Alan Belcher is one of the few fighters to step away from MMA while still being in his prime.
The former UFC middleweight contender ended his career at the age of 29 after battling would-be champion Michael Bisping in 2013 in the co-main event of UFC 159. He lost a technical decision to Bisping that night. New Jersey as he suffered a bad eyeball that ruled him out of the fight.
Belcher was on a four-game, 6-1 winning streak before losing decisions to Bisping and Yushin Okami. While not under ideal circumstances, few saw Belcher’s exit from the sport coming given his age and position in the division. Yet for Belcher, it was the end.
“My mind wasn’t in a good place before,” Belcher told MMA Junkie. “I got really big really fast and I wanted to be a UFC champion really fast. Maybe I wasn’t mature enough to handle things – even injuries.
“How do you know when you have an eye injury whether to stop or fight? The doctor says, ‘Hey, it’s up to you, but here are the risks.’ You weigh those risks and who knows what you’re supposed to do.
“I took a few years off and really learned what I was supposed to do and what makes me happy and stuff like that. I turned things around, and now I’m an older, wiser, smarter, harder-hitting fighter.
Why Belcher returned to combat
Belcher kept his word and did not compete for over eight years. Then, in the spring of last year, it was announced that Belcher had signed a multi-fight contract with BKFC, and was due to make his return in August. This came as a big surprise to many considering his long absence from the fights.
A lot has changed in Belcher’s life that has pushed him towards a comeback.
“I really needed healing and therapy and things like that,” Belcher said. “So a break was needed, a total reset of what I was, who I was, what I was trying to accomplish in my life, and focus on other things to achieve what I had to do.
“I changed things. I changed my ego. I wasn’t a fighter anymore, and I had to be something else. It gives you a different place to watch fighters and fights, so you can go back to your own terms. I thought about it for years, and you’re always going to think about it and regret it, and you don’t want to live your life later with regrets.
“I left a lot on the table with my career, I think. I don’t want to sound too arrogant, but I feel like I’m one of the best fighters in the world. …You always want to know until where you want to go. And for me, it’s my job, to show my children and others. We are capable of doing whatever we want in this world, we are responsible for our reality and manifest our destiny. Once it became clear to me, I was sitting in a nice position. I was wise, my mental health was good, my physical health was good, and I still have athletic strength. So these blends are really good.
With a new mindset and now at heavyweight, Belcher made a successful debut for BKFC, beating combat sports veteran Tony Lopez by unanimous decision.
He followed that up with a boxing debut in November when he stopped Ryan Shough in the second round at a regional promotion in Mississippi. Belcher returned to BKFC in January to claim his second stoppage victory since returning, this time putting Bobo O’Bannon in the first round of their contest.
For the future, “open to everything”
Now Belcher, 38, is set to return on Saturday in what will likely be a title eliminator against Frank Tate in the main event of BKFC Jackson 2 in Mississippi.
Belcher focuses on defeating Tate and then BKFC champion Arnold Adams. But despite his promising career in bare-knuckle boxing, MMA still remains on Belcher’s mind — and he’s not ruling out a comeback.
“I’m really open to anything,” Belcher said. “I know if I come back to MMA I’m going to have a lot of new skills compared to what I’m doing now, mentally being a big part of it.
“In a way, I think I’d do better in MMA than probably boxing and bare-knuckle boxing because now I have better hands and just a better way…a more technical, more methodical type of system for fight and everything. But whatever the payday is, what excites me and what pays off the most. For me, these are big problems for me. If I’m passionate about it, I could do an MMA fight.
“Let’s say I win this (BKFC heavyweight title, and get a couple big boxing days, and that’s fine with me. For my own to-do list, I’d do an MMA fight again, or maybe it all leads to kind of a big crossover fight hopefully what i would like to see once i get the belt will challenge other champions especially like free agents who can do it like Francis Ngannou , challenge these guys to bare-knuckle boxing.