Absolute Carnage: Training with Nathan Corbett

International Kickboxer Magazine Vol.18 No.6

Every fighter who is exceptional does it after their own fashion. In a fundamental sense, this is logical. The easiest fighters to read are the textbook ones; you can read them because, well, their technique looks exactly like it should. A lot of the time, the most dangerous people are unorthodox, because they don’t look like anything you’ve seen before. This principle holds true not only for the way a fighter executes technique, but also penetrates all the way into training. This series of articles will spend time with several exceptional fighters and come up with the goods on what makes them unique. A good part of it is physiology and talent, but it has everything to do with doing things differently.      

“There’s really two people, Nathan and Carnage,” says Richard Walsh, head trainer at Urban Fight Gym, located on the Gold Coast Highway in Miami, Queensland. No one knows this better than Walsh, who has known both sides of the Corbett coin for going on ten years. “He was the first bloke I met when I walked through the door at Boonchu; the first person I spoke to. I knew who he was; he’d started making a name for himself, and I’m pretty sure he held a Queensland title at the time. After that, he took off to Hong Kong, and I didn’t see him for a while.”

Walsh is a significant part of the equation that adds up to possibly the most fearsome fight record in the world. This sounds obvious, but Walsh’s journey as a fighter who went on to become a trainer is a significant part of the story. Originally from Warnambool in Victoria, Richard got his taste of the martial arts early, courtesy of his father. “My dad used to take me down to the local aboriginal settlement to box, to toughen me up a bit,” Walsh remembers. “I used to go alright once I got down there, but the problem was, I’d see some of the kids again on Monday morning at the bus stop on the way to school and then it would be on again!”

From boxing, it was a short step to learning Zen Do Kai for a kickboxing-focused activity. “I used to travel down to Johnny Scida’s gym on a Saturday to spar, because he always had the best sparring going. At that time, he had Anthony Vella, Jenk Behic, Baris Nezif and a few of those blokes. I used to go home practically crying with ice packs on my legs and my face, but I used to come back again, every week.” Richard fought Anthony early in his career; he even dropped Vella with a jumping knee, catching him under the chin. “Vella broke my heart that night,” Walsh remembers. “I caught him with what I thought was my best shot and I was sure it was over. One of my mates was pointing behind me and when I turned, Anthony was standing there.”

After something like 25 fights, Walsh decided that while he didn’t have the talent to go all the way, he had found the thing he loved.

“When I found out Boonchu were looking for a pad holder, I quit my job and went and met Shannon Forrester in Thailand. A few weeks later, I was living on the Gold Coast. I became hooked on the Thai style. I also came to understand how much easier it is to see the fight once you’re standing outside the ring. I discovered that I could call the fight, and if the fighters would listen, they’d win.”

Walsh became one of the key pad holders at the gym of John Wayne Parr. “I used to hold pads for about three hours per night and after that, I’d run classes.” Walsh and Corbett’s paths crossed again on the Gold Coast when Carnage fought the Japanese fighter, Tomihara, in 2004.

“Nathan belted him from pillar to post but couldn’t knock him out – he planted his feet and was slugging away like a heavyweight. Afterwards, I saw him and I said, “That was great, but how come you didn’t move your feet?”

“Why don’t you come down to the gym and show me how?” Nathan replied. Richard did exactly that. For the next few years, Walsh held pads for Nathan exclusively at Ray Matsamura’s gym, Five Rings, and between them, they worked up Nathan’s current style.    

“About 6 to 8 weeks out from a fight, we sit down somewhere and have a coffee to chat. He [Nathan] has an approach, I have an approach and we map it out between us. Ninety-nine per-cent of the time, we’re on-song. It’s funny; I can read his face when he walks in the door of the gym and I know if I’m in for a hard night or an easy one. I’ve always said, my mother could train Nathan Corbett. He works hard and he shows complete dedication, 24/7.”

There’s a lot of discipline in their relationship, and Walsh is keen to walk that line. “I’m yet to be friends with Nathan. See, he’s got plenty of people telling him how great he is and wanting to take him out to dinner. But where are they going to be ten years from now? You know, I say to him, when this is all over, we’ll hang out – we’ll go to Movie World. But for now, when we go into the gym, when I tell him to do something, I need him to do it.”

Many people would be surprised to hear of a fighter who has so much input into his own training. “I need structure,” says Nathan. “We tailor training around any injuries I have and we work to the game-plan. That way, I stay stimulated.”

When asked about his karate background, while he doesn’t use any of those techniques, Nathan says that you have consider, “Where you’ve come from in terms of where you are.” Specifically, he thinks that the karate style with its focus on constant attacking has created the basis for his kickboxing. “I don’t have a defensive teep, like a lot of Thai fighters do,” he says. “In karate, it’s all about what’s going to do the most damage. If the push kick wasn’t going to do maximum damage, then I had no use for it.”

With a nick-name like Carnage, this is hardly surprising. “When John Wayne Parr had just gotten back from Thailand, he fought a guy named Chris Allen. Parr was a sensation – he had been living the dream in Thailand, and everyone was keen to see him fight. Anyway, that night Chris Allen absolutely cut him to pieces. Parr kept going and showed balls the size of King Kong’s, which is what has made his name, but Allen gave him sixty something stitches. Elbows are lethal; there’s no glove on it and it’s just solid bone. After that, I made up my mind that elbows were lethal. Mine had to absolutely top-notch.” When asked about fighters he admires, he nominates Paul Briggs, a strong, dominant, straight-ahead fighter, and surprisingly, Japanese K1 Max star, Masato.

“He has style and movement,” Nathan says. “Masato has really good boxing skills, and even though he keeps it simple, everything is absolutely perfect.”

Possibly the most remarkable thing about Nathan’s training is how injury has played a positive role in shaping his training regimen.

“Injury is a great teacher,” says Richard Walsh. “Before K1 Scandinavia in 2007, Nathan had injured his left hand. Because of that, he had to develop his left round kick to compensate. That kick has become a major part of his arsenal. We found his left jab the same way. Before we fought Steve McKinnon, because [Nathan] couldn’t kick, we had to focus on his hands. All of a sudden, this left jab just shot out. His footwork suddenly came good, too.”

            Human Performance Centre, or HPC, is a purpose-built facility on the Gold Coast, just around the corner from Urban Fight Gym. Greg Tottman, a four-time former Mr Australia bodybuilding champion, is the managing director. Tottman has a combination of book smarts, combining tertiary level qualifications with actual athletic experience; he has boxed, been a sprinter and achieved his greatest success as a bodybuilder, winning the Mr Australia title four times. “In addition to that,” Greg says, “I’ve done thirty-odd diplomas and courses to increase the amount of useful knowledge I have.” Consequently, Greg manages the strength-and-conditioning aspect of Nathan’s training.

            “I got involved with training people out of necessity,” he says. “Their necessity. A lot of people, motocross riders, Olympic swimmers, people like that would come to see me because they had plateau-ed in their development and wanted to move up to the next level. I came to be involved with Carnage through Richard Walsh,” says Greg. “Richard came in to do his fitness qualification and in so doing, put me on to Nathan.

            “The thing with fighter training is that it’s traditional. What we do at HPC is get a bit of science involved. A lot of fighter training isn’t sport-specific. Think about it – how many long-distance runners fight on the week-ends to boost their performance as a runner? Not too many.

            “What we do is make Nathan’s strength and conditioning training fight-specific. The idea is that he will be stronger, faster and better-conditioned, and we periodise his training so that he’ll peak for his contests. His training changes according to his requirements. Nathan is in the unique position where he has essentially moved up a weight division. We need to get as much lean muscle on him as we can, and then make him stronger and faster, so he can convert that size into useable power. We do this through a combination of weight and plyometric training in the gym, as well as getting him to do shorter, sprint-related running training, including sand running and hill running.”

            Corbett’s favourite part of training is what he terms ‘contact work’ – sparring and drills work, which keeps him interested and motivated. “When I spar, I try to conserve myself as much as possible. I like to work at about 90% – I think you have to at a heavier weight – but I focus on my timing and zoning.”

            “We try to spar about twice a week,” says Richard Walsh. “Sparring should always be with someone of your own level of ability or much better. There’s nothing to be learned from just bashing someone. You need to have someone that’s going to able to push you to the limits of both your fitness and your ability.” 

            The success of Nathan Corbett takes the raw material of Nathan’s athletic talent, but draws on the cumulative efforts of three men. A tireless attitude of working hard under all conditions – even the limitations of injury – has proven to not only maintain Nathan’s fitness and skill, but has forced him to develop skills and techniques he previously never had. Urban Fight Gym is one of those few gyms moving into the future by following along a path long-trodden by other professional sports; the use of science, in place of traditional activities whose practice is often grounded in little more than superstition. Both Walsh and Corbett understand hard work, and both have done plenty in their time. Nathan Corbett is a modern athlete in what is so often a primitive sport, and this approach is carrying him forward towards the best opponents around.

One Response to “Absolute Carnage: Training with Nathan Corbett”

  1. Great article!

    I train at Urban Fight Gym and watching Nathan spar is awesome. I often arrive early to class just so I can see all the tips and techniques Richie shows us in class being used by a multiple world champ in his own training.

    The Booming sound that resonates out of the heavy bag each time Nathan kicks it is truly impressive.

    Richie is a maestro and the number of highly skilled upcoming fighters training at Urban Fight Gym is proof of his skills as a teacher.

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