After rough patch and health scare, Clay Guida promises return to exciting style

Guida has his sights on Kawajiri, and being exciting again.

Al Bello/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC Via Getty Images

For Clay Guida, losing three out of four would have been bad enough. Coming on the heels of a four-fight streak of victories, the sudden skid sent him spiraling into a 180, and into a position that was nearing must-win status. 

Unfortunately for him, that wasn’t the end of his tough times. Shortly after his last fight, his first-ever TKO loss which came at the hands of Chad Mendes, Guida just wasn’t feeling right, with discomfort in his tailbone. Eventually, he visited doctors for a CT scan and MRI and received some alarming news.

"They basically said I had an explosion in my lower back," he told FOX Sports. "It was crazy. They had never seen anything like it."

The official diagnosis — a subdural hematoma — was so serious that doctors told Guida that if it burst, he might never walk again. Fortunately, the fix was an easy one. At least for most people. They told him he needed to simply rest it and let the body heal itself. The process would eventually put Guida on the shelf for almost three months. For a man who seemingly runs on solar power, that time doing nothing was almost more painful than the injury itself. 

They basically said I had an explosion in my lower back. It was crazy. They had never seen anything like it.

After rehabilitating himself with a steady regimen of catching bass, Guida eventually made his way back to the wrestling mats, where he helped coach Montini Catholic High School in Lombard, IIllinois to its seventh consecutive state wrestling championship.

This Friday he gets back to the business of returning to the win column when he faces Tatsuya Kawajiri at a UFC Fight Night: Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. But the night’s task isn’t so simple as winning. Once one of the UFC’s most popular fighters, he’s faced the wrath of fans in recent fights who feel he’s negatively adjusted his style to favor a more conservative approach. Most of the backlash truly began with a five-round split decision loss to Gray Maynard in which Guida managed to throw 327 strikes yet heard post-fight criticism from Dana White that characterized him as "running around in circles. Literally running." 

Toss in a solid if unspectacular decision over Hatsu Hioki and the loss to Mendes, and there are plenty of people who wonder if the 32-year-old’s best days are behind him.

"I don’t let it shake me," he said. "People have seen the long list of good fights and exciting fights I’ve had. If they’re going to hold it against me, the Maynard fight and Hioki fight, then the best is yet to come is what I tell them. Just hang in there. I’m going to be here a while and there will be some more Fight of the Nights and Fight of the Years for them."

Kawajiri (33-7-2) might be the kind of opponent to get him there. A longtime star in Japanese promotions PRIDE and DREAM, the 35-year-old has fought a who’s who of the sport’s best lighter weight fighters over the last decade, including Gilbert Melendez, Eddie Alvarez, Josh Thomson, Caol Uno, Takanori Gomi and Shinya Aoki, just to name a few. As Guida points out, Kawajiri earned the "Crusher" nickname for a reason. He’s eminently capable of trapping an opponent in a body lock, taking him down and punching him out. It’s a place Guida has no intention of visiting.

Instead, he sees a high-pressure game as his key to victory. After watching Kawajiri’s octagon debut — a submission win over Sean Soriano in January — you can see why. Fighting for less than six minutes, Kawajiri was exhausted by the finish, laying flat on the mat for more than 20 seconds after releasing the fight-finishing hold. In fact, Soriano got to his feet before the winner, a sign to Guida that he has an edge to exploit.

"Had he not submitted Soriano, he might have thrown in the towel," Guida said. "He looked like he just finished a marathon and it was only five minutes. I don’t know if he could have gone another two minutes. If he thinks Soriano was was a warm-up, just wait, this guy might go into cardiac arrest when I come after him."

Despite his own time on the sideline, Guida doesn’t expect any conditioning problems of his own. In fact, he got an early test in Abu Dhabi this week when he went for a run, got lost and ended up taking the long way back to his hotel. He passed the Ferrari Center, a marina housing multi-million dollar yachts, an F-1 racetrack and a local mall. He ultimately ran for over 90 minutes with the scenic tour at least confirming he’s ready for the long haul.

The rest of it will have to be determined on fight night. Over a decade-plus career, Guida has yet to have a crisis of confidence, and even after a rough patch, he’s not about to doubt himself now.

"When you start second-guessing yourself that’s when it’s time to hand in your gloves," he said. "It’s more of a question of what do I have to do differently or what skills need to be developed. What ideas can I look for in the sport. Being in a stable of fighters at Jackson’s-Winkeljohn’s, the answers are there. It’s a matter of me learning different skills and trying different things or if we’re going back to the old ways of wrestling dudes to the ground like a caveman and taking advantage of my cardio and intense fight style. I’m ready to step back on to the winning track."