Sixteen months is a long time for anyone to wither away on the sidelines. For 27-year-old UFC middleweight Alan Belcher, it must have seemed like an eternity. Sporting an aggressive brand of Muay Thai striking, Belcher is the epitome of a kid in a candy store when it comes to fighting, eagerly waiting to brutalize his next victim. The gravity of the events that occurred over the last year, however, make the layoff seem like a minor blip on the radar.
Belcher's normal anxiousness to fight turned into fear in August of last year when he lost vision in his right eye during a trip to Brazil. He was in the process of training for Demian Maia, who he was scheduled to fight in his first headlining bout at UFC Fight Night 22 five weeks later. That didn't happen. Instead, Belcher withdrew from the fight to undergo multipe surgeries and months of recovery that didn't guarantee he would fight again. Suddenly, Belcher's entire career was in jeopardy.
Fast forward to Saturday night in New Orleans, Louisiana, it looked as if Belcher never missed a beat. In the opening bout of the UFC Fight Night 25 main card, Belcher met forty-fight UFC veteran Jason MacDonald, dismantling the Canadian mixed martial artist in three minutes and forty-eight seconds. From the opening bell, Belcher struck with power, brutalizing MacDonald with kicks and punches until he buckled at the knees. Eyes wide open with excitement, Belcher continued his assault on the ground, stopping MacDonald moments later with a bevy of blasts from the top.
Vintage Alan Belcher.
The performance was exactly what we would have expected if Belcher had never sustained an injury. He had previously submitted Patrick Cote at UFC 113, knocked out Wilson Gouveia in a catchweight bout at UFC 109, and fought Yoshihiro Akiyama to split decision in a 'Fight of the Night' performance at UFC 100. By all indications, Belcher was trending upward and heading into the prime of his career before the layoff.
The keen observer of mixed martial arts would expect Belcher to fall off the path a bit in his return. After all, ring rust is a very real obstacle for many fighters, and Belcher would have to contend with the mental struggles of fighting normally without overprotecting his eye. None of those problems were the case on Saturday night.
It makes one wonder. Is Alan Belcher ready to make a relevant run at the upper crust of the UFC's middleweight division? His vicious beatdown of Jason MacDonald wasn't shocking considering MacDonald's inconsistencies, but it's a testament to Belcher's work ethic and drive to return. If Belcher can remain mentally strong and continue improving his weaknesses on the ground, I think we'll see Belcher making himself a legitimate concern to his opponents in the upper reaches of the division very soon.