Neil Melanson is a black belt in the Hayastan Grappling System under Karo Parisyan. He has been the head coach at world-renowned gyms such as Xtreme Couture, Alliance MMA, and for the Blackzilians. He has trained former UFC Champions Randy Couture and Dominick Cruz as well as other notable athletes such as Chael Sonnen, Michael Chandler, Anthony Johnson and Patrick Cummins.
Melanson is currently settling in to his new home in Denver, Colorado at the Genesis Fight Academy as head coach for The Filthy Few.
The Catch Wrestling Formula is Melanson’s first DVD instructional series. It follows his book, Mastering the Triangle Choke, a massive book that offers a very different look at the triangle and guard game than we’re used to in jiu jitsu.
At a Glance
- Detailed, sequential instruction
- These sequences have clearly been refined over years of the grind
- Conceptually sound tactics and techniques that are interchangeable in different scenarios
- This whole game is a nice option for people who have low back issues because it focuses on top half and shoulder pin guard.
- Neil Melanson is a passionate and engaging teacher
- At a cost of $77, it is less than a private lesson would be. Plus you can rewind.
- Watching this DVD set will get you pumped to #gotrain
- Some practitioners may not be interested in using pain to influence the actions of their opponents in training.
- Some of the techniques are more violent than what we regularly see in jiu jitsu (if that bothers you)
- Neil and Nicholai are wearing clothing in the same colors so sometimes it’s tricky to figure out whose limbs are where
- Some techniques are better suited for people with longer limbs (if you’re training with bigger people)
The Catch Wrestling Formula by Neil Melanson is a little different than what the BJJ community is used to and the best explanation for it is found in this interview with Fighters Only in 2009, starting at 6:20:
When we see someone as big as Neil Melanson, we might assume that they don’t have to be as technically sound as someone my size (5’0, 110lbs) however Neil Melanson doesn’t rely on brutality or lucky breaks. Nothing is left to chance.
Throughout this DVD set, Melanson repeats the importance of:
- framing with your skeletal structure
- optimal uses of leverage and rotational controls
- incremental progress against tough opponents using pressure, clamping and restricting movement at key points. In the BJJ Formula, Rob Biernaki calls this “don’t let go of one thing until you have the next”
- balancing on your opponents body in specific ways and pushing from the mats with your toes to increase pressure
- Identifying opportunities to collapse your opponents structure
- Using the shoulder pin to destroy your opponent’s posture in closed guard
- Using tactics and strategy rather than individual techniques
If you can’t get these techniques to work for you, the problem could be you however, not every technique is ideal for every body type or every opponent.
This segment from DVD 1 will give you a good idea of Melanson’s teaching style.
Another great thing about this video series is that Melanson knows all of the possible escapes to these techniques so when he shows the counters to the escapes, you’re learning escapes at the same time.
Melanson understands which details a beginner might miss when watching, that invisible jiu jitsu, and points it out. The thing about Melanson is that he’s used to teaching MMA fighters who are fighting skin-on-skin. They don’t have the friction we have in gi and no gi with our clothing so he has had to stress very emphatically the points of control. Even his armbar has details that I’ve never seen in my ten years of training.
If you’ve watched any of Ryan Hall’s instructional series, you know the level of detail you get. The Catch Wrestling Formula follows a similar vein. Melanson wants us to be able to defeat high level opponents, not just people who we are already better than. As Ryan Hall repeats in his series, it matters who you can apply these submissions on.
“Who you beat and catch with d’arce chokes, always remember, you’ve got to make sure, who you submit with them counts. If you’re going against a guy who doesn’t even know what the choke is and you get him, you should feel good and proud, but as you go up the ladder with better and better opponents, your setups start failing and your chokes start failing, it’s not you, you’ve just got to clean up your technique a little. That’s why I’m explaining this, because in my years I’ve seen a lot of problems, OK?”
DVD 1 – Countering Underhook Getup
- Near side under series to backhand straight armbar
- Half guard quarter counter to d’arce
- Arm in guillotine
- Arm in guillotine, anaconda, mizzou choke
This DVD begins from top half. Melanson demonstrates and explains, in great detail, a submission chain from darce, to arm in guillotine, to anaconda, to missou and right back to darce. All of the submissions come from the escalating tactics of an opponent trying to escape bottom half. The opponent gets the underhook, Melanson crushes, comes up on the elbow, gets submitted four different ways. DVD two starts where the opponent makes it to his hand and starts to scramble after getting the underhook.
In this instructional series, every time the opponent tries to be offensive, or even defensive, Melanson states, “Good for him” but it’s insincere. Each time the Nicholai does something “good” he is punished. This DVD set brings back memories of training with one of the guys who used to submit me five or six times every time we rolled. He was going easy on me, but punishing me at the same time. The next day I would struggle to chew my lunch. I hope that some day, I can do the same to others.
My training parnters and I frequently drill Melanson’s DVD set and one of our favorite features is Nicholai’s pain face. To celebrate the face, I’ve made this slideshow of screen captures for all of us to enjoy.
Screen captures from The Catch Wrestling Formula
DVD 2 – Cow Catcher Series (Part 1)
- RNC series
- Cow catcher to fist choke
- Half helch series
- Cradle series and drill
The second DVD is a continuation of the top half passing and submission chain. It begins with a counter to Nicholai’s improved structure: he is propped on his hand rather than his elbow.
In my opinion, this is where the real punishment begins. In the first DVD we learned a series that included darce to mounted darce to arm in guillotine to anaconda to missou. None are pleasant but compared to the cow catcher that comes next, I feel that I would just let Melanson pass my half guard and then use my dead rat defense
The pressure of the cow catcher leads to very slick rotational control lever that Melanson uses to take his opponent’s back. Once the back is taken, a chain of techniques is presented, including a breakdown of the hierarchy of base and levers in the top half position.
The opponent can go for the underhook, but with its lower lever and superior base, navy ride defeats bottom half underhook. From Navy Ride there are options for upper and lower body submissions.
Next we learn what Melanson says is the future when it comes to chokes in this position. He calls it the Half Helch Series and again Nicholai suffers for our education. Instead of flattening his opponent, Melanson uses his underhook as a lever and pulls him up onto a low shoulder, pinning his bottom arm to the mat with his shin. What follows is a series of guillotine chokes with modifications depending on the reaction of the opponent.
Halfway through the second DVD we learn The Cradle. If you are a leg dragger or a dope mount player, the cradle will fit nicely into your game. It follows the same concepts only you have additional head control. Below is this portion of the DVD. Apparently Melanson is working with BJJ Fanatics on the Ground Marshal so they have released some of the material from this set.
If you try the cradle and your opponent is tricky, Melanson offers solutions. He demonstrates the German Necktie, which he said Nicholai helped him to perfect, followed by a rewind to the quarter nelson pass from the first DVD to a Barata Plata.
In this DVD, Neil expressed his admiration for Greco as a way to improve hand-fighting and urged viewers to look into the work of Raphael “Barata” Freitas because he found his shoulder locks very interesting.
I really love how Melanson has provided an entire system with techniques that can be interchanged in a really devastating flow of offense.
DVD 3 – Cow Catcher Series (Part 2)
- Whizzer series
- Armless d’arce crank
- Cradle series
- Cradle to back take
The first time I watched this DVD I thought the whizzer series to the German neck tie and Nelson neck crank was a bit too complex for me but now that I’ve been working through the series with my training partners, I can see how you can easily build towards this and work it into the system.
The armless d’arce is a simple crank choke that you can go for but if you fail, you can head back towards top crucifix and look for something else.
In the cradle series, we learn the double bunching technique to go to the back and work from there. Melanson also offers a solution to that high zguard leg where he armdrags the high arm and pulls it through the z to get the cradle. I get that block a lot when I try to go to dope mount and I’m definitely going to work on this one.
Next, Melanson goes from the cradle to the back. This segment is probably better suited for people with long arms and legs but regarding competition, you’re probably going to be competing against people close to your size so you should be able to manage. He also gives a nice tip on how crossing your legs from rear mount can work out fine for you, despite warnings to the contrary.
We all know now that if you don’t attack the legs, you’re missing out on fifty percent of the body. Neil Melanson learned grappling backwards when he began training sixteen years ago; he started with leg locks and he actually found his first real coach, Gokor Chivichyan, because he heard he was great at leg locks.
In the final segment of this DVD, Neil turns around and attacks the leg from the cradle in a devastating kneebar. In his interviews, Melanson stresses the importance of controlling both legs when you’re leglocking and this kneebar combines all of the technical detail of recent leg lock instructionals with an additional layer of control as well as a very nice sequence to a compression lock and a toehold when your partner counters.
There are rumors that Melanson is going to release a full leg lock series as well.
DVD 4 – Butterfly Cradle Pass Series
- Cradle to heel hook
- Shoulder pin series closed guard
This DVD continues with the legs in a simple heelhook from the cradle and then moves forward to revisit the German and Japanese neckties from the cradle as an alternative to the half guard.
Have you ever been rolling with someone who, no matter what you did, led you into a trap? This DVD is like PTSD for that. Everything in the system flows into everything else in the system. When one fails, you go to the next, then back to the first, second, third. It’s all attack, attack, attack using bottlenecking to eventually defeat your opponent.
If you don’t know what bottlenecking is, check out this interview Melanson did with for a great explanation. I’ve started it right at the bottlenecking discussion for your convenience.
The next sequence in this DVD is the shoulder pin guard, which helps to eliminate the stacking problem. Do you remember when I said Karo forced Melanson to work on his triangles? Well this is what came from it.
The instructions in this segment are detailed but to go more in depth in this position, I highly recommend the Ground Marshal Guard. I’ve only watched the first DVD so far but it’s basically an hour long video going over the basics of the closed guard and the triangle. As I said, I’ve been training ten years and I didn’t take my eyes off of that DVD for the full hour. It’s very, very worthwhile.
The series in the fourth DVD continues with a counter to Nicholai’s counter with a shoulder pin on the other side leading to a nasty arm/shoulder lock to a triangle. And you won’t believe this but after three hours of Nicholai getting violated in every possible way, Melanson says to him, “I’m going to get pregnant if you keep throwing me around like that.”
Here’s what actually happened, according to Melanson’s instagram, Nicholai is the one who had a baby. Go figure. (Yes, I am very thorough in my research, thank you. I’m an auditor.)
As predicted, Melanson did not get pregnant in this last sequence, he was using bottlenecking again to get the shoulder pin after faking a kimura attack. From here he forces Nicholai into a shoulder roll that leads into a triangle choke.
It is clear that Melanson has had a lot of time to refine his offence and it’s clear that his battles were hard-fought. The set concludes with the Neil Knot, a nasty choke that he developed himself. It was viscous enough to make Nicholai audibly choke as a nice end to the day.
I don’t review a lot of DVD sets because it takes me a long time to get through them, try the techniques and do the research and write up. I really have to be interested to bother. I decided to put the time into The Catch Wrestling Formula because it is something I can work on for a long time to consistently improve my whole game and I feel it can help a lot of other people, too.
Neil Melanson is so enthusiastic about ground fighting and you can tell that he really wants his students to succeed. I can honestly say that watching this set makes me look forward to going to class just so I can try these techniques out in my rolls.
I can’t recommend The Catch Wrestling Formula highly enough; in fact, I’ve been teaching the legal parts of this series in the coed beginner class on Thursdays at Titans MMA because I know top half is where a lot of these people will end up a lot and it’s a tricky spot.
Also, there are a few big guys in my class and I get a kick out of showing them greasy moves, knowing that some poor bastard is going to make a Nicholai face because of me.
The cost of this DVD set is probably much less than the cost of a private lesson with Neil Melanson and you can watch it an unlimited number of times.
- BudoVideos – $77 + 17 USD for shipping to Canada
- BJJ Super Deals $47 + 12.50 USD for shipping to Canada. Add an extra $10 for online access.
- BJJ Fanatics – $77 + 5 USD for shipping to Canada
Note if you shop at BJJ Fanatics or BJJ Super Deals (they appear to be the same company) a window will generally pop up offering you 10% off. If you are just browsing, and add things to your cart, do not enter your email unless you complete your transaction or you will be spammed immediately and frequently. What’s interesting also is that I got an email from World MMA Awards at the same time and I’ve never heard of them before. I’m not saying that it’s connected but I’m not not saying it.
Regardless, that has nothing to do with the DVD set! Be sure to check out the Catch Wrestling Formula and Melanson’s other instructional materials and follow him on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube to be notified when new material is released!
- Mastering Triangle Chokes
- The Catch Wrestling Formula
- The Ground Marshal Guard
- Headhunter Guillotine Series