Two five-year UFC veterans will duke it out in the opening bout of the UFC Fight Night 25 main card this Saturday night (September 17, 2011) as middleweights Alan Belcher and Jason MacDonald square off.
Belcher is making his return to the promotion after nearly having his career ended by a detached retina that required emergency surgery. "The Talent" was on a nice streak before his unfortunate setback and is hoping to pick right back up where he left off.
MacDonald is still coming off the emotional high of a terrific first round submission victory in front of his native countrymen at UFC 129. "The Athlete" is hoping he can catch Belcher at the perfect time in his career to score another big submission win.
Will Belcher be able to showcase his talent? Can MacDonald take advantage of his opponent's 16-month layoff? Which veteran UFC fighter will come out on top this Saturday night?
Record: 16-6 overall, 7-4 in the UFC
How he got here: Still just 27 years old, Alan Belcher has been competing in mixed martial arts since 2004. After getting off to a slow 2-2 start to his career, "The Talent" went on a seven fight win streak to earn a berth in the UFC.
He had a rude awakening in the promotion, getting thrown in against top middleweight Yushin Okami in his promotional debut, a fight in which he would lose a decision after being physically dominated. Belcher would bounce back with a quick knockout of Jorge Santiago but Kendall Grove sent him back down to Earth with a D'Aarce choke.
Belcher really began to work on improving his ground game after the loss to Grove and it showed with a guillotine choke of Sean Salmon at UFC 71. After suffering a huge upset to Jason Day in a fight where he was completely controlled by Day's tricky rubber guard and eventually overwhelmed, Belcher began an impressive streak of top level performances.
It began with a close split decision over Ed Herman and continued with a fantastic guillotine choke victory over Denis Kang which would earn him "Submission of the Night" honors. "The Talent" would earn "Fight of the Night" at the infamous UFC 100 show, losing a razor thin split decision to Yoshihiro Akiyama in a fight that many felt he won.
He got back on track with consecutive finishes against WIlson Gouveia and Patrick Cote, again earning two more fight night bonuses to run his streak to four straight and even called out Anderson Silva afterwards.
He was instead booked to fight Demian Maia but the bout would never take place as Belcher lost vision in his right eye. He had to have surgery on his eye and many were concerned that he would never fight again. He suffered some setbacks but was finally cleared to begin training this year.
After 17 months, Belcher will be making his return to the Octagon against fellow UFC veteran Jason MacDonald. It'll be interesting to see if he can pick up where he left off.
How he gets it done: Belcher's go-to skills have always been his striking. He entered the UFC as a Muay Thai specialist and has been able to add other facets to his stand-up game since teaming up with famed MMA coach Duke Roufus over in Milwaukee.
Belcher has some very powerful punches and he's very strong in the clinch so look for him to try to keep this fight standing and get up close and personal with MacDonald. "The Talent" has pretty good balance so clinching with MacDonald shouldn't carry too much risk of being put on his back as his opponent has never been a gifted wrestler.
Belcher has terrific kicks but he'll have to be a little cautious throwing them as he likely doesn't want to have one caught and be taken down. This is a fight where his boxing and ability to keep the match standing should be the deciding factor.
Record: 25-14 overall, 6-6 in the UFC
Key Losses: John Salter (UFC 113), Demian Maia (UFC 87), Yushin Okami (UFC 77)
How he got here: Jason MacDonald has been fighting professionally for nearly 12 years now. He started his career in Canada going 10-1 before running a gauntlet of incredibly difficult opponents especially considering he was still in the early stages of his career. He would suffer losses to Marvin Eastman, Shonie Carter, Jason Brilz and Patrick Cote during this period but would bounce back with four straight wins to earn an invite to the UFC.
MacDonald made an incredible debut with the promotion submitting The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season three runner up Ed Herman in his first fight via first round triangle and following it up with a second round guillotine choke submission of TUF season one alumni Chris Leben, earning "Submission of the Night" honors for both fights.
In a way, those two impressive victories put him up on a level he simply wasn't prepared for yet as he could not get a win streak or any momentum built up whatsoever over the next two years. MacDonald would lose to former champion Rich Franklin and future title challengers Yushin Okami and Demian Maia while mixing in victories over lower level competition.
A streak of consecutive first round losses to Wilson Gouveia and Nate Quarry left him jobless and he proceeded to lose to Travis Lutter in his first fight outside of the UFC in over three years.
Just when it seemed he was washed up, MacDonald bounced back. A three fight winning streak earned him a chance to step in as a late injury replacement to fight John Salter at UFC 113 but "The Athlete" would break his leg while defending a takedown attempt from Salter in the first round and lose via injury TKO.
Nearly a year later, MacDonald returned to the Octagon healthy once more at UFC 129, the promotion's debut in Ontario. In front of a raucous crowd, "The Athlete" secured a triangle choke on the aggressive wrestler Ryan Jensen and refused to let go despite being slammed to earn the submission victory.
MacDonald is now set to welcome Alan Belcher back to the Octagon this Saturday night.
How he gets it done: Jason MacDonald's biggest weakness throughout his career has been his susceptibility to strikes from powerful opponents. That being said, he's still capable of dishing out his own punishment with strikes as long as he's properly positioned.
That position is the ground.
MacDonald has a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and proved himself worthy in his fight with Demian Maia, lasting until past the midway point of the third round before being submitted. He should have an edge on the ground against most of the UFC's middleweight division.
His problem is getting the fight there. His last opponent made it easy by taking him down and getting triangled quickly. Alan Belcher will not make that same mistake.
Look for MacDonald to try to catch some of Belcher's kicks if he throws them and use that to try to take him down. "The Athlete" could also simply try to time some punches and shoot in but that carries a risk of its own as Belcher has some pretty powerful knees.
Unless Belcher is still shell-shocked from his eye injury, there is no reason for MacDonald to stand and trade with him.
Fight "X-Factor:" The X-Factor for this fight has to be Belcher's recovery from the eye injury. He had a detached retina which required emergency surgery. There were still concerns that he'd never regain full vision in his eye and he could never fight again. Obviously, Belcher is back and (hopefully) ready for action this Saturday night but questions certainly remain.
How protective will he be of his eye? Will he have to fight more defensively? How will over 16 months away from the cage affect him? These are all questions we won't find the answers to until both men are throwing punches.
Bottom Line: This is an intriguing match-up between UFC veterans who both have had to take considerable time off due to injury in the last year. Alan Belcher should have a serious striking edge while Jason MacDonald will be the more dangerous fighter if the fight were to go to the ground. Both men have each won four fight night bonuses from the UFC in their careers and as long as Belcher can shake off the ring rust, it should be an exciting bout to open up the main card.
Who will come out on top at UFC Fight Night 25? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!