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TELANDER: It’s hard to get a handle on MMA

UFC Fox mixed martial arts United Center.   Clay Gudlands punch face Hatsu Hioki.  Clay Guidwbout.  January

UFC on Fox mixed martial arts at the United Center. Clay Guda, lands a punch to the the face of Hatsu Hioki. Clay Guida won the bout. January 26, 2013 I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 1, 2013 7:17PM

What can you say about Clay Guida? Other than that he’s such a nice, ­verbal, polite, law-abiding lunatic.

In his UFC fight, which I just witnessed from cageside at the sold-out United Center on Saturday night, the wild-haired, mustachioed Guida stood toe-to-toe against Hatsu Hioki of Japan, trading boxing-style blows with those tiny, free-fingered gloves these mixed-martial-arts guys wear.

One straight-on punch from one of those little leather things and your nose would explode like a burst tangerine. Which sometimes happens.

Almost everything painful and hideous that can be done to the body is guaranteed to occur in the UFC. Of course, you can’t gouge out somebody’s eyeball or purposely break his fingers or head butt or, my favorite, “fish hook’’ anymore. That means you can’t rip off a foe’s ear or tear his mouth open so it resembles a Jack-o’-Lantern’s grin.

And, as the UFC folks always remind us, nobody, allegedly, has ever been killed in sanctioned match. You tap out, that’s it.

But here is the 31-year old Guida now, having grabbed Hioki and lifted him above his shoulders like a large jangling carcass. For an instant there is a look in Guida’s wide-open eyes that is wild and fearsome and so primitive that it makes the hair on your arms stand up. Hioki is up there, helpless, and unknowing.

“I picked that one up from ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage,’’ Guida will say later as we chat. “From the WWF days.’’

Then the 5-7, 145-pound fighter grins. “No, that was just a double-leg takedown from old high school wrestling days. He’s taller than me [5-11] as most of my opponents are, so it just happened, and I got under him.’’

Guida had held Hioki up there for just a moment, gathering his balance, and then had slammed the fighter to the mat as hard as he could, with Hioki landing on his back and neck and the crowd roaring with lust.

“Yeah, it looked pretty,’’ Guida says. “But no real damage was done. It just looks cool.’’

Guida, from little Johnsburg, a northern town in the cornfields beyond Chicago, still helps coach the high school wrestling team where he learned many of his mixed-martial-arts skills, and his mom and dad come to almost all of his fights. His sister and her husband witnessed their first fight here at the UC, and they might not have turned away from the gore in the many other bouts.

But as Guida slammed the Japanese fighter to the mat that primitive light was shining. Drop him an inch this way or that, and who knows? Maybe it could kill him.

And that is where the hard part of this vicious sport comes to focus — the goal is to get your opponent, clad in virtually no clothes or shoes or protective gear — to submit. And what submission is greater than being dead?

But the fans cheer, and the chants of “Gwee-da! Gwee-da!’’ grew louder each time Guida threw a forearm or elbow into his foe’s face.

Guida won a split decision and afterward his face resembled a dropped watermelon. But these guys don’t care about their faces. Guida did admit he would wait about five or six days before he let his nieces and nephews see him.

“I don’t want to scare them,’’ he said.

But he won. And he was joyful. And he respected his foe who lost a tough one, but, of course, survived. As these fighters apparently always do. In a later bout, Ricardo Lamas of Elmhurst battered Milwaukeean Erik Koch’s face until Lamas’ forearm and elbow were painted red with blood. I had to turn away. But blood is the sacrifice the crowd chants for.

Guida, so cheerful, so courteous, so dedicated to his training, continued talking about that throw of Hioki.

“I’m not out to hurt anyone, ideally. That’s not what I want to do. It would have been nice to have put him on his head, though, and finished the fight with a knockout.’’

But that would certainly hurt, wouldn’t it? I asked.

“Yeah, yeah,’’ Guida agrees. “Yes.’’

It’s a conundrum then. It’s maybe too close to the surface. The blood ritual, the gore, the darkness of mortal wounding. Which, remember, never quite happens.

Many people hate MMA. I am torn.

So often I had to look away.

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