MMA Year In Review: Brian Melancon and Jeff Hougland Discuss 2011 Journey and Goals for the New Year
2011 marked another great year in the world of mixed martial arts. A year that saw rising stars make their mark in the industry, a plethora of stunning knockouts, and amazing action there demonstrated why MMA is the fasting rising sport.
Every fighter has had a different journey that they embarked on this year experiencing both highs and lows. In this two-part series USCS Reporter Monta Wiley talks to Duane "Bang" Ludwig, Jeff Hougland, James Head, and Brian Melancon about the past year and their goals for 2012.
Brian Melancon ( Strikeforce lightweight Contender)
This year was good for my MMA career. Started off with a great victory over one of the best guys in the state of Texas, in Derrick Krantz, then I went to Faber's Ultimate Fitness to train with Team Alpha Male. That was an awesome experience and I'll be heading back sometime this year.
After that I took May off to relax and go on a couple vacations. Was set to fight 8 weeks after I got back, but then I got the call that I wasn't expecting. Strikeforce needed a short notice fighter for the Overeem vs Werdum card nine days away to face Isaac Vallie-Flagg. I was nearly 30-pounds away and hadn't been training, but what are you supposed to do when they call? Say no? Yeah right.
I dominated the first round, then gassed and thought I pulled out the decision in the third, but it didn't go my way and I lost by a controversial split decision. It took a while to get over that one, but I was back in the gym only two days after. I wanted to prove I belonged so I was working hard.
Last fight of the year was a more technical battle than most of my fights normally are, against Brazilian striker Felipe Portela. It was a great fight and it felt awesome to get my first win in Strikeforce live on the main card on Showtime. I was looking to finish that one, but had to settle for the Unanimous Decison win.
After that I took a trip to Reign Training Center to train with Mark Munoz and his team. Another awesome experience, and a place I will definitely be heading back to. I think I grew a lot as a fighter in every aspect, especially wrestling. I train with some awesome wrestlers and coaches here at Paradigm Training Center, and it has really made a difference. My time at Ultimate Fitness and Reign also helped sharpen up and advance different things. I feel like I am really starting to put things together, but at the same time, there is so much more I want to learn.
The rest of the year was spent taking some time off with family and enjoying the holidays. For the last three years I have been dieting through the holidays, and this year I wasn't going that route. I'm really looking forward to 2012. We know Strikeforce is gonna have a home and continue to grow, so I'll definitely be trying to make waves in my division. Hopefully I'll have three exciting fights this year that end in victory and then I'll be wrapping up the year by getting married. All in all it was a good year for me, but I am not satisfied by any means. I have many more things I want to accomplish, and I look forward to the test as always!
Jeff Hougland (UFC Bantamweight Contender)
This year was awesome for me. I started out in February making my 135-pound debut at Rumble on the Ridge. I won that fight with ground and pound that eventually led to a rear naked choke. I flew out three days later to corner my good friend Roque Martinez in his heavy weight title defense in the PXC in Guam. Guam is beautiful and I can’t wait to go back.
In March my good friend Jeff and I flew to New Jersey to try out for the 14th season of the Ultimate fighter. There were a ton of guys trying out as it was the first time they were going to feature featherweights and bantamweights. I made it through the grappling and shined in the striking part of the tryouts. This got me an interview with Spike TV. I guess I was too old and boring for their taste so I was not picked up for the show.
In May I took another fight in Rumble on the Ridge. This time I was the main event against Utah fighter and Jeremy Horn protégé Craig Ross. The fight went fast as I caught Craig with a jumping guioutine choke and got the tap at 1:06 of the first round. I had hurt my back while training for the fight with Ross so I decided to take some time off and let my back heal.
I didn't do anything but teach at my gym Combat Sport and Fitness in Enumclaw. I was focusing on my team as they had fights coming up as well. When my back felt better I started to ease back into training, I was just doing gi Jiu-jitsu as I had nothing lined up yet. The last week in June I got the call that everyone who competes in MMA is praying to get.
Cub Swanson and Eric Koch were injured and their fight at UFC 132 was cancelled. Matchmaker Sean Shelby offered me a spot on the card against Donny Walker. Without hesitation we agreed to take the fight. That week was a hectic time getting all my medicals and licensing done, I also had to try and do some training since I hadn't even threw a punch in over a month. So I hopped on a plane with my training partner Jeff Bougeois, my Jiu-jitsu coach James Foster and my MMA coach Paul Mendoza and flew to Las Vegas. It was an exciting week full of interviews and photo shoots.
I felt so honored to be able to fight at a legendary venue like the MGM Grand and share a stage with the world’s best fighters like Wanderlei Silva, Tito Ortiz, Dominick Cruz, Uriah Faber, Carlos Condit and many others. There were more people at the weigh-ins than there were for any card I had ever fought on before.
Donny Walker and I started the night off. We had a good fight showcasing all aspects of MMA we traded on the feet, wrestled & exchanged submission attempts on the ground. After three rounds the fight went to the judges and I won my UFC debut by unanimous decision. It was an unbelievable feeling to be in the greatest show on earth and come away with the win.
I went back home and about a month later signed to fight Mike Easton on the undercard of the UFC on Versus 6 show. I trained really hard for this fight and was in great shape. On my last day of hard sparring I broke my hand and had to pull out of the fight. I was devastated. I had put a lot of time and money into this camp and now I was not able to fight.
I had to have surgery on the broken hand. I have had many injuries throughout my career and I know that it comes with the job but it is never easy to deal with. So I had surgery and started therapy to get my hand back to 100-percent. While doing this I kept my mind active by coaching my teammates for their August fights in Rumble on the Ridge.
That night my team did amazing going 4-0 with all wins by submission. In October I got something very special that I have been working on for about 12 years. I received my black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu from my coach James Foster. It felt great to get my black belt and only made me wants to train harder and step my game up. To me getting my black belt actually means more to me than fighting in the UFC as someday my MMA career will be over but I will train and wear my black belt the rest of my life.
All in all I had a fantastic year I wish I didn't injure my hand but I believe that it is all part of God’s plan & I'm right where I should be. So now I'm training, getting my hand better & waiting to see what the UFC has planned for me in 2012. Whatever it is I'm honored to be able to do this for a living and I’m loving every minute of the journey.
Make sure to tune in tomorrow as UFC competitors Duane Ludwig and James Head talk about their ventures in 2011 and what 2012 hopefully has in store for them.