As the grappling coach at Xtreme Couture, Neil Melanson has an inside view on some of the best fighters in MMA.
In August, he joined the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Rewind” show and was asked for his take on several fighters he’s trained with. His responses follow:
On Chael Sonnen: “In his personal life, he’s a real gentleman and he’s a real polite guy. He’s real likeable. I think in his hometown he’s like a hero. Real friendly. Easy to get along with. If you can get his attention, he’s a great student. Picks up what you say. He’ll do exactly what you tell him, but I think Chael likes to stay busy. He’s one of those guys that while he’s talking to you, he’s texting somebody else and he’s driving. He’s one of those guys that has that he’s-always-doing-something kind of mind. His mind is constantly going a million miles a minute.
“Sometimes things are kind of interesting when you’re in his training camp. One day we’re going to his sister’s to move a piano and then we’re going to rush back and train and then we’re going to go to this amateur fight show and we’re actually going to train in the cage before the fight because he has to make an appearance right after. It’s like, what the hell? Are you serious? It’s crazy. But that’s the life he likes to live. That’s what makes him happy.”
On Gray Maynard: “Real physically tough. He’s a standup guy. He’s not a showboat. He has a man’s-man kind of attitude. I really like him a lot. I love training with him. He always impressed me with how strong he was. I remember one day he actually had a shot in his spine. He was having some pain problems in his back, so he did this like -- they kind of put you under a little bit and they give you an epidural on your spine, and he still showed up to team practice. … He had this great wrestling and sparring match with a few of the guys that was so entertaining that literally, guys were just sitting down and watching them. You’ve got to remember, this guy six hours [ago] had a needle in his back and he was probably supposed to be home for the rest of the day and he still showed up at pro practice to spar. He is that kind of guy.”
On Todd Duffee: “Todd is athletically amazing, a gifted athlete. I mean, he is just physically unbelievable. ... He’s just got the talent. He’s just got that body. He’s strong and coordinated, the total package. The trick to Todd is that he’s very critical of himself. He’s very hard on himself. He’s his worst critic. For guys like Todd, he could be the world champion and maybe one of the best heavyweights in the world. It’s just up to him and allowing himself to do that because sometimes it gets in his way because he’s so critical of himself. ... Me and him are still on great terms. I never had a falling out with him really. ... I think he’s looking for that one camp that really just brings him in and can really build up his confidence and really have a good group of guys around him. I don’t know if he’s found that yet. ... As far as athletically gifted, he’s at the top.”
On Karo Parisyan: “Karo is the most talented person I’ve ever met in my entire life. What he could do without training at all was amazing. If people saw the kind of life that he lived and then watched his performances, you’d be like, ‘Are you serious?’ Here’s a guy that probably only ate cake the week of the fight, and after weigh-ins he’d have a few cigarettes. That’s the type of guy Karo was. He’s one of those guys that was fighting grown men when he was 14 years old down in Mexico ... and he was beating their ass. Anyone that was around him when he was 9 years old or 10 years old knew that this kid was going to be on a different level. He just had it.
“One thing I learned about talented people is most of the time they have a terrible work ethic. Guys like him, it was hard to drag him into the gym. He didn’t really want to do it. He just wanted to show up and fight. He would never remember to bring his cup or mouthpiece. He just didn’t care. I remember when we used to spar, he’d just strip down to his boxers and spar like that. He was a character. He was a lot of fun. He has a real strong personality, but yeah, he was unbelievably talented. He could just do things that he couldn’t explain. He just had that gift.”
On Randy Couture: “He’s everything everybody thinks he should be. When they talk about Captain America and all this other stuff, he really is that guy. ... He’s still in the gym training and he’s still a stud. He hasn’t missed a step. I think I rolled with him a couple of months ago, and it felt like the same old Randy. Headbutted me a million times and handfighting like a son of a b---h and heavy and strong. It was a lot of fun.”
Listen to the full interview (beginning at 50:33).