Three kids and two eye surgeries later, middleweight Alan (The Talent) Belcher reckons he has life in somewhat better perspective.
The 28-year-old from Biloxi, Miss., has tweaked his training, revamped his lifestyle, and looked to keep things in balance.
No more yo-yo dieting. No more rushing to get ready for fights. No regrets.
Belcher (16-5) had plenty of time to reflect during a 16-month absence from the sport due to two surgeries to repair a detached retina in his right eye.
He was training in Brazil for a September 2010 fight with jiu-jitsu expert Demian Maia when he started having blurry vision. Local doctors diagnosed the detached retina and told him to go him and have immediate surgery.
The long journey back to full health has changed the fighter, who takes on Brazilian submission expert Rousimar Palhares on May 5 on a televised card in East Rutherford, N.J.
“I’ve been doing martial arts since eight years old. I don’t know too much else,” Belcher explained. “I’ve done it every week non-stop until I had that injury.
“And that injury is what made me realize then I could have lost that. And I’m not going to let all that hard work go to nothing. I want to fix the things that I’m doing wrong.
“I was taking it very seriously, but I wasn’t doing it the right way. I want to make the most out of it. The changes that I make are to set me up to do the best possible in my career. I will not have any regrets after any fight — win, lose or draw.”
Belcher says the possibility of another detached retina in his right eye is “really slim,” thanks to the surgical repair work.
“The risk is with the other eye,” he said. “I have just as much risk as any other human being stepping into an MMA fight.
A worst-case scenario would be losing the vision in his left eye, which would leave him with a “kind of blurry” right eye that could be enhanced by a corrective lens.
“I would be able to see pretty decent out of one eye … That’s the risk that I have to take,” said Belcher, who has a 13-year-old stepdaughter, two-year-old daughter and five-month-old son. “I’m willing to take that to provide for my family.
“Not only provide for my family, who am I kidding? I’m not doing this just to pay the bills anymore. I’m trying to finish the mission that I’m on. To be the best in the world.”
He took time off after his comeback win over Canadian Jason (The Athlete) MacDonald last September to welcome his son into the world.
Normally he prepares for fights with an extended stay in Milwaukee with trainer Duke Roufus. This time, he reduced the time away from home to be with his family — and newborn son.
“A pretty important time to be around, although I’m sure he don’t care much,” he said of the baby with a laugh.
“I wanted to spend more time with them. Also just the lifestyle changes I’ve made. I’m balancing my family, my business (he runs a gym) and my training more to a year-round type of thing.
“It’s all part of my plan to turn off that 110 per cent fighter mentality and cram it all into two months as opposed to balance year-round.
It’s something I’m trying and it’s worked pretty good, I think. I’m feeling good and I think everyone will be able to see a big change.”
Standing in his way is Palhares, a five-foot-eight fighter aptly nicknamed Toquinho (tree trunk). Know for his leg locks, he has won nine of his last 11 via submission.
Palhares (23-3) is a nasty piece of work in the cage. Leave a leg dangling and Palhares will try to rip it off.
The Brazilian has a 7-2 record in the UFC and has won his last three, forcing Mike Massenzio to tap to a vicious heel-hook last time out at UFC 142 in January.
His last loss was in September 2010 when he suffered a first-round TKO at the hands of Nate (The Great) Marquardt in a confusing ending (on the card where Belcher was supposed to fight Maia).
Palhares had Marquardt on the ground and was trying for a leg-lock. When Marquardt slipped his leg out, Palhares stopped to look up and seemingly complain to the referee. Marquardt took advantage of the break to pop up and hammer away with 19 unanswered blows at the turtled Brazilian.
Palhares seemed to suggest Marquardt was greased, an allegation that was later dismissed. The Brazilian later apologized for his accusation.
There is a prickly side to Palhares, who was suspended for 90 days after failing to release a hold in defeating Tomasz Drwal via heel-hook at UFC 111.
His only other UFC loss was at UFC 88 in September 2008 to Dan Henderson who used his strength and striking to keep the smaller Brazilian at bay.
“Absolutely, that’s kind of my plan,” said the six-foot-two Belcher.
He plans to use movement and his striking superiority to stay out of Palhares’ danger zone.
“I’m not going to run from him,” Belcher said. “I’m going to hit him hard whenever he comes close. And I’m just going to avoid the grappling situation.
“It would be stupid for me to purposely get myself into a grappling match. But if it happens, I’ll be prepared. I think I’ll do well.”
In prepping for Palhares, Belcher has worked with submission experts Dean Lister, Daniel Moraes and Davi Ramos.
“It’s been a really different level of training, it really has,” Belcher said.
“They’re really amazing, really good with the leglocks, the leglock defence,” he added. “You can’t relax for one second. It just takes your game to the next level. Your reaction time, your speed and your mind has to be sharp at all times.
“You’re in a very, very sticky situation every second that you’re grappling with one of these guys. That’s the kind of training that Palhares gets to do. That’s what got him to that level. I have to do the same thing to prepare for him.”
A black belt himself in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Belcher is no slouch on the ground. He submitted Canadian Denis Kang, a talented black belt, at UFC 93.
A colourful character, Belcher has the likeness of Johnny Cash tattooed on his arm (he also has a Japanese tattoo on his right bicep that signifies pain, to remind him to what he has been through).
In Biloxi, you may see him driving around in a 1991 Daihatsu Hijet, a pint-sized Japanese pickup truck that caught his fancy.
It gets good gas mileage and a lot of strange looks.
“It’s pretty fun, man,” he said. “It’s kind of a humbling vehicle.”
He uses it to drive back and forth to his gym, Alan Belcher MMA Club in D’Iberville, Miss.