “He was the fi rst one back in the gym ready to work,” Trujllo says. “Everyone else in the camp was still bumming about the Griffi n loss, but Clay’s just like, ‘OK, guys. Let’s get to work.’”

Having the confi dence that he can outlast his opponents allows Guida to be on the offensive a majority of the fi ght. Guida’s conditioning is the key to his game. “At all costs, I’m fi ghting my game at my pace,” Guida says. “When [my opponent] has altered his game to adjust to mine, I know I’ve got him because I will outlast him.”

And after his most recent wins against fi ghters like Mac Danzig and Nate Diaz — upping his career record to 26-6 — Guida’s star defi nitely is on the rise. So much so that a book is in the works, as is a clothing line and even a Clay Guida action fi gure. An action fi gure? Does it come with a lunch pail and thermos? But Trujillo is confi dent Guida’s not one to rest on laurels, fame, action fi gures, or book deals. He is “The Carpenter” for a reason: The man likes to work, whether building a house, cutting fi sh heads, on the mat, or in the octagon. “Like I said before: No one outworks Clay Guida,” Trujillo says. “No one.”

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