119630_wgecpjdfua_vlarge.jpgThomas “The Wildman” Denny has been a staple of the regional California MMA scene since the turn of the 21st century. While most of his fights have come with the King of the Cage promotion, Denny has also competed for other California-based promotions such as the Palace Fighting Championships and World Extreme Cagefighting (prior to Zuffa’s acquisition).

Born in Huntington Beach, Calif., the 37-year old father of three also owns and operates his own fight school in Victorville, Calif. According to Denny, the school has over 200 tuition students, including 34 professional and amateur fighters that train under him.

Despite a professional fight career that dates all the way back to 1999, Denny now finds himself on the verge of graduating from the California MMA scene and onto the national stage. On Saturday July 26, he will receive the biggest opportunity of his career when he squares off against Nick Diaz in a 160 pound lightweight clash during CBS and EliteXC’s second-ever telecast of “Saturday Night Fights.”

Denny made his EliteXC debut during a March ShoXC event in which he was declared the victor by disqualification after being on the receiving end of illegal elbows from Malaipet Team Diamond. Against Diaz, a fighter who he has been scheduled to fight several times in the past, Denny finds himself playing the underdog role as he takes a major step up in competition. It’s a role he has played many times in the past and one that he relishes.

“I’ll take being the underdog any day of the week than being the (favorite),” Denny was quoted as saying during a conference call with the media this past week. “When you’re expected to win and you’re expected to perform and you’re in front of all your fans, you have so much more pressure. Everybody’s expecting me to lose. Everybody thinks I don’t even belong in there. Man, I’m excited because everybody felt I didn’t belong in the ring with Tony Fryklund, that he was going to smoke me. I was an 8?1 underdog, whatever. I went out there and finished him in 1 minute and 12 seconds. I love fighting when I’m the guy who shouldn’t even be in there.”

While Denny is getting the opportunity to compete on primetime network television, he is doing so in Diaz’s hometown of Stockton, Calif. But just as he is unphased by being in the role of underdog, Denny sounds unconcerned about Diaz having a potential hometown advantage.

“It’s just him and I when we get in there,” Denny responded when asked if he felt fighting in Stockton was a disadvantage. “Obviously he’s going to feel a little more pressure than I am, because that’s all his friends and fans. They all hate me as it is. So do I have pressure? Not really. I think if you look at it, he’s going to be the one dealing with a little more adversity than I am. I’m expecting them to throw bottles at me, cuss at me, flip me off, everything else. If he goes out there and loses in front of his hometown, he’s the one that’s going to be shunned upon. I feel he has more pressure than I do.”

While Denny is pretty relaxed when it comes to the issues of Diaz being favored and fighting in his hometown, he wasn’t as laid back when asked about Diaz’s inability to make weight for his June 14 fight in Hawaii against Muhsin Corbbrey.

“Rules are rules,” he answered when asked about fighters not making weight. “They’re meant to be followed. If you sign a contract that says you’re going to weigh 160, you should come in at 160, not 169. So, I don’t know, I just think it’s unprofessional.”

While Corbbrey was willing to sign off on the weight disparity, Diaz better be on weight this time around, otherwise, there might not be a fight.

“If he comes in nine pounds overweight, the fight probably won’t happen,” remarked Denny. “It’s just ridiculous. I think he knows and he has something to prove that he is a professional. So I think he’ll come on weight and I think the fight will happen.”

But Denny isn’t looking for a way out. The fight vs. Diaz is one that he wants to happen, as he knows what an upset win would do for his career.

“It shoots me to the top [if I win], man and hopefully sets me up for a fight against K.J. [Noons] or Yves [Edwards],” Denny said. “I would love to fight K.J for the belt. That’s a lot to ask for. But, hopefully, I go out and shine like I feel like I should and maybe I’ll get recognized enough to get the title shot.”