115768_ngajpgoqkg_vlarge.jpgTo say there was a large contingent of hardcore Mixed Martial Arts fans that were disappointed with EliteXC’s debut on CBS two weeks ago would be an understatement. However, the promotion will return to the national spotlight tomorrow with a five-fight card set to air on SHOWTIME at 10 p.m. ET with a slew of fights that on paper, could offer the pure fan a lot more than the CBS show.

EliteXC’s “Return of the King,” set to emanate from the Blaisdell Arena in Honolulu, Hawaii, features two talented strikers headlining the event with K.J. Noons defending his EliteXC lightweight title against the resurgent Yves Edwards. However, the card is also populated by more complete Mixed Martial Artists in comparison to the promotion’s previous show.

Instead of a striker-heavy lineup, “Return of the King” will offer some diversity, as it will feature Cesar Gracie jiu-jitsu black belt Nick Diaz taking on former Lloyd Irvin student Muhsin Corbbrey. Additionally, we’ll also see a battle of two former standout collegiate wrestlers in veteran Ron Waterman taking on up and coming heavyweight Dave Herman.

The solid, but unspectacular lineup will also feature bouts between light heavyweight prospect Rafael Feijao taking on former Division II All-American wrestler Wayne Cole as well as the return of former EliteXC middleweight champion Murilo “Ninja” Rua going against the mysterious Tony Bonello.

Here’s a full preview of this weekend’s show with predictions.

K.J. Noons vs. Yves Edwards for the EliteXC lightweight title:

This could be a fight of the year candidate. Edwards is clearly the better ground fighter but Noons displayed an excellent sprawl during his title win last November at “Renegade.” Edwards, no stranger to the standup game, is likely to indulge Noons on the feet initially.

Noons, who has trained boxing and kickboxing since he was a youth, is an underrated fighter looking for respect. In spite of his champion status, he’s nowhere near the top ten lightweights of most pundits. An impressive showing here would prove that his strong effort vs. Nick Diaz to win the title was not a fluke and that he’s simply a younger fighter starting to come into his own.

After losing five of six fights at one point, Edwards is now on a three fight winning streak and looking to regain his former status as one of the world’s best in his weight class. While he’s defeated some decent fighters during his current streak, none of his opponents can be considered top fighters. Winning against Nick Gonzalez in a low-pressure situation during the “Renegade” undercard is one thing, but taking out a fighter whose standup is as sharp as Noons’ in a main event match is something entirely different.

As strong as Edwards’ standup is, I’m not so sure it’s good enough to beat Noons. The question that needs to be answered is if Edwards begins to lose the standup portion of the fight, will he be able to impose his will and test Noons’ unproven jiu-jitsu? Based on Noons’ takedown defense vs. Diaz, I am not so sure and as such, I am picking Noons to retain his title via fourth round TKO.

Nick Diaz vs. Muhsin Corbbrey:

Many pundits view this fight as nothing more than a layup for Diaz, but I see this fight differently. In mainstream sports there is something known as a “trap” game, which is when a team is coming off a big game and has another big game on the horizon but first must face a lesser team. Diaz has his eyes on a rematch with K.J. Noons but he better not overlook Corbbrey.

Corbbrey is an underrated fighter with tremendous technical ability. He’s also not on Diaz’s level. However, he’s still very dangerous and Diaz is notorious for fighting to the level of his competition. While he destroyed Katsuya Inoue several weeks ago at DREAM.3, Diaz is still the same fighter who narrowly escaped defeat when he fought in Hawaii last September against Mike Aina. He’s also the same fighter who was absolutely picked a part by Noons last November at “Renegade.”

Corrbrey is a well-rounded fighter with both a competitive grappling and a pure striking (pro boxing and Muay Thai) background. The problem is that he’s notorious for being a slow starter and there are still questions that need to be answered about his transition game. A striking and grappling background isn’t enough, a fighter in MMA must possess the ability to take a fighter from the feet to the ground and vice versa in order to utilize their well-rounded skills.

But the transition element is also something that at times has alluded Diaz as well. In spite of being a Cesar Gracie black belt, he has a penchant for engaging in wild brawls during his fights. There are times where he has either neglected to attempt to take a fight to the ground when he was losing a standup exchange or was unsuccessful in his attempt to change the nature of the fight. Diaz is able to take opponents down via a bodylock and a subsequent trip takedown, but his leg takedowns are nothing to write home about.

But will Diaz need to take the fight to the ground? As mentioned earlier, Corbbrey is a slow starter and is also more of a counter fighter. Diaz can be very aggressive at times and if he imposes his will from the outset and Corbbrey does not get off fast, then Corbbrey could potentially absorb a lot of damage.

Their styles are similar yet their mentalities are total opposites. Diaz vs. Corbbrey is a very interesting matchup that is either going to prove to be an exceptional fight or one that puts people to sleep. It’s also one that presents the potential for an upset because of Corbbrey’s strong technical ability in the standup and on the ground. That being said, I still believe the pick here is Diaz via unanimous decision.

Dave Herman vs. Ron Waterman:

There will be a 19-year age difference when the 23-year old Herman and 42-year old Waterman square off on Saturday night. Waterman, a veteran of the UFC and PRIDE, is in this spot as the promotion looks to gauge exactly what they have in Herman.

Herman, a standout wrestler at the University of Indiana-Bloomington, has built up a perfect 10-0 record against unproven opponents. He turned a lot of heads during EliteXC’s “Street Certified” event in February against American Top Team heavyweight Mario Rinaldi, but there were those who weren’t all that impressed with Rinaldi’s effort.

Rinaldi, who also has a collegiate wrestling background, refused to engage with Herman in the standup and repeatedly attempted takedowns that went nowhere. During the fight, Herman rejected the takedowns and would often trap Rinaldi in a Thai clinch from which he delivered some very nasty knees. Rinaldi was spent by the time the fight was stopped in the third round, but Herman also looked pretty gassed as well.

In spite of his wrestling credentials, I would expect the rangy Herman to try and keep the fight standing again this weekend. The problem is that while Waterman is not a technical striker, he possesses heavy hands and has knocked out several opponents with his big right cross. Herman is clearly the favorite in this bout but he must avoid Waterman’s right, otherwise, his undefeated record will cease to be.

Assuming Herman doesn’t have to feel the power of Waterman’s right hand, I believe he will improve to 11-0 with a second round TKO.

Murilo “Ninja” Rua vs. Tony Bonello:

Bonello, 16-0-1, is an International man of mystery. Born in Malta, Bonello spent his formulate years in Australia, but according to him, he’s spent significant time training in Holland, Brazil, and Thailand as well as a host of other countries.

Bonello, who claims he earned his jiu-jitsu black belt in Brazil, is a virtual unknown to the mainstream American audience. He built up an impressive record competing primarily for King of the Cage’s Australian franchise, but various rumblings exist that many of his bouts were worked.

When speaking with industry insiders about Bonello, the reviews are mixed. There are those that swear by his fighting ability and there are those who have branded him a complete fraud. On the eve of his highest-profile bout against the strongest competitor he’s ever faced, we’re about to find out who the real Tony Bonello is.

Despite his ground skills, don’t be surprised if Bonello looks to engage Rua in the standup game. Now living in Las Vegas, Bonello is training out of legendary Muay Thai trainer Master Toddy’s gym. These two fighters could mesh very well together, as Rua, a former product of the famed Chute Boxe Academy in Curatiba, Brazil, has decent jiu-jitsu but is more known for his dynamic striking ability.

While Rua is the more proven commodity, he is not without his questions. Fighting infrequently due to multiple injuries, it’s hard to forget his title loss to Robbie Lawler the last time EliteXC held a show in Hawaii. During last September’s “Uprising” event, Rua gassed early and was broken by Lawler. He needs to be in shape for this fight because if nothing else, Bonello is tough.

I really do not know what to expect from this fight. We could see Rua TKO Bonello inside of a minute or we could see Bonello pull off a huge upset and become an overnight sensation. He’s just that kind of fighter. But as I normally do, I will play the percentages and pick Rua to win via unanimous decision.

Rafael Feijao vs. Wayne Cole:

This will be a battle of former IFL heavyweights now competing at light heavyweight in EliteXC. Both Feijao and Cole are the front-runners in what has to be viewed as EliteXC’s thinnest weight class. However, the promotion believes it has a potential light heavyweight cornerstone in Feijao, who was originally discovered in Brazil by Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. To this day, Feijao continues to train jiu-jitsu with the current UFC interim heavyweight champion but he also now works on his striking with UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva. When it comes to pedigree, Feijao is best in breed.

While he has many strengths, one concern about Feijao is his tendency to come out overly-aggressive. In watching him, he reminds me a great deal of Wanderlei Silva. As tremendous as Silva is, his relentless nature is not always a virtue. Feijao is a powerful striker but does over-commit at times and does strike from a low arm slot that leaves his face open. That’s not good considering Cole, who despite having been a Division II All-American in wrestling at Central Oklahoma in 1992, loves to throw down.

This is one of those fights that could go either way and it could go the way of Cole if Feijao becomes over-zealous and does not protect his chin. I still see Feijao as the superior fighter and am picking him to win via second round TKO.