I'm not sure how many casual fans had heard of Neil Melanson prior the story of him opting to have his toe removed, rather than spending a year on the sidelines, and away from the sport he loves. What I do know, a whole lot more people, sure as hell know who he is now.
As the head grappling coach at Xtreme Couture and Randy's head jiu jitsu trainer, Neil Melanson has come a long way from Sturbridge, Mass. After serving time in the military, he went on to train with some of the sports most recognizable fighters, such as: Chael Sonnen, Vitor Belfort, Gray Maynard, and many more.
During our conversation, Neil details how Karo Parisyan played a role in his MMA career, Working with WWE wrestler Daniel Bryan, The Rashad vs Tito fight, and how he sees the outcome of a potential Chael and Anderson rematch, and what to expect from his forthcoming book.
Keep reading to find out.....
Gerry Rodriguez: First question-how does a kid from Sturbridge, MA., end up as the head grappling coach for Randy Couture and Xtreme Couture?
Neil Melanson: The dream of working at Sturbridge Village and making horse shoes fell through through(laughs). I don't know how I ended up here. I was pursuing a totally different career path. I did seven years in the military. I kind of joined the navy as a way to get out of a small town, plus I didn't know what I wanted to do at the time. Fortunately, after the military,I got into the Air Marshall service. Once your in the federal government like that, you can kind of start to pave your own way and that's when I finished my college degree. I didn't know if I was going to go FBI or CIA; that's how I wanted to spend my life. I got involved in grappling, as a way to spend some time and have some fun. Within a short amount of time I was hooked; nothing ever satisfied me the way grappling does. It was a crazy ride.
Gerry Rodriguez: How did you end up training under Karo Parisyan and how did it lead to you becoming Randy's coach?
Neil Melanson: I started training in Cincinnati with a small shoot fighting club. I was desperately seeking a coach, I had flown out to LA a few of times and trained with Phil Corr and Karo was there. I had seen him fight in the UFC and thought this kid so unbelievable, so I transferred out there just to train. It was Karo that pulled me under his wing and sent me in the direction that I eventually went in. He really pushed me. Eventually I lost vision in one of my eyes and had to medically retire from the military and decided to do this full time. He definitely trained me to be where I'm at, eventually I got good enough where I was figuring things out for myself. I met Randy a few times through Karo. Robert Drysdale was at Randy's but he was opening up his own gym so there was a spot going to be open, so I said Screw it, I'll go to Vegas. I didn't expect things to take off like they did. It really pushed me to get my game to another level and it caught the attention of a lot fighters. Randy saw what I could do for UFC fighters. I taught him so much stuff and he applied it so well....he was my best student: Period.
Gerry Rodriguez: You mention losing vision in one of your eyes. Did that help with your grappling and improve your senses and feel for your opponents?
Neil Melanson: It definitely did. At one point I actually went blind in both eyes for about a month. I remember Karo telling me, "just quit, you don't need to grapple, don't be stupid and just take care of yourself". Then he obviously he saw that was not going to happen and he started hinting that you don't need to see to grapple, you can grapple with your eyes closed. The only thing that changed is, I started going turtle a lot. It helped my game immensely. I have my higher level student grapple with their eyes closed and it does help, you become very sensitive to touch and balance. I don't suggest you burning your eyes out to become good at it, just close your eyes.(laughs)
Gerry Rodriguez: You have a book called, Mastering Triangle Chokes, which is coming out very soon; what made you write a book on that specific submission?
Neil Melanson: It's kind of a personality trait of mine, when I find something I love, I become obsessed, it rules my thoughts. I was originally just a leg lock guy and remember Karo telling me I was an idiot because my legs were so long, that I should be a guard master and an amazing triangle player. I had never thought of that before, it didn't sound fun at all. I appreciated him because it's hard to get someones time like that and I started to learn the basic variations and all the guard systems. It became my strength. The book is not just a triangle choke book, its a book about the guard system. You're going to learn how I switched the guard systems based on the position of my opponent. It's going to open a lot of eyes as to how to use the guard system in MMA.
Gerry Rodriguez: Let's switch gears, the question I have to ask...The toe coming off, does it earn you the title of being the most dedicated mma guy in the world?
Neil Melanson: I can not believe how much attention I got from that. Honestly it was embarrassing. I just bumped into the guy that wrote the original story not too long ago and he could not believe, of all the stories he's done, how the story of me cutting my toe off, took off. I guess people thought it was interesting. What are you going to do? Fight magazine photographer Paul Thatcher took a photo of the toe before and after the surgery and it's going to be hilarious. If they don't use it, and I don't see why they wouldn't, I'll ask them for photos and put it up on my site.
Gerry Rodriguez: WWE wrestler Daniel Brian-I read you've worked with him, how did that come about?
Neil Melanson: He's one of my closets friends. He was my student first, he showed up at Xtreme Couture and he made Vegas his home so he can grapple. I didn't realize he was on the indy scene and he was the Dynamite Kid of our generation and that he was a great wrestler. I love rolling with him, he just won the Money in the bank ppv. He's my roommate now, he didn't know he was going to win until the day of the ppv. It's exciting because he wants to bring back wrestling and submissions to the WWE. They've been letting him do more and more and you'll be able to see what he does. The Le bell lock, I named it after Gene Le bell, who is one of my idols, its an omoplata with a neck crank. He's also a great guy and human being. It's been a lot of fun for me. He helps me out all the time for training Frank Trigg, he'll come in and roll with them. He's a legit grappler and uses a lot of leg locks; he's dangerous. I get to live through him the whole experience of coming up with submissions that are exciting for the crowd to see. Some of these pro wrestlers are so big that he couldn't do some of the moves without really hurting them. I love seeing him in the ring because he's so awesome at it.
Gerry Rodriguez: Does he have any aspirations of one day transitioning into MMA?
Neil Melanson: I don't think so, he's very physically strong for his size; he drives me nuts. My hands get exhausted trying to fight him. His whole dream is to be the best he can at pro wrestling; I do see him doing legit grappling tournaments but he has to be able to dedicate a lot of time.
Gerry Rodriguez: Do you ever get the itch to compete?
Neil Melanson: Because of my eye, I would never be able to get sanctioned so I have to mentally not go there and think about it, but I would love to do some grappling super fights. Last year I thought I was going to have to retire due to my health but this years has been good and I've had a resurgence.
Gerry Rodriguez: Who are the guys you'd love to grapple against?
Neil Melanson: I don't want to sound like I'm calling anyone out, I just want to grapple the best. I don't know many people who wouldn't want to roll against Roger Gracie or Jacare, I've always looked up to him. For some reason I've always wanted to go against Fabricio because he's so good and another big heavyweight. It's hard when you're a coach because guys that usually wears two hats, end up dropping one of them.
Gerry Rodriguez: This hype around Roger, is it legit?
Neil Melanson: I'm sure he is good. It's hard to prove that wrong because he's beaten so many people. I've talked to people that have rolled with him and they say he's not overwhelming technical but he's so good at the basics and very strong and has great balance. He's not going to do stuff that's going to surprise you but it's hard to stop what he's doing. It'd be cool to go against someone that everybody is crowning the king.
Gerry Rodriguez: Who do you think is the best pound for pound fighter in MMA?
Neil Melanson: That's a tough one, I can't really answer that. I know a lot of people say Anderson (Silva), and I know he's awesome...but Chael beat the dog shit out of him and he submitted him in the end like a true champion, but that was one of the most one sided losses I've ever seen. If he doesn't retire and he has to fight Chael again, he doesn't win, but he's a bad ass. GSP is also a great. I do have my favorites, guys like Leben, Bonner, Forrest griffin; guys that are warriors to the bone
Gerry Rodriguez: Let's talk about someone you've recently stated as wanting to coach; Rashad. How do you see his fight against Tito going down?
Neil Melanson: It's going to be hype fest, Rashad doesn't really lose and he is more athletic. The thing with Rashad, he's so fast and has power in his hands, that he can either play away and then take you down and win the decision or he can knock you out. He's one of the few guys that can work at few speeds. Tito doesn't have those two speeds but he's a great fighter and had a good win over Bade. He's another guy that I'd love to work with and think I could do a lot for him. I think Tito is going to be a step behind and I don't see him beating Rashad.
Gerry Rodriguez: With Rashad's athleticism and wrestling ability, if he incorporated more ground and pound to his game, would he still have his title?
Neil Melanson: I think if Rashad fought a different game plan he could have beaten Machida. I talked to Greg (Jackson) and I think the game plan was different and it just wasn't applied but, yes, I would like to see more elbows in the guard to cut his opponents and certain side chokes. I think if Rashad set it up, he could submit a lot of top guys. He can control the shit out of people if he wanted to. When guys are good at smothering, they are usually good at setting up side chokes. I think if he put his energy in that direction, I think he would have an easy time putting these guys away. I just really believe in the guy and have been a fan since the show. I think he's awesome.
Gerry Rodriguez: Before I let you go, do you think we will see Randy fight again?
Neil Melanson: I know he's not. His last camp, it was a good camp. You would never know he is the age he is. I remember thinking if we had this Randy Couture, two years ago, to have him technically at the level he was at, he would be holding the title right now. I couldn't believe how fast and how hard he was hitting. All this happened at the very end of his career that he got so technical. Randy was saying, "You know this is the first camp I felt stiff in my knees and I'm starting to feel it a little". I think he was pretty happy he was able to walk away from MMA without arthritis or brain damage. What the hell is going to accomplish that he hasn't already done? It's too bad, I think if they could have gotten the Fedor fight going, he would have done that. At this point he's doing movies and he's busy. He still comes in and rolls with me and work on stuff, but its just for fun.
Neil would like to thank Xtreme Couture, X cap supplements, Victory Belt publishing. Go to www.neilmelanson.com to stay updated or find him on Facebook.