Nick Diaz’s star was beginning to shine brighter than ever last year after EliteXC decided to sign him to a new, long-term contract and put a big promotional push behind him. The promotion even went so far as to go against the “Unified Rules of MMA” and create a new lightweight class of 160 pounds, almost specifically for the benefit of Diaz.
But a funny thing happened on Diaz’s way to the title, he ran into a buzzsaw in K.J. Noons, who picked Diaz a part during EliteXC’s “Renegade” event in Corpus Christi, Texas this past November. Despite his protests, he was TKO’d vs. Noons after a doctor recommended the fight be stopped following the first round due to multiple lacerations to Diaz’s face.
An attempt to get Diaz back on the winning track was tried this past March on the undercard of the Frank Shamrock vs. Cung Le co-promotion between Strikeforce and EliteXC. But a planned bout vs. Korean kickboxer Jae Suk Lim never took place, as the California State Athletic Commission would not license him in time for the bout.
Diaz’s much needed comeback win took place on May 11, where he defeated Katsuya Inoue at 6:45 of round 1 during DREAM.3 in Japan. The fight was stopped after Inoue’s corner threw in the towel due to the massive pummeling he was taking from Diaz.
Fast forward to this Saturday, and Diaz is scheduled for a featured fight during EliteXC’s “Return of the King” that many pundits are viewing as another layup. The thing is, while Diaz is justifiably the favorite, Muhsin Corbbrey is hardly an automatic win.
Lest we forget the last time Diaz fought in Hawaii, as it was during EliteXC’s “Uprising” event last September in which Diaz won in controversial fashion against a then little-known local opponent in Mike Aina. Defying the oddmakers, Aina stood toe-to-toe with Diaz and lost a decision many felt he should have won.
Aina held his own with Diaz because of his toughness. However, Corbbrey poses an even bigger threat to Diaz because he has a technical proficiency that Aina does not possess. In many ways, Diaz will be fighting an opponent on Saturday that is similar to him.
When you look at the similarities between Diaz and Corbbrey, they are striking. Diaz is only one of three grapplers promoted to the level of black belt by Cesar Gracie. He has also competed in the world’s most presitigous grappling events and holds a victory over renowned grappler Jorge Pantino in jiu-jitsu competition.
Meanwhile, Corbbrey once trained jiu jitsu under Lloyd Irvin and was a gold medalist during the second annual Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Open. While Corbbrey no longer trains under Irvin, he currently keeps his grappling chops sharp by training with former UFC lightweight fighter Din Thomas.
Diaz has garnered respect from many hardcore fans because of his ability to fight both standing and on the ground. Despite having world class credentials on the mat, Diaz has worked hard on his striking and has trained with former WBA and WBC World Champion Luisita Espinosa in a quest to perfect his hands. He’s even competed in one professional boxing match, winning via decision.
But Corbbrey has worked extensively on his striking as well. Training under the guidance of Manu Ntoh, Corbbrey’s professional Muay Thai record is a stellar 9-1. Meanwhile, he also trains boxing under John Blanken and currently holds a pro record of 5-2-1. As an amateur, Corbbrey won the open division at the Georgia Games.
It’s hard to understand why there are those who aren’t giving Corbbrey much of a chance since it’s apparent that Corbbrey has the credentials to hang with Diaz wherever the fight may go. However, there is one hurdle that Corbbrey must overcome in order to have a shot at pulling off the upset.
A counter-fighter by trade, Corbbrey is notorious for being a slow starter. Against the unheralded Bobby McMaster during his second-ever ShoXC appearance last October, Corbbrey was being dominated by McMaster until McMaster got careless. He left his neck out and Corbbrey capitalized by submitting him with a guillotine choke with just one second left in round 1.
He will not get such a reprieve against Diaz, which could spell trouble as Diaz is not one who is shy about imposing his will upon another fighter. If he allows Diaz to consistently dictate the terms of the fight, Corbbrey is destined to lose via unanimous decision. As such, Corbbrey needs to establish himself early and prevent Diaz from getting off early.
One advantage Corbbrey has in his favor is that with no one expecting him to win, Corbbrey has nothing to lose. He’s also a man who clearly understands the magnitude of the opportunity he will be receiving Saturday night.
“It means a lot,” Corbbrey responded when asked about the chance to fight Diaz on SHOWTIME during a recent media outing. “It’s going to come down to who wants it a little bit more. Every fight he goes in to, he fights tooth and nail to the end. This is going to be a tough, hard fight. I’m going to have to stand in there and get gritty with him. But it’s a huge opportunity. I have a ton of respect for him.”
While Corbbrey has respect for Diaz, he has yet to earn widespread respect for himself from the critics. However, a strong showing vs. Diaz will change that. An upset victory would change even more.