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Xtreme Couture’s Neil Melanson: Mark Coleman’s going to see a furious old man trying to kill him

In a bout that has been literally over a decade in the making, legends are set to collide on February 6 during the main event of UFC 109 as fellow UFC hall of famers, Randy “The Natural” Couture and Mark “The Hammer” Coleman, will butt heads to determine who is next in line to challenge for the UFC’s light heavyweight championship once Lyoto Machida and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua have a chance to settle their score, once and for all.

That’s why figured there was no better time than now to pull up a chair alongside the four-time UFC champion’s main training partner, Neil Melanson, to pick his brain on the upcoming match-up between the two pioneers of the sport.

An elite level grappler that spent a great deal of time under the wing of submission master Gokor Chivichyan in Los Angeles, Melanson is the Head Submission Coach at one of the undisputed best MMA gyms on the planet, Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas.

So come along as the always insightful Melanson shares his feelings on this highly anticipated 205 pound tussle for a shot at all the marbles in arguably the most stacked division in all of mixed martial arts.

Cory Brady for What are your thoughts on Mark Coleman, and some of the problems he could potentially present to someone like Randy?

Neil Melanson: I’ve always been a Mark Coleman fan. I’ve always admired him because he was a guy that didn’t ever really evolve in the sport, and he’s still done very well over time. He’s never really had much of an easy fight. If you look at his record, he’s lost a lot, but it’s all to guys that were in the top three of their weight divisions at the time they met. He’s lost to some really tough guys, so you can’t really give him s*** for that. I don’t know how his training regimen is – if he’s kind of flaky or not- but I’ve always wanted to work with him, to teach him some submission defense, and a lot of things like that. But personally, I’m a big admirer of his. I met him about a year ago for the first time and it was really an honor to meet him.

As far as what threat he could pose to Randy: I think it will be the ability to steal rounds. I really don’t see Coleman having a lot to offer to Randy. Especially right now, because even though [Randy] is older, he’s more technical now than he’s ever been. He may have sacrificed a little bit with age, but he’s made up for it with increased technique so it kind of balances out. What Coleman is probably going to want to do is to use his powerful double leg takedown to put Randy on his back. He’s not going to want to take a lot of risks and he’s going to try to win a decision by keeping Randy on his back for the majority of the fight. I think that’s going to be Coleman’s game plan, and we have been working on some serious remedies for that type of problem. So you basically see Coleman going old school Hammer House …. Well, I guess it’s not really old school because that’s what Mark does. His formula has always been to get you on your back and pound the life out of you.

Neil Melanson: Right, and I don’t really see Coleman trying to pound Randy unconscious or knock him out. I see him trying to maintain position and hold Randy a lot, and if there are any opportunities, he’ll take them. I think Coleman is going to try to turn this into a wrestling match, but Randy has made a lot of advancements in his wrestling since I’ve been working with him. The one thing Randy was lacking was his old wrestling skills. There’s a whole facet of ground fighting that is pure wrestling, and Randy had gotten so far away from it. So when I was training with him I was really waking him up to it, and now he’s like a totally different creature. The way he’s working the turtle is really good and I’ve taught him a couple of guard systems that are working really well. Randy also has a nice little submission library. Randy has a couple submissions – he doesn’t need a lot – that he does amazingly. Randy will be hunting for submissions on Mark Coleman, and he will be trying to knock him out on the ground as well. If it goes to the ground, it doesn’t matter what position it’s in, Randy will be superior. I guarantee you that. Do you see this fight as being one of those bouts where their similar advantages on the ground could possibly create a stand up fight?

Neil Melanson: I don’t see that happening, although that’s a scenario that a lot of people could visualize. Randy is a mile ahead of Mark with his striking and that’s going to be recognized pretty quick in this fight. Mark’s going to do what he always does which is to shoot that powerful double leg and keep plowing into him. If Coleman is able to eventually get Randy to the ground, then Randy has a nice turtle and reversal game as well. It’s something I’ve been drilling with him for some time now. I’m a big advocate of the turtle and I work it a lot. I personally think it’s the next stage in the evolution of MMA. I don’t think people realize how powerful the turtle position is. When you’re fighting an good turtle-player your tactics have to be extremely intelligent because you can get reversed really easy. Randy is just getting better and better. Like recently we went for three hours, and it’s not because Randy lost track of time, it’s because we were having so much fun working on stuff and developing training methods. It’s not just me teaching Randy, because he has been doing this for years. I’m also learning from him, so we’re having a blast. He is so motivated right now to establish himself as a premier catch wrestler, and he’s been very vocal about that to me. Bottom line, what does Randy need to make sure happens in order to win this fight?

Neil Melanson: Randy just needs to move. If Mark wants to stay on his feet for any length of time, he’s going to realize really fast that he can’t. Randy’s boxing is just getting better and better. Randy has always like to work his dirty boxing off of the cage, and it’s good, but it’s never good enough. So I talked to his boxing coaches – my wife (Erin Toughill) being one of them – and said, ‘Look, what can we do better here? He’s not landing enough and he’s not doing enough damage’. Then I began to work with Randy and started to open him up a little more. So now he’s using his boxing on the inside to set up his takedowns, and he’s using his takedowns to set up his boxing. If Mark Coleman decides to stand up with Randy he’s going to eat a lot of punches. He’s going to see a furious old man trying to kill him. One thing Randy has been lacking is really good training partners. I’ve been his main training partner and I’m just a ground fighter. I’m not a boxer. So I made a conscious effort this time to bring in guys that aren’t afraid to stand with Randy, or wrestle Randy, or do MMA with Randy. They’re big guys, and these guys have been critical. On the ground I can push Randy plenty, but now he has guys that will box him that can take the pain, and will make him pay. Randy’s sparring is more intense for this fight than it has ever been before. I’m not looking past Coleman but this is a really good camp. We’re already looking at the next fight. We’re getting our tactics ready.

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