Alan Belcher was a middleweight on a roll in the UFC. He had won two straight fights -- beating Wilson Gouveia and former title contender Patrick Cote -- and four of his last five. The only defeat in that span was a controversial split decision loss to Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 100.
All his momentum came to a screeching halt when Belcher suffered a detached retina while training in Brazil for a fight against the world-ranked Demian Maia that was slated to headline UFC Fight Night 22 in September. He underwent emergency surgery in August and has been on the long road back to the Octagon ever since.
“I only had two sparring sessions with heavy hitters [before the injury],” Belcher told Sherdog.com. “I started seeing things, but I didn’t know what to look for. I started noticing something was wrong, and it kind of happened over time. I flew back to the U.S. and had surgery. Then, I had to have surgery again a month later when the retina detached again.”
After undergoing two surgeries in as many months on his right eye, Belcher was forced to contemplate life without full eyesight, much less being able to compete again in the UFC again.
“[After the second surgery] is when it really hit home,” said Belcher, who earned two “Fight of the night” and two “Submission of the night” bonuses in his last four fights. “I wondered how I’d be able to see again. I just wanted to be able to see my child and live a normal life. I wasn’t thinking about fighting. People talked to me about fighting again, but it wasn’t in my mind at all. Once my eye finally healed, it was all downhill and so easy from there.”
A member of the Roufusport camp in Milwaukee and a native of Biloxi, Miss., Belcher was released to start sparring again in February. However, it will be several more months before UFC fans will see “The Talent” in action again. A UFC event in New Orleans, tentatively scheduled for Sept. 17, has become his target.
“Right now, I’m planning to come back in September,” said Belcher, who has 14 finishes among his 16 professional victories. “Everything is looking good so far, and I’m glad to be back in training. The time off was good for me. I got to see things from a different point of view. It made me realize just how lucky I was to be a fighter. It’s truly a gift that I’ve been given, but now I’m ready to be back as good or better than I’ve ever been.”
Belcher has had plenty of time to contemplate who he would like to face in his first fight back from injury, and one of the names at the top of the list belongs to “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 3 winner Michael Bisping.
“Bisping is an a------ who disrespects the sport and his opponent,” said Belcher. “A fight between me and Michael Bisping is something everybody wants except for Michael Bisping. It would be amazing to sign that fight and have him come to my backyard. He always gets to fight in Britain and other places, but it’d be good to see him come down to Louisiana. I’d love for that to be my comeback fight.”
“I want to fight the top three or four guys,” he said. “I want someone who will help keep my status high and help me move towards a title shot. I don’t want to have to prove myself again. [Belfort] is a legend and is still close to the top. I’m not sure beating [Silva] gets me closer to the title, but he’s a fighter I like. [Maia] and [Bisping] are other possibilities, too.”
Despite the fact that he has healed enough to be cleared by doctors, Belcher’s vision in his right eye remains blurry. However, he does not see it as a problem.
“My vision is still not perfect, but when both my eyes are open, I can see what I’m doing,” said Belcher, who owns other notable wins over Denis Kang, Ed Herman, Kalib Starnes and Jorge Santiago. “I’m nearsighted in my right eye, and if I close my left eye, things get blurry unless I’m really close to something. It’s getting better every day. I have my peripheral vision, and I can see well enough to spar. I’ll be able to see what people are doing.”
After suffering what might have been a career-ending and life-altering injury, most fighters might be hesitant to get back in the cage for fear of getting hurt again. That does not appear to be the case for Belcher.
“My doctor told me there’s no chance to detach the retina again now that it’s healed up,” said Belcher. “The only problem might come if I get poked in my left eye, leaving me with one blurry eye, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.”