(“It’s okay, boy. Doesn’t really look like Johnny Cash, but you did the best you could.” / Photo via CageWriter)
What was supposed to be a monumental night for Alan Belcher at UFC 100, filled with celebration and grandeur, turned out to be more of a grand illusion thanks to the gross incompetence of the judges. Belcher’s controversial split-decision loss to then-UFC newcomer Yoshihiro Akiyama still leaves a sour taste in the mouth of many who recall Bruce Buffer’s reading of the scorecards. That sweaty July night, although only three years ago, feels like an eternity ago when you consider all that the Biloxi, Mississippi native has endured over the past few years. From that memorable fight to unforeseeable medical threats and his surge to the top of the middleweight division, the burden-laden path has proved Belcher both remarkable and resilient.
Leading up to the historical UFC 100 pay-per-view, you heard a lot of chatter about “Sexyama” losing only once in fifteen professional fights. Since then, the Japanese veteran has been falling in a downward spiral, going o-4 in the cage. Belcher on the other hand, hasn’t looked back, earning four consecutive stoppage victories and two end-of-night bonuses. Suffice it to say that it’s more than a coincidence that they’ve been heading in opposite directions since their paths crossed. It’s just a shame no one called the cops to report the robbery that night.
If you saw the Fight of the Night bout between Akiyama and “The Talent” then you know the fight was close, but not that close. “He got me down a couple of times, but I swept him just as many times as he took me down,” Belcher said after the fight. “I tried for submissions; I think he only hit me a few times on the ground. I landed leg kick after leg kick over and over and over.”
When an normal American goes to Brazil for an extended period of time during the summer, the worst that usually happens to him is a nasty sunburn after taking a leisurely nap at the beach, a twisted ankle trying to get his freak on during Carnival, or maybe the poor sap gets a full beer thrown on him when a native wins a big fight. Alan Belcher is not a normal American. During the summer of 2010, coming off two award-winning victories in the Octagon against Wilson Gouveia and Patrick Cote, the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt was quickly approaching his first-ever main event at UFC Fight Night: Maia vs. Belcher. But as the anticipation grew, so did the fear. It wasn’t the fear of forgetting the game plan or even losing on cable television in front of millions of people. No, this fear was far more worrisome — Alan was going blind in one eye:
“I have a detached retina. It just all happened all of a sudden, I just lost my vision in my right eye. It just happened all of a sudden, man — pretty much overnight. I was in Brazil training and I messed around for a few days there afterwards and I had to come home and have a surgery the day after I came home.”
The only thing worse than that would have been a run-in with the locals on some side street in the favelas. The mixed martial arts community was stricken with worry. Could it be? Could they really lose one of their own at such a young age? All the while, Belcher’s wife Ashley kept fans and media alike informed after the hospital visits and checkups, each day a new struggle. Doctors would reveal that tears in his retina lead to a complete detachment. After being repaired by surgery, his retina became detached for the second time just two months later.
“That was really bad for me,” said Belcher when asked about the time spent recovering. “I thought I wasn’t gonna fight again, and we weren’t even talking about it with the doctor. I was just trying to get my sight back. After a while, I started thinking about it a little bit and there definitely was a chance that I wasn’t gonna fight again. Even if you do get good enough to get back in there, do you want to risk doing that again? There are so many different variables, and it was a tough time for me.”
Fortunately for Belcher — and unfortunately for the rest of the UFC middleweights — his next surgery was a success, and he picked up right where he left off. At Ultimate Fight Night 25 in New Orleans in September 2011, nearly five hundred days since his last fight, Alan Belcher defeated Jason MacDonald in the first round by submission due to strikes.
CagePotato’s own Jared Jones had this to say leading up to Belcher’s most recent appearance at UFC on FOX 3: “At +240, Alan Belcher would look pretty damn tempting…if he wasn’t fighting a genetically engineered, psychopathic wildebeest in Rousimar Palhares. With an ever-improving striking game, as documented in his typically disorienting win over Dan Miller, ”Toquinho” has made the step up from “mini-Hulk” to full-on “eater of worlds,” and there’s nothing we can do to stop him.” Based on the betting line, Dangada was speaking on behalf of the vast majority of fight fans. But the Roufussport product must not have paid Vegas much attention, as evidenced by the absence of an “I told you so” during the post-fight interviews. His silence on the matter only confirmed what we already knew; men like Alan Belcher believe they can win every fight, even when the odds aren’t in their favor.
Judging from the above description of the Brazilian, it’s easy to see why one might be a little hesitant in agreeing to allow themselves to be locked in a cage with such a beast. Since being signed by Zuffa in 2008, Palhares had only dropped two fights, one to Dan Henderson, the other to Nate Marquardt. But as with all one-trick ponies, the heel-hook specialist had met his match. You’d spend more time ordering a pizza than it took Belcher to dispatch of Palhares. It’s only a little hyperbolic to say that he shocked the world at UFC on FOX 3 when he escaped the clutches of his dreaded opponent and smashed his way to a first-round TKO victory from inside Palhares’s guard.
Finally, the fans gave the man his due. They were forced to acknowledge that Belcher is a legit contender who can no longer be ignored. All it took was overcoming a career-threatening eye injury and chopping down the world’s most dangerous “little tree stump.” Beating a highly skilled fighter at his own game proved Belcher’s BAMF status to everyone watching that night. He’s always had the tools to succeed in the UFC middleweight division, but for the first time, Belcher now has consistency, the attention of the fans, and enough momentum to carry him into the division’s upper reaches.
From robbery to recovery. From recovery to resurgence. The remarkable journey of Alan Belcher is far from over. Where to now?