That made Gray Maynard the big winner. Sort of. He got the nod from two of the three cageside judges and had his hand raised in the main event of UFC on FX 4 on Friday night. And over the course of the five bizarre rounds that led to that result, he won over the sellout crowd of 4,652 at Ovation Hall in the peculiarly upscale new Revel Resort & Casino. "The Bully," who was loudly booed on his way to the cage -- hey, the local fans had been watching him beat on no one but Jersey boy Frankie Edgar for the last couple of years -- gradually turned a "Guida! Guida!" chant to "Maynard! Maynard!"
It wasn't so much what Maynard (11-1-1, one no contest) did, though, that turned the crowd as it was what Guida (29-12) didn't do. And that theme spilled over into so many facets of the fight and its impact on the UFC lightweight division. On a night when Maynard -- and Guida, too, for that matter -- was endeavoring to reclaim a place among the weight class's top contenders by not just winning but winning impressively, it was pretty much impossible to look extraordinary in a fight like this. Even if you're the winner.
Indeed, Maynard spent the better part of 25 minutes chasing after Guida and rarely catching him. Maynard threw wild punches that bruised nothing but air. He was off-balance, out of whack, in a funk. "I was pissed off," the 33-year-old, fighting for the first time since being KO'd by Edgar eight months ago, said at the postfight press conference. "I'm a human, too. I'm here to work."
Maynard's frustration boiled over in the third round. The crowd was mostly still on Guida's side at that point, the fans apparently thinking that after showing off his elusiveness for two rounds, "The Carpenter" would start playing offense. He didn't. Guida danced to the left. Guida danced to the right. He did the hokeypokey and turned himself around. (And by the way, I use the term "dance" loosely, in the herky-jerky Elaine Benes sense.) At one point Clay went into a little Ali shuffle -- he wasn't exactly floating like a butterfly, though, and he definitely didn't sting like a bee. (Over the course of the five minutes, he landed but four punches, according to FightMetric statistics.) Just before the end of the round, Maynard gave chase across the cage at a full run, swinging wildly and missing the retreating Guida. When the horn sounded, Gray gave Clay the finger. And the crowd was his from that instant on.
The fourth round saw Maynard channel the spirit of Nick Diaz, giving the finger another time, dropping his hands to his sides and sticking his chin out, doing anything he could to try to bait Guida into a fight. With the crowd roaring its approval, he had limited success, engaging Clay in brief close-quarters combat to get the fight to the ground and clamp on a guillotine choke. But Guida survived that, and he survived a final round in which Maynard landed a couple of hard knees to the face but mostly just gave chase.
Later, Guida would characterize his Tour de France strategy as a matter of sticking with what's working. "I'm happy with my performance," he said at the press conference.
Was he also happy with going from hero to villain? "The fans, the goombas in the crowd," he said, shaking his head. "We're on the Jersey shore, and I think they have a misconception of what mixed martial arts is."
If they do, they're not alone. Late in the final round, referee Dan Miragliotta halted the action and issued Guida a warning for running away rather than fighting. And UFC president Dana White also shares the goombas' misconception. During the fight he took his frustration to Twitter, writing, "I thought it was impossible for this fight to suck. I WAS WRONG!!!!!!" Then, a few minutes later: "First time I have ever seen Guida get boo'd out of the building. I am booing too!!"
At the press conference, White elaborated as only he can: "This isn't [expletive] Dancing with the Stars."
Speaking of stars, the UFC lightweight division has a gridlock of them. With Benson Henderson defending his new championship belt in August against the man he dethroned, Edgar, that leaves Nate Diaz and Anthony Pettis to sit and wait for title shots each was promised. Of course, this night in Jersey could have changed all that. Those two top contenders, as they sat and waited, could have been leapfrogged by a spectacular Maynard performance. But it was not to be. And for that, Gray has not himself to blame.
There's only so much you can do. It takes two to make a fight. It takes two to tango. But when one person is fighting and the other is dancing ...
A detour turns into a roadblock: Hatsu Hioki came to the UFC last fall already a star, at least to fans who follow MMA beyond the octagonal confines of the Dana White Fight Club. The former champion in the Japanese promotions Shooto and Sengoku did not live up to his billing in his debut, as the lanky submission ace barely eked out a split-decision win against George Roop. But Hioki showed more of what he's capable of in a decisive victory over Bart Palaszewski in February, and his path was clear: Next stop, featherweight champion José Aldo.
Not so fast. Hioki decided he needed one more fight before stepping in front of the Brazilian buzz saw.
Unfortunately for him, he picked the wrong steppingstone. And lost his foothold.
Ricardo Lamas turned a back-and-forth grappling match to his advantage in the last two rounds, nearly choking out Hioki (26-5-2) before settling for a unanimous-decision win that scuttled the Japanese fighter's title challenge plans. "It's surreal," said Lamas (12-2) after the three 29-28 scores were read.
Lamas clamped on guillotine chokes several times in the second and third rounds, and Hioki as the submission attempts mounted, Hioki's ability to escape waned. But he didn't give in. "Oh my god, that guy's got gills, man," said Lamas. "I don't know where that guy was breathing from. He held his breath for like three minutes."
Hioki can breath easy now. He doesn't have to think about Aldo for a while.
The Story continues: Not long ago, Rick Story was rocketing through the welterweight division, winning 12 of 13 fights between early 2008 and last May, the last two wins coming against Johny Hendricks and Thiago Alves. Then he stepped in against Charlie Brenneman on less than a month's notice and ... poof. That defeat was followed by another in November against Martin Kampmann, which was followed by knee surgery. Suddenly the rocket was fast fizzing down to earth.
"After two losses," he acknowledged, "my reputation as an up-and-coming guy was on the line for sure."
Story spoke those words after he'd toed that line and changed his trajectory for the better, scoring a unanimous-decision win over UFC debutante Brock Jardine in a wrestling-heavy prelim that had the early-arriving crowd a bit restless.
"I felt OK in there," said Story (14-5), "but after so long off and knee surgery I didn't quite trust myself to go 100 percent. I had to put my foot on the gas in the last round."
To get going back in the right direction.
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