Neil Melanson is making a move to the East Coast. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Neil Melanson may not be a household name to the casual MMA fan, but that’s not to say he isn’t one of the best grappling coaches in the world. Melanson has worked the corners and helped with the training camps of an untold number of fighters, and wherever he winds up coaching, that team has always benefitted.
The popular Blackzilians team in Florida is the latest to acquire Melanson’s services.
The hulking grappling expert has just signed on to be the Blackzilians’ MMA and head grappling coach, leaving behind a lengthy stay in San Diego with Alliance MMA. After several weeks of ironing out the details of his new contract with the Blackzilians, Melanson has made the move official and will take over the grappling portion of the team immediately.
“I’ll be their head grappling coach,” Melanson told Sherdog.com this week. “Jorge Santiago is their head coach, and he wanted a grappling coach to come in. They wanted a different look at things and they wanted to bring in someone who would bring in an MMA-style grappling element to their team. They have a lot of talent down there; it’s a gene pool. They have a lot of big guys and big-guy grappling is different from little-guy grappling... I’m a big guy, so I’m excited about it.”
Melanson, who has helped such luminaries as Randy Couture, Vitor Belfort, Michael Chandler and Dominick Cruz over the years, said the idea to come to the Blackzilians mostly stemmed from when he was called in to help Anthony Johnson prepare for his UFC light heavyweight title shot against Daniel Cormier. But the submission wizard didn’t have enough time with “Rumble” and, he says, it showed in Johnson’s performance at UFC 187 in May.
“I’ve known Rumble for many years,” Melanson said. “We’ve been friends forever. When I saw him preparing for Daniel Cormier, I noticed a lot of problems right away and he needed some work. I did the best I could, but I was only in his camp for about a week. During that time, I think Anthony really had his eyes opened in terms of scrambling and grappling in MMA, and in the fight, he got crushed on his back. He got crushed to bits.
“He just wants to the best in the world,” added Melanson. “I think with me going down there, it’ll help him considerably.”
When Johnson was stopped by Cormier in the third round, the Blackzilians team knew that changes needed to be made. Melanson got the call, and things snowballed from there.
“I’ve wanted to coach Rashad Evans for a long time,” he said. “Matt Mitrione, all those guys pushed for me to come join them and after Rumble’s loss. They basically said, ‘That’s it, we’re going to get him.’”
It was also a matter of perfect timing for both parties, as Melanson said his time had expired with Alliance. It had nothing to do with the team, he clarified, but Melanson’s life in Southern California had run its course.
“I was looking for a change,” Melanson said. “Alliance is one of the best teams in the world. I love them. I absolutely loved it there. But California is real expensive, too. There was no me being unhappy at all, but California wore me out. I’m excited to get down to Florida.”
Editor’s note: This item was updated at 7:38 p.m. PT on July 22 to clarify Mr. Melanson’s quote about coaching Rashad Evans.