After a year and a half absence, Alan Belcher is back in business. The Roufusport middleweight returns against slick Canadian submissionist Jason MacDonald in a UFC Fight Night 25: Shields vs. Ellenberger main card bout.
Late last year, Belcher began having issues with his vision in one eye. The problems gradually worsened to a grave state and required multiple surgeries, putting his career in jeopardy. In a recent interview with Tapout Radio, a noticeably chipper Alan Belcher confirmed his full recovery and gave an honest explanation about the fear of re-injuring his eye.
"I think the worst thing I can do, is have that in the back of my mind. I've been incorporating that into my mental training, to not even think about it. The visualizing that I've been doing, I've been trying to put myself back in my last fight, my best performances, the way I was thinking at those moments, and those thoughts don't include anything to do with my injury. I'm really just trying to pick up where I left off, and improve on that.
I think I had a breakthrough my first couple times in sparring, of getting past that nervous point, where you're kind of guarding your injury. Once I got past that, I pretty much never looked back. I'm not really worried about it. What happens, happens. I do my best, and win or lose, I'm gonna lay it all on the table."
Throughout the span of his UFC career, we seemed to witness Belcher maturing and finding himself as a fighter. He split results in his first six fights: showing shades of brilliance in stopping Kalib Starnes and Jorge Santiago with strikes and Sean Salmon by submission, but looked a little ragged against Kendall Grove and Jason Day, both of whom finished him.
The latter half of his career is where Belcher turned it on. He won four of five, and his only loss -- to Yoshihiro Akiyama by split-decision -- was marred by controversy with many believing Belcher deserved it.
What's interesting about this match up with Jason MacDonald, a conniving BJJ black belt with nineteen career wins by submission, is that Belcher has been far from impervious to takedowns. MacDonald is just as deadly on the mat as Belcher is standing and, if Kalib Starnes can do it, there's a good chance MacDonald can force a ground fight.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Belcher came into his own as a hard-nosed and heavy hitting Thai boxer.
His base and balance are phenomenal and his combinations are sharp and precise. His best weapon is measuring distance and cleaving punches through, but he also has vicious knees and kicks to all levels.
He's listed as a BJJ brown belt under Helio Soneca and trains at one of the best camps under Duke Roufus.
Belcher's takedown defense is not a glaring weakness; just an area where he doesn't specifically shine, but an imperative aspect of combat against MacDonald.
Jason Macdonald is so confident in his ground game that he fearlessly trudged into Demian Maia's guard, patiently persevered through a deeply locked triangle with elbows bouncing off his head and ended up taking the heralded BJJ artist's back.
Even though he was eventually submitted, that feat alone says a lot about his grappling prowess.
He doesn't boast a prestigious list of sport Jiu-Jitsu accomplishments but simply wields a fully functional ground game that's perfectly tailored to MMA.
MacDonald is a subtle master of creating angles from his guard with ultra-busy hips, baiting people into a library of clever traps, and taking complete control of the pace and momentum by putting his opponent on the defensive.
As depicted in the animation to the right versus Joe Doerksen, his ground and pound can be devastating as well, but everything is triggered by the cerebral positioning of his ground work.
When Alan Belcher is "on", his rugged aggression and brilliant creativity is a pleasure to behold.
He has all the tools to punish MacDonald on the feet, protect his neck in clinch exchanges and avoid the gleaming fangs of the Canadian's guard.
I would take the pre-surgery Alan Belcher that was accumulating huge momentum and unshakable resolve over MacDonald by a very close margin. With the crucial variables of Belcher's injury factored in, this one is about even in my eyes.
An eye injury as threatening as Belcher's was has the potential to wreak serious havoc on your confidence. The eye is a very exposed and sensitive spot and, quite simply, an area that is punched a lot in a fight. Fighting through a nagging shoulder or knee injury is nothing compared to the hazards of losing your vision. I have to imagine that the concern of that problem re-emerging is weighing heavily on Belcher, both mentally and physically.
Not only was Belcher on a great roll but he has that natural toughness and tenacity that gives him an extra edge. He's a bull in the clinch and should have the submission knowledge to steer clear of trouble if MacDonald does get him down.
I'll succumb to following the betting lines and leaning slightly towards Belcher, but the unique circumstances surrounding this bout give MacDonald a great chance.
My Prediction: Alan Belcher by decision
Gifs via MMA-Core.com
MacDonald vs. Maia gif via Caposa