Clay Guida and Gray Maynard Differ on What Wins an MMA Fight, While Stats Tell Only Part of the Story

Photo by Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

With one eye swollen shut behind a pair of glasses, Clay Guida showed up to the post-fight press conference following his split decision loss on Friday night and calmly explained that he’d done exactly what he intended to do over the course of five rounds in the cage with Gray Maynard in Atlantic City. He hit while avoiding being hit, he said. He stuffed most of Maynard’s takedowns. He stuck to his game plan, and he frustrated Maynard.

"We kept him guessing. We were in and out. He was swinging for the fences; we weren’t there," Guida said, adding, "I felt good about my performance."

So then why did he finish the fight to a chorus of boos, and why did two of three judges score the fight for Maynard? According to Guida, it’s because some judges and fans have a "misconception" about the sport itself.

"I think mixed martial arts is, the guy who gets hit the least, usually is the victor. I can’t wait to see the Fightmetrics or whatever it is and see the strikes that I landed against the strikes that were thrown."

But here’s one fight where the story told by the stats seems incomplete.

According to the numbers provided by Fightmetric, Maynard out-struck Guida just slightly in both significant strikes (49 landed out of 225 thrown by Maynard, compared with 45 of 321 for Guida) and in total strikes (52 of 229 for Maynard; 49 of 327 for Guida). Maynard also gets credit for the only takedown of the fight, as well as the only submission attempt.

But fights aren’t scored according to final striking stats. They’re scored one round at a time, and by judges who don’t have access to the numbers when they write their scores down. In the first two rounds Guida actually threw more and landed more. Maynard out-struck Guida in rounds three and five, and the two men landed the exact same number of strikes in round four, with Maynard getting the slight edge in significant strikes for that round (11 of 32 for Maynard; 10 of 54 for Guida). In terms of total number of strikes thrown, Guida out-worked Maynard in every single round, often by significant margins.

If you only had access to those numbers, you might think it was Guida who was on the attack all night. Unfortunately for him, that wasn’t the perception in the cage.

"He’d hit, and, it’s not even moving, it’s moving to the other end of the cage," Maynard said of Guida’s strategy in the post-fight press conference. "A couple steps, I understand that. You’re still in the pocket. You’re still there, able to hit me. But you’ve got to understand, it’s a fight still. You can’t just go to the end of the cage and then back to the other end and back to the other end the whole time. You’ve got to give me a chance too."

Giving Maynard a chance to punch him in the face clearly wasn’t in Guida’s plans, however. He stayed on the move, circling away from Maynard’s attacks, never remaining in one place long enough to allow Maynard to put together combinations. According to Guida, that was part of a calculated effort to nullify Maynard’s power, and it worked.

"We stuck to our game plan. We were unpredictable," he said. "He’s a big, heavy puncher, man."

And yet, spending so much of the fight avoiding striking exchanges tends to make a poor impression on the judges, who might not be keeping a close enough tally of strikes landed and strikes avoided to know that Guida was throwing more and, in some rounds, landing more than Maynard. To many fans -- as well as to UFC president Dana White -- Guida seemed to be doing more running than fighting, even if the numbers don't exactly reflect that.

Still, don't look for Guida to apologize for implementing his strategy. Even if he ended up in the loss column on Friday night, he expressed few regrets with how he got there.

"Our plan was to kind of get in on more singles and doubles, wear him down more, and just not sit in the pocket with him," Guida said. "Even when we did we landed some good uppercuts, some good hooks. I landed a couple of straights. I felt confident in my combinations, but the dude hits like a Mack truck, man, so I didn’t want to be there for too much of it. A couple of times he whiffed and almost ran into the fence. I felt good about it. We’ll get him next time."

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