Melanson: I’m a poor representative of catch wrestling
As Xtreme Couture head grappling coach, Neil Melanson has trained Randy Couture, Vitor Belfort and Gray Maynard in the fine points of catch wrestling. In a recent interview on the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Rewind” show, Melanson talked catch wrestling, Randy Couture, and why he had his toe cut off.
“I consider myself a catch guy, but when I really look at what catch guys really are, I’m probably a poor representation of one. I think I care about catch, but guys like Billy [Robinson], of that generation, they’re fading away. Billy told me that when he was training at the Snake Pit, you weren’t allowed to tap until your instructor told you to. If you think of that mentality of being caught in an armbar or a leg lock and if you tap you’re kicked out of the gym — you had to wait until your coach told you it was OK to tap — think of that mentality and what kind of animals these guys were, how great they must have been to be in that kind of environment and succeed and be the best. [Compare that] to a lot of our gym mentalities now, where some guys tap at things before they’re even gone because they’re just accepting defeat. It’s just a total different mindset. It’s really dwindled, and it’s unfortunate because it’s a nice piece of history.”
“I trained Vitor Belfort for about a year and I spent a lot of time on his guard. I just kind of figured because his striking’s so good, that if someone took him down, that I wanted him to be able to submit, sweep or take the back pretty aggressively and be able to mix all three of them up, a nice chain wrestling-type style of grappling. He picked it up. He was easy to teach because he has so much talent and ability, but after about a year or so of training — I used to make him spar with me and I know he didn’t really like it because I had to condition him to respond. Sometimes I would stick him and sometimes I would back off. It just depended on if he was doing what I needed him to do.
“After a year or so he went back to Brazil and he came back. I said, ‘Are we going to train?’ He said, ‘You know, Neil. I really liked training with you. I learned a lot, but your style is too aggressive for me.’ I understood what he was saying. It was criticism, but it wasn’t being mean or anything like that. It was constructive. I understood that he didn’t like the fact that during the sparring sessions, I would kind of make things very physical. I’d make him hit me hard or I’d stick him sometimes and put some pressure on him. It just didn’t work for him. Mentally, he just didn’t like it. I realized my style is not going to work for all athletes. …
“Guys like Randy that are just dirty, tough mentality, where they’re not afraid to go in dark waters, I can really kind of train those guys very easily. I have it down to a science. But there’s these other guys, guys like Vitor, these very clean fighters. They’re very perfect-type fighters that I had to learn how to eventually back off a little bit because I realized that even though I wasn’t trying to — I was trying to build them up — I was actually probably breaking some of them. … But the reality is that it was all via science. There was a method to the madness.”
And that missing second toe on his left foot?
“To me it was a no-brainer. It was broken badly. They told me that I would have to have surgery to have it corrected and that I would probably be off the mat for about six months to let it heal properly because they’d have to fuse it with all these pins in it. Six months off the mat to me is like torture. I’d hate to have to do that. I love training and I have a lot of people that count on me, from students to professional athletes. That would affect a lot of people besides just myself. So it was a no-brainer. I just had it removed.”