This past weekend’s The Ultimate Fighter 13 Finale was a night to remember. TUF crowned a controversial, yet capable champ in “El Cucuy” Tony Ferguson (11-2). Fans were also fortunate enough to witness up-and-comers like “Kingsbu” Kyle Kingsbury (11-2), Fabio Maldonado (18-4), “C-Murder” Chris Cope (5-1), and others who will likely entertain for years to come. But the night was unfairly lambasted by fans when the co-main event fight between “The Carpenter” Clay Guida (29-11) and final WEC champ “Showtime” Anthony Pettis (13-2) went to the judges’ decision. The fight was derided as boring, “lay-and-pray”, and even incorrectly judged – and all this criticism came down on the winner, Clay Guida. Whether or not the fight was enjoyable is subjective and it is a moot point to try and argue. You either enjoyed it or you didn’t; there is not right or wrong there. However, fans’ displeasure with Guida’s winning tactics are unfounded. “The Carpenter” indeed displays varying skills in a sport that caters to those who know when and how to use their strengths, even if it means using one skill at a time. But it is the bias against wrestling that has misguided so much of the post-fight fallout.
The argument that Clay Guida is a boring fighter shouldn’t be dignified with a response. Nonetheless, if fans and pundits alike need a reeducation on Guida they need not look far back into his fight history. Of his last four fights, Clay has finished three. Of his 29 career wins he’s earned stoppages in 19. And to assume his decision wins – or any of his losses for that matter – were boring, would be admission to never having seen the man fight. Guida displays speed, tenacity, power and good old fashioned attrition in every fight he is in. All of this thunder and lighting is wrestling-based, but it has never failed to deliver a high energy fight from the Illinois native.
When Clay finds himself in the rare position where he is unable to take down a fighter he is happy to engage in spirited fire fights such as the memorable wars he’s had with “El Matador” Roger Huerta (21-5-1) and “The Dream” Diego Sanchez (23-4). Clay fights to win, and if he can’t win, he still manages to entertain with his virtually unrivaled speed and conditioning. Just because his brand of entertainment doesn’t involve jumping kicks off the cage (if he could he probably would), it doesn’t make him a boring fighter – not by a long shot.
What Clay lacks in striking fortitude (which seems to be the only acceptable way to fight according to fans of “MMA” lately) he more than makes up for with his often overlooked gift: his incredible ability to neutralize submissions. When the fight did hit the ground “Showtime” was ready and willing to continue fighting, throwing up a bevy of Triangles and Armbars from his back to stave off Guida’s relentless attacks. Lesser fighters would have succumbed to Anthony’s submission attempts, but Clay’s persistent ground pressure kept him out of danger and winging hooks left and right, always looking to advance. That is hardly a game plan that can be labeled “lay-and-pray”. This is a feat that should be praised, not shamed. But some go so far as to claim that the fight was misjudged entirely and that Anthony’s submission attempts should have won him the fight. The first round, perhaps, but the rest of the fight found Pettis mainly on defense. Pettis’ superior striking was nullified early and often and with good reason, Clay isn’t up to his level on the feet. No one would fault a fighter for wrestling “The Spider” Anderson Silva (28-4), yet somehow Clay does not get that flexibility with Pettis. Perhaps it isn’t Clay that fans are mad at, but rather, the style that Clay used to defeat a very exciting competitor.
Wrestling itself takes more heat from critics than Clay Guida ever has. What needs to be understood by fans and critics alike is that wrestling is here to stay. It has, for nearly all of MMA’s modern history, been a factor inside the cage. Names like “The Beast” Dan Severn (99-17-7), “The Hammer” Mark Coleman (16-10) and “The Natural” Randy Couture (19-11) ushered in its presence and champions like Cain Velasquez (9-0), “Bones” Jon Jones (13-1) and “Rush” Georges St. Pierre (22-2) have shown that it’s an essential base to become an elite fighter. College wrestlers have found a home in MMA for a good reason: wrestling is a very practical offense and defense and has solidified itself as a martial art. Name another single fighting style that can neutralize striking and submissions. Clay Guida can. He spoke the truth when he said “wrestling wins championships”. It simply and effectively does just that even though the odds are stacked against wrestling in MMA. That isn’t a misprint. MMA is not tailored to wrestling.
Despite what many believe, an MMA fight is catered towards strikers. Every fight starts in a striker’s favored position: on the feet. Fights that stall on the ground are reset to standing, giving the striker a chance once again, to fight their game. When was the last time a fight was stopped and brought to the ground because a fighter refused to engage on the feet? Strikers, if they practice hard enough can actually purposefully stall a fight on the ground to change the fight back to their favored choice of attack. There is nothing in the rules against doing that. The only advantage a wrestler has is to exploit the judging by controlling the fight. Try to hold down an elite level mixed martial artist for five minutes and say, with earnest, that it’s “safe” fighting. The format of an MMA fight is and likely always will be catered to the striker, and for good reason – knockouts sell tickets.
At the end of the day fans can always challenge wrestling and fighters who use its style so proficiently by saying they will not pay to see a wrestling match but rather, to see a fight. They claim fighters like Clay and “GSP” are ruining the sport – and again, fans misplace their anger. Every fight is a two-way street. Responsibility does not solely rely on the dominant fighter to entertain. There are two people in the cage, it is both of their responsibility to entertain. Anthony Pettis certainly agrees. He was quoted as saying “I just understand how the game works. If he controls you, you lose the round. I didn’t do enough to get up off my back, so big up to Clay”. That is coming from the beaten man. He can manage to respect his opponent even if he didn’t “stand and bang” with him. Fans can and should do the same. And to those who are still not convinced, fear not – history has shown that fighters find a way. “The Iceman” Chuck Liddell (21-8) made a multi-million dollar career out of sprawling and brawling. He found a way around wrestling’s stifling style: he himself was a good wrestler. It offers the ability to control a fight wherever it goes. Fighters should take Guida’s win Saturday night and Chuck Liddell’s entire career as a notice: fighters need to have good wrestling to be successful in this sport. And if worse comes to worse, MMA will have an army of busy-bodied wrestlers like Clay Guida, and that’s not a bad thing.