UFC

Passion propels Belcher toward title

Heavy.com Duane Finley
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Every athlete who chooses to forge a career in combat sports does so with the understanding of the circumstances that hover around them. While success comes in the form of accolades and the golden sheen of championships, just beyond the limelight lingers the potential for injury and physical damage.

To the fortunate, those setbacks are minor; the muscle strains and pulls which are commonplace with the rigors of training and preparation. But there are others who suffer the type of injury that threatens not only a promising career but the quality of life they knew beforehand.

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In those dark moments of uncertainty, some athletes retreat. It is a place void of the very confidence that once propelled them and, while recovery may come, in many cases the athlete is never the same. Alan Belcher has walked to the edge of that expanse, and just like he has done his entire life, he fought with everything he had to regain the things he’s earned.

For years Belcher has been one of the most exciting fighters to step into the Octagon. Operating behind powerful striking and his ability to mix unorthodox attacks seamlessly into a technical and precise base has made him a force to be reckoned with in the UFC middleweight division.

Perhaps Belcher’s greatest strength is his rare ability to find comfort in the heat of battle. Many fighters thrive off the passion for competition, but Belcher is the unique breed of fighter who finds their rhythm inside the fire. As the action becomes intense, he is at his best, standing and exchanging blows within the range of danger in a place where fights can end in an instant.

His “caution to the wind” style has attracted fans throughout the MMA community and, over the span of 12 fights in the UFC, he has made giant steps toward title contention. And the years of sacrifice and dedication appeared to be paying off, as the UFC pitted him against Brazilian submission ace Demian Maia in August of 2010. But his momentum was halted, and the fight was canceled after Belcher suffered a severe eye injury. Not only was his hard-fought momentum brought to a stop, but his career appeared to be in jeopardy as well.

A career he had been forging since childhood.

“My motivation to become a professional fighter is based off spending my entire life in martial arts,” Belcher said. “I’ve been doing it since I was a kid, and getting into MMA was the natural progression. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, and I just wanted to be the best at it. My goal was to make it into the UFC, and once I accomplished that, the goal shifted to becoming the best there.

“I didn’t really know how I would fit in. I felt I was good enough to compete at that level, and I was proud to put up a good fight against (Yushin) Okami. He was a really experienced grappler and a top fighter at the time, but it was really my second fight against Jorge Santiago where I got my first win that showed me I could progress and get better and eventually be one of the top guys.”

After notching his first victory, Belcher would fall into a give-and-take pattern over the next two years. He would lose his next fight to TUF winner Kendall Grove, but would bounce back to claim two in a row by way of stoppage. A similar pattern would repeat over his next three fights and, while his place in the divisional picture was unclear, Belcher credited every step taken forward to his education in the increasingly competitive world of the UFC.

When the organization prepared for its milestone event at UFC 100, Belcher was ready to take yet another step up the 185-pound ladder, as he was tapped to face Japanese star Yoshiro Akiyama in his stateside debut. From bell to bell both men pushed one another to the breaking point, and their gutsy performances earned “Fight of the Night” honors. Belcher would go on to lose a controversial split-decision, much to his surprise. Years later, with the decision in hindsight, he has come to terms with the lessons learned in that battle.

“It’s all a learning experience,” Belcher said. “Every situation that has come along has been very valuable to me. I think those early fights were the beginning of me learning what it was going to take to make a run in the UFC. The fight against Akiyama was definitely a learning experience, and even with the loss, I probably wouldn’t have it any other way. It taught me some valuable lessons.

“It was a big turning point on a big stage, and I think that fight earned me a lot more fans. It didn’t damage my spot or my position in the division, so I really think I would have been in the same place had I won the fight. That being said, I think it was the lesson I needed at that time, and it was another stepping stone in my life and career.

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“It was at that point of my career where I really started to feel in rhythm and get it rolling. I was learning how to play the game; how to get on top and stay on top. It has taken some time, but I feel it was around that time things started to come together for me. The last couple of years have been kind of slow, but I’m hanging onto my ranking and trying to become better than I’ve ever been.”

The bout with Akiyama generated a buzz around Belcher, and he threw gas on that fire by registering back-to-back victories over MMA veterans Wilson Gouveia and Patrick Cote. Both performances earned him “Fight Night” bonuses, and everything appeared to be falling into place when the UFC called with his next fight, which would be against Demian Maia.

A victory over the former No. 1 contender would have launched Belcher into the forefront of contention, and the middleweight contender was aware of the benefits of a win, but after he began to have difficulty with his vision during training, he sought out medical advice for the issue. The fight was scrapped when Belcher was rushed in for emergency eye surgery to correct a detached retina, and word surfaced that Belcher’s fighting days may have come to an abrupt end.

“It was terrible,” Belcher said. “I felt like everything was being taken away from me. But in the long run it was an experience that made me appreciate things a lot more. I think it changed my entire outlook on things. It made me stop being in such a hurry and slow down to make sure I did things the right way so I could get more out of my career. Facing an injury like that, you have to deal with it on a daily basis. You have to stay positive and come up with a plan or strategy to figure it out.

“There were some points during the process where everything was in the hands of the doctors involved and I just had to wait to see how things turned out. You have to keep your head up, meet it head on and keep going. I try to keep everything in my life positive and look at things from the perspective where what I’m up against can improve me rather than hold me back.”

The surgery was successful, and before long Belcher returned to training. It was a trying process, and throughout his rehabilitation Belcher’s perspective on life began to change. For a fighter who had made a career out of never letting his foot off the gas, he suddenly found himself learning how to slow things down and appreciate taking one step at a time.

His next step into the Octagon would come nearly a year after the injury when he stepped in against savvy veteran Jason MacDonald in New Orleans. There was uncertainty surrounding Belcher, and questions lingered about whether or not the same fire he once fought with could be re-ignited following the layoff and injury. All questions were answered and doubters silenced in short fashion, as Belcher earned an impressive TKO victory in the first round.

“Going into the fight with McDonald, I knew I had a long layoff and had something to prove to myself more than anything,” Belcher said. “I was nervous and scared but just wanted to be back in there, and once it turned out good, and better than I expected, it was great. I felt like I was back and better than ever.”

Alan Belcher has always approached life inside the cage with the utmost passion and determination. His body of work is lined with the type of scraps some fighters go an entire career without ever experiencing. While the life of a top-level mixed martial artist requires time and commitment, it has never stopped his pursuit to assist those caught in the struggles of life.

“I’m very passionate about giving back and helping those in need,” Belcher said. “There have been things in my life that have shown me the world doesn’t revolve around me, and we only have a short time here to help people. That’s what I’m trying to do. My wife and I are both involved in doing as much as we can. Her passion is doing charity work, getting involved, and together we try to do as much for the community as we can.

“Any time something pops up or any time we can help someone out we will. Whether it’s donating or using my name to draw attention to a cause, we are going to do it. We work with the Humane Society a lot and do a Buddy Walk for Down Syndrome. I do that every year and have been doing it now for several years. I like to help individuals as well. A buddy of mine has cancer and we just did a fundraiser for him trying to help out with doctor bills. Over the holidays we did a can drive trying to help out the homeless. We try to do as much as we can.

“The Humane Society came to me and asked if I could come by to talk about what I could do to possibly help them out. Just going in there will make you see things a lot differently. The Humane Society does a lot of great things, and I’m happy to be a part of it.“

Whether it is expressing himself in rapid-fire exchanges, or the effort he lends to others in need of a helping hand, Belcher’s motivations to become the best possible version of himself never wavers. Holding a UFC championship and being the type of fighter fans love to watch hold importance, but what matters most are the loved ones he comes home to.

“One of the things I’ve considered very important throughout my career is staying on the front side of things in the sport,” Belcher said. “There are a lot of guys who were fighting when I first started out who are out of MMA and people have forgotten about them. I’ve pushed myself to stay relevant and up to date.

“With that being said, I’m focused on my family and trying to be the best in the UFC. That’s my main goal. I want to live my life for my kids, and everything revolves around my family. They are the reason I do everything I do and what I work so hard for.”

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