Brian Melancon didn't need to be here.
The Texas native already had his dream job. Out of the fight game for well over a year and working as a full-time physical therapist, he'd already been promoted after four weeks of employment. He was supervising, working with patients, doing everything he'd ever wanted to.
But he'd never quite accomplished his biggest goal, which was to earn a win inside the Ultimate Fighting Championship's (UFC) Octagon.
When he got the call telling him UFC wanted to transfer his contract after Strikeforce closed its doors, he couldn't resist. Melancon quit his dream job and traded it in for another, meeting Seth Baczynski on the UFC 162 preliminary card two months ago and scoring an emphatic knockout with just one second remaining in the first round to earn that coveted UFC victory.
With his dream accomplished, Melancon is now enjoying the ride and the next step of his career begins this Wednesday night (Aug. 28, 2013) when he takes on Kelvin Gastelum on the UFC Fight Night 27 main card in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The powerful welterweight spoke to MMAmania.com guest appearance on The Verbal Submission about evolving his game, the pitfalls of cutting weight and how he'd like to beat Gastelum in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Have you already picked out a good pizza joint in Indianapolis for after your fight?
Brian Melancon: I haven't in Indianapolis, but I have a whole week of glorious food prepared for me in Houston, going to my favorite restaurants and trying some new stuff out. I can't wait for that but I'll have to find something in Indianapolis for after the fight.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You probably didn't get a chance to pig out too much after the UFC 162 win because you had such a quick turnaround here taking this fight on short notice.
Brian Melancon: Yeah, I didn't. I had a week to kind of eat what I want but I didn't get too crazy because I already had some things already planned and I was already getting a call for another fight the next week. Normally I like to get two or three weeks and not go crazy the whole time but at least completely get off the diet and eat whatever I feel like. I'm looking forward to that after this one.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You haven't really had a quick turnaround like this since you fought Todd Moore and Adam Schindler two months apart. Did you take anything away from that experience, or is this completely different because the Schindler fight was a grueling 15-minute battle?
Brian Melancon: Well, I had done it before. My first year as a pro in 2009, I actually had a quick win in the first round and then I fought two weeks later and had another quick win. The Schindler fight was a war of attrition, I had some stitches for that cut but no major injuries so I was back to training. This time, however, I was fortunate enough to get out of that first round with no injuries and was able to get back to camp without any problems or anything like that. I was already back to training within a few days and was back to sparring the Thursday after the fight. It was basically like a continuation of the previous camp because of how the fight went.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You got into MMA with a grappling base, doing some jiu-jitsu tournaments and most of your amateur wins were submissions, but ever since turning pro, all your stoppages have come via knockout. Can you talk about the evolution you've made from being a grappling-centric fighter into a more well-rounded and dangerous striker?
Brian Melancon: Sure, you're actually the first person that's realized that before the interview. The ground game came pretty easy for me, it was pretty natural. I started teaching myself off instructionals and started going to the gym and within two weeks I was already beating blue belts in tournaments. That was within two weeks of joining the gym after six months on my own. I progressed pretty quickly and was doing grappling tournaments with purple belts after not even a year of training and winning and that part came pretty quickly. The gym and the fighters I was training with, I was already training with UFC level guys and they were beating the crap out of me standing up.
It took a while for me to match. I felt I could still compete with them in the grappling portion, but it took a while for me to develop the stand-up and hang with them. I always had the power aspect, perhaps from my former days of weightlifting and playing baseball it just carried over. Whenever I started landing shots, I realized it would hurt them so I worked a lot with one of my former training partners and he helped me with footwork and head movement and timing to put it all together. Once I started putting it all together, that's when the knockouts started coming. Even at the beginning of my career as a professional, I was pretty sloppy but I was never afraid to get hit. Not being afraid to get hit is important and when I'd brawl it out, I always felt like I got the better end of it. Once I started learning how to land those shots without getting hit back, that's what really put me over the top and that's what I work on now.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Those instructional DVDs, I believe they were Bas Rutten's. In your travels across the country during your career, have you ever had a chance to run into Bas and talk to him about the help he unknowingly gave you when you first got started?
Brian Melancon: I actually haven't been able to really talk to him. Before, when IFL was still going, they had a show in Houston and I met him real quick and took a picture with him and said, "Hey, I started off from your instructionals," but that was before I'd even turned professional. So I haven't got to meet him or talk to him since that time.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Another big influence for you was Fedor Emelianenko, bringing him up in your post-fight speech as one of your MMA heroes. You fought on the Strikeforce World Grand Prix card with Overeem vs. Werdum. How much would you have given to have fought on one of the same cards Fedor fought?
Brian Melancon: It would have been great. It almost happened as he was in Strikeforce at the same time. It would have been great. It definitely would have been a memory I would have looked back on fondly. I like his approach. I like his humility, his attitude, his style, kind of everything he does in MMA and outside of MMA. It would have been really neat.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Being an undersized welterweight height-wise, have you developed any specific strategies for taking on bigger opponents? You were able to dish out some serious damage against the taller, longer Seth Baczynski last time around.
Brian Melancon: Well my main training partners are 6'3, 6'3 and 6'1 and those are some of the training partners I've had since I first started training all the way back in 2006. I'm used to dealing with reach and I'm used to adding some tweaks to my game to get inside. At first it was just take a jab or a shot to land one, and that was successful but since I've developed and progressed, I've learned to use their height against them to get inside, timing different things and landing counters and things like that. I've worked with that so long and so much that it's almost become second nature to nullify reach and height.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Some people might ask, "Why doesn't he just fight at lightweight?" and you have fought at lightweight a few times in your career, but you've had some really tough cuts to 155 and some kidney issues. Can you talk about the toll cutting to lightweight takes on your body and perhaps relate some of your bad experiences?
Brian Melancon: I'm a thicker guy. Genetically, it takes a lot for me to get lean. I'm sure it's like that for a lot of different people. Since basically I was 18 years old and I started working out, I've walked around at 185 pounds or more. That's what I walked around back then and I've never been lighter than that. I used to be really big into weightlifting and I got as high as 220 at one point. That was kind of soft but when I was 210, that was only like 10 percent body fat so I've always carried around more mass for someone my height. It took a lot for me to get all that off.
I did go down to 155. My former coach at the time said I should go down to 155 and I thought he was crazy and that I couldn't make it but then I decided I'd do it. I dieted for 12 weeks just to get to 175 and that was about as low as I could get and I cut 20 pounds from there and that's what I would do. The first three fights I had were all at 155 and I would cut 17-18 pounds in the last 24 hours or so and it was brutal. I was literally dying a couple of times.
Then I had a few injuries and I had a full year off of fighting where I could only do strength and conditioning stuff. I don't know if I gained muscle or weight that I couldn't get off but when I came back for my fight after the time off, that was the fight at Bellator against Adam Schindler and I did the same things I did before to try and get my weight down and I just couldn't get it down to where I needed to. I tried to cut too much weight and I spent four hours in the sauna on the day of weigh-ins but my body stopped sweating and I only lost half a pound. I still missed weight and it was horrible. I still fought at 155 the next fight against Todd Moore and it just became too much. I went into kidney failure after that and it was just too much for my body to take.
I decided that I was always strong enough to hang with the guys at 170 but it was because of my height and reach and my coach that told me to that made me go to 155. I decided it wasn't worth it doing this to my body and to live my life like that. I feel a lot better at 170, a lot stronger and I don't feel like anybody can really overpower me to the point I felt helpless. I felt strong enough to compete there and I feel I have the power. The only disadvantage is the reach but I feel like I can deal with that now so it's not a problem.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): When you initially signed with UFC, you had to leave a job you had just accepted a promotion in. How difficult was it to leave that job and what do you think you'll need to accomplish to make that decision worth it?
Brian Melancon: Well I had just taken a job with a physical therapy company and I got promoted within four weeks. I was overseeing four different clinics and helping train people as well as work with patients and I was enjoying it. It was what I always wanted to do as far as my career path ever since the end of high school all through college and physical therapy school. I was enjoying that and I was enjoying the time off away from the training and dieting and everything. I had just gotten married last September so it was a nice relaxing life and career path that could be set. I was more than halfway out of fighting and was enjoying it.
But the only reason I was so out to do MMA was to get one win in the UFC. From the time before I even started training and joined a gym, I set that goal for myself to get a win in the UFC and that was it. Nothing else really mattered. Ultimately, that was what brought me back. When they called me up and told me they were going to close Strikeforce and bring me over, I sat down with my wife and talked about it. It did take me a while. It took a few weeks for me to decide whether I wanted to go back to all of that because of the hit it takes financially and physically. Also just the grind from training and dieting and I was pretty heavy at that time after a year off of no training and doing what I wanted and everything. I was like 210-215. It took a while to get that weight off an eventually I decided I was going to do it and I went into it full force.
After the win in my UFC debut, I felt like everything I sacrificed was worth it and everything I had spent these last seven years doing was accomplished. Even if I don't win another fight in UFC, I will feel like my career goal was met because it truly was. The rest of this is just relaxing, enjoying and having fun because for me, I like to compete and I still love to do this so I'm just going to enjoy the ride, give it my best and that's it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): The fight against Kelvin Gastelum is coming up so when you visualize success against him, how do you picture victory?
Brian Melancon: Well, I don't like to predict it, but obviously I'd like to get a knockout. That's an exciting way to make a name for yourself. I've had knockouts in five of my fights and I've pretty much dropped nearly everyone I've faced so about seven of nine fights I'd knocked my opponent down. I want to go out there and give the fans an exciting fight. Any win will do, any win will obviously make me happy. As long as it's a great fight and people pay attention, that's all I'm looking for.
Brian would like to thank his manager Mickey Dubberly for helping him out, his training partners and teammates, God, and his charity Fight For The Forgotten. You can follow him on Twitter @Brian_Melancon.