At 46 years of age and well over a decade of experience in the fight game, Randy Couture continues to defy father time as he heads into UFC 102 to face off with fellow legend of mixed martial arts, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
It should be no mystery to anyone vaguely familiar with this sport that Nogueira is well known for one thing: Finding a way to submit some of the best big men on the planet. In 31 professional victories, 19 have come by way of submission for the Brazilian born pain pharmacist. Respected heavyweights such as Heath Herring, Tim Sylvia and Mark Coleman have been humbled by Nogueira in the past, making it no mystery as to what the former PRIDE and UFC interim champion’s clear cut path to victory will be tomorrow evening in Portland.
Don’t think for a second that this truth hasn’t been drilled into Couture’s head over the last couple of months by a man that goes by the name of Neil Melanson. Neil may not be a name familiar to the average Joe just yet, but that is sure to change in coming months as the impact of the Gokor Chivichyan and Karo Parisyan trained submission specialist has had since his recent arrival at Xtreme Couture has been profound.
Schooled under the umbrella of “The Toughest Man Alive” Gene Lebell and his vicious Judo influenced style of submission fighting that is still widely untapped in the world of MMA, Melanson brings a practical, somewhat old school style to training that war dogs such as Couture can fully appreciate. A “let’s use what REALLY works, and throw out the rest of this garbage” approach to twisting limbs and forcing tapouts.
While Melanson admittedly comes from a different variation of submission fighting that the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt does, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the utmost respect for Nogueira and everything he has accomplished both in the world of submissions, and the world of mixed martial arts.
“On the ground Nogueira is one of the guys that I’ve looked up to for years, and he really is amazing,” admitted Melanson during a conversation with FiveOuncesOfPain.com in the days leading into UFC 102. “He has made a lot of adjustments to his game because people don’t want to stay on the ground with him anymore.”
The fact that a ground fighter as accomplished as Nogueira is held in such a high regard by Melanson adds validity to his argument that Couture will be in for few surprises come tomorrow night. Neil is fully aware of what Big Nog brings to the table, and he has prepared Couture for every worst case scenario possible.
“I think I’ve done a great job of preparing Randy for the ground,” said Melanson. “I’ve really educated Randy on how to smother the guard, and how to stay away intelligently; without hovering or leaving himself vulnerable for timing based attacks. Focusing on how to beat Nogueira’s half guard, and just how to survive. We spent the first just on defense; surviving submission, surviving bad positions. It wasn’t even until the second month that we got more into the offensive mindset.”
Of course the saying goes,”If it aint broke, don’t fix it”, but what about tweaking it just a little bit to be more proficcient? According to Melanson, this is exactly what he did to the ground attack of one of the most brutal ground and pounders in the business, explaining,”The other major thing with Randy that we changed was his ground and pound. I know it sounds weird because Randy is known for his ground and pound, but I changed the way he does his striking on the ground to make him more violent.
“Every time you throw a punch inside someones guard, what happens is you leave yourself in a hovering position after you retract the punch where you can be counter-attacked by a good submission artist. That’s what you see most of the time. Well what I taught Randy to do was to smother the counter-attack, similar to what Fedor does, and after Randy throws that punch to follow up with a shoulder slam and smother the hips.”
Outside of his last bout with Frank Mir, Nogueira has shown an ability to absorb a phenomenal amount of punishment without being stopped. While stopping a man as capable on the ground as Antonio on the ground with a flurry of punches is unlikely, the addition of elbows on the bottom in the UFC add an extra element Nogueira hadn’t dealt with in his days fighting in Japan. Melanson agrees, and also feel that there is a very good chance that ‘there will be blood’ in the Octagon in Portland when it’s all said and done.
“If Randy gets to zero degrees flat on Nogueira, I believe there’s a very high percentage that he will split him open with his elbows,” said the Xrteme Couture Head Jiu-Jitsu Instructor. “He does not hover any more. He smothers, and when he plays away, he plays all the way away; which is going to help him avoid a lot of submissions. By doing that, Nogueira is probably going to come into the half guard, which we know isn’t that hard to predict because it’s the smart thing for Nogueira to do. All of this has been formulated and drilled into him many times, so nothing should be surprising here. If Randy gets in a bad situation, we’ve really hammered it so he should be able to get out of it.
“My thing with this fight is: Randy’s not going to go out there and score with Nogueira on the ground. He’s going out there to do damage. If he chooses to stay on the ground with Nogueira, he’s going to do DAMAGE. If it goes to the ground you’re not going to see Randy chipping away at somebody. You’re going to see Randy doing damage, escaping position, confuse Nogueira and pick him apart on the feet. That’s what we’re hoping is going to happen. We either get a stoppage on a cut, a TKO, or even a knockout.”
Although it has been noted that Nogueira has been an extremely difficult man to finish throughout the course of his battle-charted career, the fact that the normally iron-chinned veteran was wobbled by punches that he normally would have shrugged off in his last trip to the Octagon must be formulated into the equation. Something Melanson is more than aware of, stating,”I don’t know where Nogueira is physically right now with all of the wars he’s been in. He may be susceptible to the flash knockout. Just because of the way he would drop so much with Mir. Once you get into that phase where your programmed to do the flash knockout, it’s kind of like with Ken Shamrock where you’ll see him just get clipped, and he’s out for just one second so he really doesn’t think he was out. It’s very subtle. The brain is basically training itself. Once you’ve been knocked out really hard, the body remembers that and it will shut down. That’s why a guy like Chuck Liddell, who used to have a great chin, is just getting dropped. Because after he got knocked out that first time by Rampage, his body is starting to remember, and it programs itself. I think with Nogueira it’s very probable that the same thing happened.
“I don’t know what you can do about that. Once you’ve reached that point your body is just done. Nogueira has been in some unbelievable wars throughout his career. It’s crazy because most of his fights came in Japan so a lot of people don’t really know how great he really is, but he is one of the greatest of all time. He is a legend. I think he’s just taken too much damage, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but maybe it’s time for him to hang it up, but we’ll see.”
Whether the fight ends in a flash knockout or TKO via cuts, one thing is for certain: You’re going to have to take it from Nogueira, he’s far too proud to give you anything. Men like Nogueira are just cut from a different cloth. Antonio is a living, breathing definition of Bushido. A true warrior, willing to die in the cage if that’s what the situation calls for.
“He has the heart of a lion, and he does not break mentally,” said Melanson. “Nogueira does not break mentally. He can get frustrated. Like Fedor frustrated him, but he’ll always try to win the fight. It’s the same mindset with guys like Jon Fitch, or even Thiago Alves in their fights with Georges St. Pierre. Sure, they got dominated in that fight, but in that fifth round they were still trying to win that fight. They don’t break. There are some guys that will just lie down when things don’t go their way, and that’s not Randy either. I’ve really hammered him on the ground; trying to break him, and trying to get him frustrated, and he was so mad. But he would get mad and try to tear my head off, not mad and storming off of the mat.”
Although Melanson has trained Couture to do intense physical harm to Nogueira on Saturday evening in recent months, the author of several top rated submission technique books doesn’t rule out training with Big Nog sometime down the line. In fact, it’s something Neil would welcome with open arms should the opportunity arise in the future, explaining,”We’ll see. I really hope it goes Randy’s way, and hopefully after a little bit, I would love to train with Nogueira too. Like I said, I love the guy, and I think he’s awesome.”