In moving forward, Clay goes back to roots

LOS ANGELES -- Less than a week prior to a potentially career-defining fight against Ben Henderson, Clay Guida finished his last heavy training day by putting a treadmill to the test while watching the Chicago Bears rally to defeat the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night.

"We're seeing signs of improvements from the Bears," Guida, an Illinois native, beamed two days later.

If nothing else, the game provided a momentary distraction from what's otherwise played out in Guida's mind leading up to a bout as important as Saturday's in Anaheim, Calif. Guida's upcoming clash against Henderson for the right to challenge UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar is as good a shot as he's had in his career to reaching the pinnacle of his division.

Searching for his third win of 2011 and his fifth straight inside the UFC, Guida, 29, has fought under the UFC banner for five years, and while he's enjoyed some solid runs, nothing compares to his current streak.

Guida credits his resurgence to "becoming a student of the game again."

What got me here? My wrestling," Guida said. "What's going to escalate me to that lightweight title? My ground game, my wrestling."

That back-to-his-roots mentality has a lot to do with a change in attitude after consecutive losses to Diego Sanchez and Kenny Florian in 2009. Not to be overlooked: Guida's decision to move his training camp to Jackson's MMA in Albuquerque. The impact of training with Greg Jackson, Mike Winkeljohn and others at Jackson's, Guida said, has been key to his redevelopment.

A decade ago Guida was similarly familiar with putting in long hours on the job in Albuquerque. He worked construction at a K-Mart in New Mexico's largest town, rebuilding a fitting room for a company based out of Chicago. These days, Guida (29-11) isn't shy about acknowledging how fortunate he considers himself. He's doing what he loves, and he does it well.

"I've been thinking about how things have come full circle," he said. "It's either I'm doing this or living on a fishing boat or framing houses.

Guida isn't kidding. He's done both and were he to cobble together a résumé, should he ever need to assemble one, it would read like a smattering of odd jobs in odd places. That is, until he found MMA. And, more specifically, the UFC.

Heading into his 15th UFC fight since October 2006, Guida is one of the staples of the company's lightweight division. His boundless energy has generally served him well, and while he's suffered five losses inside the Octagon, Guida's passion has been rewarded in kind by a strong fan reaction.

That momentum has built over the past two years. Three straight submission wins and a smart decision over dangerous Anthony Pettis in June rekindled the notion that a floppy-haired, self-described “Dude from the Big Lebowski” was a viable contender for the UFC lightweight belt

Now it’s Guida’s turn to take on Henderson (14-2), a fight that’s illuminated the imaginations of many an MMA watcher. Neither man knows what it’s like to fatigue. They're strong grapplers and willing strikers. They move forward, preferring to make opponents wilt away under the stress.

“It's like trying to submit a rubber band,” Guida said of Henderson. “His ground-and-pound is second to none."

All things considered, they're similar fighters.

With fans and media focused primarily on the card's main event, a UFC heavyweight championship contest between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos, Guida's bout against Henderson has not garnered the attention it deserves. Some people who were able to shift their attention away from the anticipated heavyweight contest "are talking fight of the year accolades," Guida said. "I'm thinking about having fun and having my hand raised.

"When you get a fight with guys that push the pace until their opponent snaps under the pressure, you get an all-out war. It's a fight I think fans might get tired first. They might be exhausted, but we're going to leave them cheering for more.”