Bowling alley brawls, Chuck Norris, and riots in the stands: Clay Guida reflects on 5 favorite fights of his Hall of Fame career

UFC Fight Night: Guida v Bermudez

Nineteen years later, Clay Guida is still an ageless wonder.

The 40-year-old UFC Hall Famer marches into his 59th professional fight on Saturday when he meets Claudio Puelles in a main card battle at UFC Vegas 52. Despite the mileage on his odometer, Guida could conceivably be 3-0 over his last three bouts if just one more scorecard flipped his way in a recent split decision with the undefeated Mark Madsen, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the old warhorse is still having the time of his life.

“I’ll tell you what, I get more excited now, man, knowing that there’s a new challenge, a new opponent, whether I’ve heard of them or whether I haven’t,” Guida told MMA Fighting. “The fact that we just get to keep going out there and having fun and doing what we love, man, that we set out a long time ago — which to me, doesn’t seem like a long time — is amazing.”

Guida’s road through MMA is one of the longest and most history-rich still active in the lightweight division today, so we asked the living legend to do the impossible: After a career rife with post-fight bonuses and Fight of the Year contenders, which nights stand out most to the UFC’s original wild man? If he could narrow down just five fights that shaped his Hall of Fame journey the most, which performances would Guida pick?

Safe to say, it wasn’t easy.

Editor’s Note: All quotes edited for clarity and concision.

1. Chris Mickle + Alonzo Martinez

The Setup: Xtreme Kage Kombat: Des Moines on May 20, 2005 in Des Moines, Iowa.

Background: Guida was just a 23-year-old wrestler with less than two years of actual MMA experience when the phone call came for his first real step up in competition.

Practically every promise sold to him about XKK’s four-man tournament turned out to be a lie, but Guida wasn’t being brought in to win anyway. The real favorite of the bracket was future WEC contender Chris Mickle, a hometown boy who rode a 12-fight unbeaten streak into the bracket. Guida wasn’t a real person, she was just an afterthought. Or so everyone thought…

Result(s): Guida def. Mickle via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27), Guida def. Martinez via submission (rear-naked choke) at 3:22 of Round 3.

In His Own Words: “So I’d just fought on a Saturday, I’d beat this college wrestler who was supposed to beat me, climbed up on the cage, did a huge backflip off the cage, and I was feeling pretty good. I was still working a full-time job — I was in the union carpenter apprentice program — but I’m walking into the wrestling room and my phone rings, it’s my manager at the time, he goes, ‘Hey, you want to fight Friday?’ I’m like, ‘Well, it’s Wednesday.’ He’s like, ‘OK, well, yeah — these guys, they just called. It’s going to be in Des Moines (Iowa). The tournament is for four men. They’ll give you a five-pound allowance and you’ll get to pick your opponent, since you’re the short-notice [entrant].’ And I’m like, ‘OK, cool — how much are we talking?’ He’s like, ‘Well, $300 to show and $300 to win the whole tournament.’ I was like, ‘Pshhhh, sign me up, man! This is a lot of money. Let’s go, this is huge!’


Clay Guida never minded getting a little bloody.
Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

“So we took the minivan out there on Friday, man — and we get out there, we get to this place called the Bel-Air Ballroom. This is a bowling alley! We’re like, ‘What is this? !’ It’s got the low ceilings — the cage almost goes up to the ceilings. It’s located in the bowling alley just to the left, so that it is not directly on the lanes. However, it’s just slightly to the right. People are actually bowling as we fight. It’s awesome, dude. I’m like, ‘This is so Midwest and so [The Big] Lebowski.’

“So we go find the promoter, and I’ve always been a bit small for the weight class — boom, I’m 155 [pounds], 156, whatever. We see our other opponents — they’re 165 and 170. We’re like, ‘What the heck? How did we ever get our five-pound allowance? How about the guys who are gaining weight? !’ So whatever, we didn’t make a stink about it. Then they come up to us, they’re like, ‘Oh, you’re going to fight this guy.’ I’m like, ‘Wait, I thought the deal was we get to pick our opponent?’ Nope, that wasn’t true either. So they basically just brought us out there to be a tomato can, and they put me up against this kid Chris Mickle. He fought Jose Aldo. He had fought some tough, tough dudes, man, and won some pretty good fights. I didn’t really know what MMA was, I only had a handful of fights.

“So I end up going out there and I keep taking this dude Chris Mickle down over and over, and I’m just putting a ground-and-pound clinic on him. Dude, his head is bouncing off the ground like a basketball. Hammerfists. He’s just sitting in the guard, taking it — with this cute little smile on his face. I’m like, ‘This kid is out there, dude. It’s wild. I look at the ref and say, “You aren’t going to stop this fight?” No. He was a local guy. We’re being booed. We made it to the finals. The other side of the bracket was a guy named Alonzo Martinez, who fought in [Strikeforce and Bellator] for a little while — he knocked his dude out in like a minute. So I fought a full fight, this dude knocked his dude out right away, he’s got all this time to rest and watch us fight, and I get like the 30-minute rest in the back. Alonzo Martinez looks huge compared to me when I go in. He’s weighing 175, I’m barely tipping the scales at 160 after eating a Subway sandwich.

“He’s pummeling me, dude. I mean, he’s just not having my wrestling. I’m just getting along with him. I’m like, ‘Oh boy, alright.’ First round, he wins. He wins the second round. He wins the second round. He didn’t even blink. Oh boy, here we go.’

“So I just did my old best Goldberg double-leg, man. I speared him, he went to his butt, and I heard him go, ‘ooooooohhhhhh,’ and he rolled over. He was probably suffocating. I think we just gassed him out. He rolled over and I rear-naked choked him and won the fight — went up on the cage and had my hands up and the whole crowd started cheering, man, and it was almost like the whole crowd flipped for us. At first they were cheering against us, for their local hometown hero, and then they were cheering us on, and I remember vividly having my hands up in the air and just thinking to myself, ‘Yeah, we’re going to do this fighting thing — and we’re going to be good at it, man.'”

(I’d usually embed video of the fights in this spot, but apparently there’s no surviving footage of this XKK tournament, so go ahead and just imagine a baby-faced Clay Guida running through fools amid a backdrop of your grungiest Friday night bowling league. )

2. Josh Thomson

The Setup: Strikeforce: Shamrock vs. Gracie on March 10, 2006 in San Jose, California.

Background: Guida’s success in the bowling alley brawls proved to be exactly the breakthrough he needed. After starting his MMA career off with a middling 3-3 record, the Illinois native’s confidence exploded overnight — Guida rattled off wins in 15 of his next 16 bouts, including a triumphant night against future WEC and UFC contender Bart Palaszewski, all while working full-time as a carpenter’s apprentice,

His performance attracted the attention of Strikeforce in California, a brand new promotion. It was setting up the stage for the debut show featuring marquee names Cesar Gracie and Frank Shamrock. Scott Coker, a promoter wanted to add a title fight to the card in order to showcase Josh Thomson from San Jose — but it was an undiscovered Midwest boy who had a knack for barnburners that got the call.

Result: Guida def. Thomson via unanimous decision (49-46, 49-45, 49-45).


Clay Guida delivers a blow to Josh Thompson during the debut Strikeforce event in 2006.
Photo by John Medina/Getty Images

In His Own Words: “At the time they brought us in, I was pretty unknown. I was like 22-3 or 23-3 or something, so we had a pretty decent record, but it’d only mostly been on the Midwest circuit, hadn’t fought really any big, big names yet. So we got the call, it’s going to be the first legal California card, it’s supposed to be one of the biggest ones in San Jose, and we’re watching film on Josh Thompson — he had the epic [UFC] fight with Yves Edwards, he had fought Hermes Franca, so he was a name. At one point, he was ranked second or third in the world. I just thought, ‘OK, cool. Let me tell you what I can do. I’m a good wrestler and master ground-and-pound. This guy can do everything. So what am I going to focus on? Getting this dude to the ground — and trying not to get my head knocked off in the meantime.’

“So there’s 16,500 fans booing us and it was almost like Rocky in Russia against Ivan Drago. We went on our way — it was like being a steam engine. We just kept going and taking him down. Next thing you know, by the fifth round, people are cheering for us and they’re like, ‘What is going on? I don’t know who this child is. !’ We get our hand raised, and I turn around and Chuck Norris is presenting me with a championship belt. This is just like a dream. This is too cool. I look over my brother and I’m fanboying out to Chuck Norris — it was his 65th birthday and we’re like, ‘This is surreal, man.’ And that one put us on the map, I would say. We just stepped on the accelerator. We went all in on mixed martial arts.”

3. Justin James

The Setup: UFC 64 on October 14, 2006 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Background: After the upset in San Jose, Guida had become impossible to ignore.

Opportunities in Shooto and the WEC followed a split decision loss to Strikeforce legend Gilbert Melendez, but the UFC had always been the dream — and with the 155-pound division having recently been reintroduced to the UFC’s ranks in 2006, it was only a matter of time before the call arrived. Guida just had to make sure life didn’t get in the way first.

Result: Guida def. James via submission (rear-naked choke) at 4:42 of Round 2.


Clay Guida punches Justin James at UFC 64.
Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

In His Own Words: “So I’d been laid off from the carpenter’s apprentice program, I’d been laid off from the union. That was the first time ever — I just didn’t realize that was a thing. When I was young I had heard of people being laid off from the trades but never imagined that it would happen to me. I’m living with my parents at the time and I don’t want to go home and face the music and tell my dad, ‘Hey, I’m out of a job, dude. It’s my basement, and I don’t know how to get out of it. It was another self-talk, so I just said, “Man, this is it!” This could be the sign. This is meant to be. This is what I intend to do full-time. I don’t know how to do it, but I’m going to find a way. We’re going to make this s*** happen.’

“So I’m unemployed now, just fighting full-time, and it’s like 7 a.m. — I get a phone call and it’s my coach. He’s like, ‘Alright, you ready for this?’ I’m like, ‘I’ve been ready for this my whole life, coach.’ He’s like, ‘OK, I just got off the phone with Joe Silva — October 14, UFC 64, 2006, Las Vegas, Mandalay Bay Event Center, against Justin James, jiu-jitsu guy.’ And it’s one that, for me, I’ll always remember every moment of that day. I’d been to a UFC event when Frank Mir snapped Tim Sylvia’s arm — this is right when I first started fighting back in 2004, when I first was getting into MMA and stuff — so it was special for it to be in Vegas. That’s where fights belong, and especially for your debut, to be on such a card with such magnitude — Anderson Silva’s second fight after he just cremated Chris Leben, and he was fighting, who was kind of almost untouchable at the time, Rich ‘Ace’ Franklin — Randy Couture is calling the fight, Joe Rogan is calling the fight, some of my favorite guys.

“So I went out there, after almost getting my arm broken in the first or second round by Justin James, he gave up his back and I choked him out — and the rest is history. We found out later that night at the press conference, we won $20,000 for Submission of the Night, and they sent us a really cool glass sculpture that said ‘Submission of the Night.’ So the stage was set, man. We were in the UFC and we weren’t going to hold back.”

4. Roger Huerta

The Setup: The Ultimate Fighter 6 Finale on December 8, 2007 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Background: Once Guida was in the big show, it didn’t take long for UFC fans to fall in love with the free-swinging maniac with the free-swinging locks.

“The Carpenter”, in true Guida fashion, nabbed two post-fight bonus points in his four first octagon fights. This earned him a reputation for being a fan favourite whose appearances were a must-see on every card. His results, however, were inconsistent. Guida was just 2-2 in his UFC run when the call came for his first main event, a matchup as the B-side against one of the hottest prospects up to that point in UFC history: Sports Illustrated cover boy Roger Huerta.

Result: Huerta def. Guida via submission (rear-naked choke) at 0:51 of Round 3.


Clay Guida and Roger Huerta trade blows in 2007.
Photo by: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

In His Own Words: “Man, he had so much steam behind him and so much hype behind him, being on the cover of Sports Illustrated. People thought he was the guy. He had some big fights, some big wins. But I’ll tell you what, we came out there in that first round and we put a 10-8 on him. Just everything we threw for some reason that night, we could not miss. That small cage in the Palms, the Pearl [Theater] in the Palms casino, man, it was bananas. People were hanging from the rafters, dude. The atmosphere was intense and loud, making it one of my favorite venues for a fight. That was my first main event, and there was so much about that fight. He was catching my kicks with my cross, I was hitting him with my overhands and he was taking me down with ground-and-pounding.

“I hit him with a rear uppercut that just sent him into [orbit]. He said, “Man, I blackedout.” I didn’t even know where I was. And then all of a sudden everything went from black to red, and my vision was blurry, I open my eyes — there was all this hair.’ And he’s like, ‘I finally get my vision back and it was Clay Guida standing on top of me with his hair and he was just raining down punches.’

“I could’ve probably just sat in the corner of the third round and just won that fight by not doing any but circling, but everybody knows: That’s not our style. This is not the way we fight. And unfortunately, it came to be our demise that night, because I went out there to shoot and he came out with a flying knee — and he clipped me. He clipped me and he put me in a whole other atmosphere, dude. He got me good and he ended up finishing me.

“So that was one of those, it was like, ‘How?’ I really had to think to myself, how can a fight be going so, so well — and then in the blink of an eye, how can it turn like that?’ So I really had to kind of look within myself. Fight of the Night was a great fight. We got Fight of the year. But if I don’t make that a Fight of the Night and I win, OK, next we’re probably fighting Kenny Florian and we’re in title contention. So I kind of almost had to sacrifice the insane, crazy, wild, knocking-’em-down-drag-’em-out fight style to preserve my longevity in the UFC, and just become a little bit more ring savvy, more aware, utilize my skills, utilize my wrestling and our conditioning. Not every fight has to be super, super crazy. So that was a defining moment to me, because I had to just step back and look at where we were going in the UFC in a short time, and really reevaluate.”

5. Diego Sanchez

The Setup: The Ultimate Fighter 9 Finale on June 20, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Background: Guida’s come-to-Jesus moment after the Huerta loss proved to be effective. Over the next two-years, “The Carpenter”, who was able to win three wins while beating a pre-superstar Nate Diaz in an Fight of the Night on the UFC’s inaugural champion vs champion pay-per-view hosted by Georges St-Pierre & B.J. Penn.

Guida appeared in the title photo for the first time during his UFC career.

It all culminated in a matchup against an ex-welterweight, who was now making waves in his new division. Guida is the only lightweight with a more wild reputation than Diego Sanchez, “The Nightmare”.

Result: Sanchez def. Guida via split decision (28-29, 29-27, 29-28).


Clay Guida and Diego Sanchez go to war in 2009.
Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

In His Own Words: “The Diego Sanchez fight speaks for itself. It’s a wonderful place with so many memories and cool moments that took place outside the ring. That’s what I always like hearing, is the stories from my friends, fans, family, coaches, teammates, people that come to fight week — that’s what does it for me, man. It’s part and parcel of why I compete: to share their joy in it, as well as to entertain them. So we’re back at The Palms. We’re back, again. Huerta is still on my mind. It’s over, though we are still main-eventing. This is an extremely-promising matchup between Diego and me. He is on the rise, and I am on the up. Both of us are on winning streaks. It’s now time to get on the stage. It was planned. That place rocked even more, man. We go out and I get my first round. It was so loud that it still rings in my head when I think about it. Boom — I was on my butt! Then the whole fight from there was literally just flashes. I remember 20-second flashes of not remembering and then — boom — I’m in on a leg! Boom! There’s blood everywhere!

“The referee, Josh Rosenthal, he tells me a week later because I saw him at UFC 100, he’s like, ‘Guida, dude, I’ve got to tell you this story, man. “You’re the wildest man ever,” I said to him. He told me this story a week later, after he saw Josh Rosenthal at UFC [****************************************************************************************************************************************************** *********************************************************************************************************************]. But you put your finger up, like, ‘Don’t stop the fight.’ And Diego’s just railing you with knees and punches, dude.’ [Laughs.] I was like, ‘Yeah, I remember looking over but I don’t remember all that.’ And he’s like, ‘It was wild, dude.’

“There were fights in the crowd. People were trying to get into fights with [my friends] in the crowd up on the second level. Everyone was getting too excited. People will tell me, like, ‘Dude, we had to fight this guy and that and the other.’ I’m like, ‘Oh my God.’ Drinks were being thrown at each other in the audience, I heard. It was just bananas. My mom was rolling around on the ground during the first round because she was scared to the bejesus because I was getting pummeled and there was blood everywhere on me. My manager had to grab her by the head and shoulders, he said, ‘Mrs. Guida! He’s back! He’s starting to win!’ He literally had to grab her physically because my dad couldn’t handle it.

“So that was one of those fights for the ages. That fight, for its place and time, was meant to take place. This fight really brought the division to another level of excitement. And if I’m looking back at it now, that was 2009 — that was 12 years ago, dude. It’s amazing to believe that. Thank goodness for Diego, we both get inducted into the [UFC] Hall of Fame because of that fight. It will be remembered forever for the sheer magnitude of the event, and also that portion of our lives. To me, that’s amazing. I get lost for words for it sometimes, because we hear it and I’m thankful for every time people say it, but it almost sometimes doesn’t feel real.”