Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) middleweight contender Alan Belcher is ramping up for a busy run toward the UFC middleweight belt in 2013.
Belcher (18-6) is currently on a four-fight win streak, earning victories in six of his past seven fights. "The Talent" is next set to grace the Octagon on Dec. 29, 2012, at UFC 155 when he takes on Japanese sensation Yushin Okami in a rematch from UFC 62 in Aug. 2006.
Okami won the initial bout by unanimous decision in what was both fighters' debut appearances with the mixed martial arts (MMA) organization. Six years later and with an abundance of experience now under his belt, Belcher is more than prepared to show Okami who the superior fighter is when they meet again at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
With UFC 155 quickly approaching, Belcher spoke to Mike Bohn for MMAmania.com about the back injury that prevented him from competing at UFC 153 last October, his UFC 155 bout with Okami and his desire to fight more in the coming year.
Read part one of this MMAmania.com exclusive interview with Belcher below:
Mike Bohn (MMAmania.com): How is your back injury that kept you from fighting at UFC 153 in October?
Alan Belcher: It's good man, when you take the time to let everything heal up and rest the right way, you know and have confidence that just doing nothing is going to be the best for yeah, you just take your time, don't get back in there -- it will usually, can usually heal up from things, especially a fractured bone. It could have been worse if it was some kind of tissue damage, but it was actually a crack in a bone so, you know how that is, it's just keep it still in one place and it'll harden back together so, it's all good my back feel good, I didn't lose a lot of strength, changed up my workouts so I couldn't reinjure it, didn't do a lot of spine stuff, did a lot of single-leg lunges and different kind of exercises, a lot of core work, actually it kind of took me to a new level with my strength because we worked on the core so much, so it ended up being a good thing man, that rest let me heal up from some other things too so, yeah it actually turned out to be fine man, I'm feeling really good and in really good shape, my weight's low, I'm feeling really fast and I'm moving well and heck yeah, I'm ready to take on the division.
Mike Bohn (MMAmania.com): You're scheduled to fight Yushin Okami at UFC 155 on December 29th. This will actually be the first time since 2009 where you've fought more than one time in a calendar year, do you consider yourself injury-prone, or is it just bad luck and unfortunate situations like the eye injury you had?
Alan Belcher: I don't know if I would consider myself injury prone, that eye injury was really the first time I ever had anything serious in my whole career, it was just, it took me a while to get back from that, you know? And my comeback from the eye injury, when I came back in 2011 was just, man it was really ... I wasn't really all there mentally. It's taken me a couple years to get back in there to where I want to train full time everyday year-round going back-to-back, go for it, you know, so that last fight I broke my hand so I couldn't take a fight right away, I started training for Vitor Belfort I hurt my back and I was going to go for the fight anyways, I was just taking that rest because it was in the middle of my training camp, so once I found out Belfort was out I was like, ‘It's probably for the best that I don't take another opponent right here.' But at that point I was just ready to go, so I almost made a bad mistake because you know, I was ready to get back in there and, you know, stop being considered as injury-prone and stop being looked at as someone who only fights once a year or whatever. So I was ready to get in there and fight back-to-back, but it just wasn't the right time for me for whatever reason, due to luck or whatever but now, you know, I think everything's finally lined up, so knock on wood when I come out of this fight, if I can come out unscathed with minimum injuries or minimum bump and bruises, I'll be ready to fight right away and I've retrained my mind to just be on a different scheduled. I know that there's some openings in the division and I'm going to be the guy to plow through those open spots straight to the top and the way to do it is to fight back-to-back. And I'll be ready to get on that next card. My plan is to be the first guy that they think of whenever Belfort of Michael Bisping gets hurt, and go to Brazil and whoop somebody's butt.
Mike Bohn (MMAmania.com): In hindsight if you had fought Belfort, do you think that would have been a mistake? What percent would have been at, would you be 50 percent, 60 percent?
Alan Belcher: I wouldn't have been at full throttle probably mentally or physically so, I don't know if I would have lost the fight but, you know, you should never lose because you quit or give up. And you should never be not conditioned, that's your own fault if you're not in shape. If you have the right time and you're not taking the fight on last minute for whatever reason, you should be in shape. Then another thing is, you shouldn't let yourself be in the situation where you're fighting with injuries and not at 100 percent so, that's the only reason I would say it's a mistake. Although sometimes I would say you have to do it, but that's just the chance you take. If you put yourself in the situation where you're in shape, you're healthy, you're feeling it and everything, then if you do lose, then there's no regrets. It feels a lot different when you have something to blame legitimately, it's terrible. If someone beats you and they deserve, it's one thing. If someone beats you because you beat yourself, then that's hard to live with right there, so if I would have continued fighting Belfort I would have done my best and hopefully it would have turned out alright. But the good news is, it didn't happen, now I'm feeling better than ever and it seems like everything's lining up. The stars are lining up and I'm going to fight Yushin Okami at full throttle, full health and the best I've ever felt, and I'll be ready to take on Bisping, Chris Weidman or whoever I need too to get my title shot.
Mike Bohn (MMAmania.com): Speaking of the Okami fight, how's training going for that one? Are you brining in any big wrestlers or anything to mimic his style?
Alan Belcher: It's hard to find a tall wrestler, period. You know, but I have found some. I've got a couple secret weapons that you can't even see on my videos blogs. Some tall lefties that are good wrestlers, I've fought him before, I really know what to look out for, I brought in a guy that, if you watch my videos you can see who it is but I brought in a guy who is one of the best international wrestlers in the states who has great body locks, and I know that's what Okami's good at, getting his hands locked and a double underhook or an over and under, that probably put me down the first time but it's more of a move where you take people down who aren't good at wrestling. And I wasn't very good at that time and now, I'm not a pushover. I'm not the best or anything but he's definitely going to have to work his butt off to get me on the ground and if it stays standing I'll knock him out or I'll finish the fight. So I'm going to fight with a pace I never have before, I feel in better shape; my power, my explosiveness is better than ever, my strength is better than ever and my conditioning feels great. My timing, all my skills are all in line so I'm just going to let it go and try to take his head off man and if it ends up on the ground I'm going to try and finish it on the ground.
Mike Bohn (MMAmania.com): You obviously mentioned you guys fought once before, what do you think are the biggest difference in his game between now and then and the same question for you, what do you think are the biggest differences in your own game?
Alan Belcher: The thing I saw Okami improve on over the years is just picking up the pace, he's been criticized for being boring, so he's picked up more of a forward, going forward type of a pace, so he keeps distance but he keeps a little bit more pressure. He throws a few more punches, goes for a few more takedowns than he used to, but that's about it. He's just added to the pace in every fight slowly and slowly. He's probably tightened up as far as experience-wise and timing wise, his grappling, takedowns, striking. You know, gradually, as long as you're practicing for fighting and everything you get better over the years by getting older, so that being said, I don't think he's progressed as fast as I have. I've really put a lot of time into getting better, I've wanted to be the best and the best striker in the division, so I've really, really worked hard on just completely remolding myself and every chance that I get I learn new things, I train with better people, higher level people and I'm definitely not the same fighter than I was then. He's not either, we're both a lot better, it should be a nice fight, it's no question if I can take a punch, I can take a punch. I'm not afraid to get in there and mix it up, I've got knockout power and I can kick, so I definitely have a nice chance of putting him to sleep standing up, that's what I'm going to try and do and it's dangerous man, I can even tell him that that's what I'm going to do. When someone is throwing their hands at you with some meaning behind them, it's not a fun thing to do and that's what I'm going to be doing. And I think he knows it so it'll make it interesting, he's going to have to try to get me down.
Mike Bohn (MMAmania.com): What I've noticed in his recent fights is his confidence in his striking has gone downhill, especially in his last fight against Buddy Roberts. Did you notice that at all?
Alan Belcher: Yeah, I did. Once he got knocked out against Boetsch, he got a little bit more gun-shy. He was gun-shy at the beginning of his career, he got more confident then he got knocked out. The Buddy Roberts fight he really looked like he didn't want to trade at all, and you know, so I never completely rely on that. I think that I try to pick out Okami's best fight and kind of go by that one. His best striking fight, his best wrestling fight, his best grappling and say, ‘That's going to be him, he's going to be on fire, I'm going to have to bring my game.' And if he is gun-shy in the fight, then I'm going to hurt him and that's all there is too it. It'll be an easy fight for me, but I'm prepared for the best Okami and that's where I'll be sitting mentally so I don't get any surprises.
Mike Bohn (MMAmania.com): You've never had a rematch before, what is the mindset like compared to preparing for a normal fight against a fresh opponent?
Alan Belcher: Yeah I got to admit, it's a little bit less nerve racking because I've been in there -- there's something about, it's been so long that I barely remember the fight, except for watching it I can't really remember being in there, I've been hit in the head too many times since then I guess. But just knowing that I've been in there with him before, something about it just tells me he ain't going to rip your arm off or he ain't just going to knock you out or throw you around like a rag doll. I know I hung with him six-years ago so the worst thing that's going to happen is he's going to take me down and beat me by a decision. So what's there to be scared of? You know what I mean? I know I've got better over the six years, I've prepared for the fight so if he beats me by a decision again then he's just a better fighter man, he's just got my number or whatever. There's nothing to be scared of I guess is what I'm trying to say so. And also, I lost the first fight, so it's really fun to try to challenge myself, I've got a lot of energy going into this just trying to get that loss back off my record and you know, I can't say the same for him. I don't know if it would be different if you're coming from the other way, you already beat him so I don't know if that gives you more confidence or less. This is the first rematch, I lost the first time, I've got something to prove. I'm going to put a little bit more into it than he is probably, that's kind of how I feel about it.
Mike Bohn (MMAmania.com): You said in another interview that you're already thinking about your next fight after this one. Can you explain what you meant by that? Did you just mean a time frame or are you thinking of specific people?
Alan Belcher: Well I'm just thinking whoever is top in the division, no timeframe. I really, when you're in shape and ready to go and you're mentally ready for it -- before I got into the UFC I had like eight fights in one year. And at the time it wasn't a big deal because that's how it was in my mind, that's what I wanted to do to achieve my goal to get into the UFC and fight on that level, I would have done anything. Traveling and fighting every single month, there wasn't nothing to it. A fight's coming up on the weekend, I would go do it, I was ready. And in the UFC, you get in this thing you're fighting every three-months or whatever and then our and then five then I had the injuries and I was like, ‘Well, I'll be lucky to get two in a year this time.' So it's just like, I already told Joe Silva, I already told Dana White, I'm tweeting just to let my fans know on my video blogs on everything that I'm ready. After this fight's over I might eat some pizza, take my cheese steak and get right back on my diet. Get my ass right back in the gym to train for my next opponent. I'm ready for someone to pull out or I'm ready just to make a match up, you know, right away. So when is the next fight after UFC 155?
Mike Bohn (MMAmania.com): The UFC has two fights cards in January and three in February -- almost every weekend at the start of 2013 there is a fight card.
Alan Belcher: The thing is, just getting in there and fighting anybody, I'm not going to take that risk of fighting somebody that's not ranked at the top, but Weidman had an injury so he's going to have to get a fight in the next couple of months, Bisping and Belfort are fighting - that's two guys right there where one or the other might pull out. You know, I'll be ready and maybe a high profile 205 fight someone pulls out, I'll just be ready to get back in there. I definitely want to get my next fight scheduled as soon as possible, that's one thing that I was ready to do last time, but my hand was broke. I just need to get my next fight ASAP and things could look different, you know? Who knows. But my hand was broke so I couldn't really do that. This time, when I'm done with the fight I'll be ready to fight. Even if it's Chris Weidman, ‘Oh he needs another month to get back to training then he'll need three-months after that, he'll be ready to fight you.' So four months, so let's go ahead and get that signed so I'll be fighting then and then, like I said, if I were to sign that fight I'll be staying in shape to fight Bisping and Belfort because they're also top contenders. There's no legitimate ranking, right now it's just whoever goes in there and wants it bad enough and actually wins the fights. I say let's do like a four-way playoff or a six-guy playoff or something like that, get everyone against each other and get the winners to go against each other, do a little tournament style to see who really gets the title shot. I'd like to see the UFC just commit to that, say if these are the four guys or these are the six guys or these are the eight guys, something, you know? Because I was on a nice little streak back in 2008-2009 when I was going to fight Demian Maia. But it was the same thing them, you never know. ‘If I beat Demian Maia am I going to get a title shot?' You never know, because he was one of the top dogs at that time so, I would like to know for sure. But even if I don't I'm going to be ready to fight. Like I said that's what I'm looking at. Bisping or Belfort, I'll be ready to fill in after I win, you can take that to Joe Silva and Dana White, Lorenzo Fertitta and tell them they can bank on that. I'll be ready to step in and whatever happens man.
Keep an eye out for part two of this interview, which will post this upcoming Sunday, where Belcher will discuss his goals for 2013, a future career as an analyst and some upcoming fights in the UFC middleweight division.