Two highly ranked middleweights will battle for supremacy this Saturday night (April 27, 2013) as Alan Belcher takes on Michael Bisping in the co-main event of UFC 159 in Newark, New Jersey.
Record: 18-7 overall, 9-7 in the UFC
Key Wins: Rousimar Palhares (UFC on Fox 3), Ed Herman (UFC Fight Night 15), Jason MacDonald (UFC Fight Night 25)
Key Losses: Yushin Okami 2x (UFC 155, UFC 62), Yoshihiro Akiyama (UFC 100), Jason Day (UFC 83)
How he got here: Still just 28 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 debut, getting physically dominated en route to a unanimous decision loss. 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 and many felt he would never fight again. After 17 months away from the cage, he returned to stop Jason MacDonald via strikes.
Belcher followed up his strong showing by smashing Rousimar Palhares, avoiding the Brazilian's leg locks and blasting him with heavy punches until the fight was stopped. He attempted to potentially get a shot at the title when he rematched Okami, but he was once again not able to hang with "Thunder" in the grappling department. .
Now, he's hoping a victory over Bisping will put him in line to make a big mark on the division.
How he gets it done: Belcher has to try and succeed where many have had trouble before, standing and looking to land the big knockout shot on the feet with Bisping.
He should take some pointers from what worked for the likes of Wanderei Silva, Vitor Belfort and Dan Henderson and try to avoid what didn't work for the likes of Yoshihiro Akiyama, Brian Stann and Chris Leben. He's got the power and the stand-up ability, so it all depends how he competes and what his gameplan is against Bisping.
If he's trying to knock Bisping's head off, that could be at a disadvantage. What would work best for Belcher is to just let his hands go and to try and just flow with the fight naturally. He's got tremendous striking ability, rocking Okami on the feet twice in his last bout, and Bisping isn't nearly the wrestler that Okami is. If he hurts Bisping with anything, he definitely has the ability and confidence to follow up and potentially finish it.
Record: 23-5 overall, 12-5 in the UFC
Key Wins: Brian Stann (UFC 152), Chris Leben (UFC 89), Yoshihiro Akiyama (UFC 120)
Key Losses: Vitor Belfort (UFC on FX 7), Chael Sonnen (UFC on Fox 2), Dan Henderson (UFC 100)
How he got here: Michael Bisping entered season three of The Ultimate Fighter with a spotless 10-0 record and having been a Cage Warriors star in his native England. He dominated the competition and, despite being an undersized light heavyweight, won his first four fights in the UFC.
His momentum was finally halted when he dropped a decision to Rashad Evans, and he decided to make the cut to middleweight immediately afterwards. Bisping won his first three fights at 185 as well and was potentially in line for a title shot against Anderson Silva, but first he had to coach season nine of The Ultimate Fighter against Dan Henderson.
Bisping faced Henderson at UFC 100 and was infamously knocked out in one of the greatest knockouts in MMA history. "The Count" rallied against Dennis Kang at UFC 105 in his native England, but once again, he'd have his momentum halted by another Pride legend, this time Wanderlei Silva who was dropping down to 185 for the first time.
The Brit decided to coach another season of The Ultimate Fighter in his downtime and when he finally got an opportunity to put his hands on "Mayhem," Bisping took full advantage and crushed his opponent with repeated and efficient blows to force a stoppage.
Bisping was originally slated to take on Demian Maia at UFC on Fox 2, but an injury to Mark Munoz granted him the opportunity to fight Chael Sonnen for number one contender. He eagerly accepted the bout and put up a hell of a fight, but came up short. He bounced back in his last bout, a solid showing against hard-hitting Brian Stann where he showcased all the facets of his improving skills to win a decision.
He fought Vitor Belfort with a title shot on the line in his last bout, but came up short after eating a heavy head kick in the second round, losing via TKO. Now, he's hoping to get back in the title picture with a win over Belcher.
How he gets it done: Bisping has developed a style which plays into his skill-set very well in the last couple years. He doesn't have much one-punch knockout power, but he's very good at getting in, landing blows and getting out. He's going to have to be very careful to avoid making fundamental mistakes like circling into Belcher's power, as that's hurt him before.
Conditioning could be key as well. Bisping is one of the best conditioned fighters at 185 pounds and he's been able to take over late in fights due to his excellent pace. Belcher is not the quickest fighter on the roster and he definitely has the ability to wear Belcher down with his pace.
While Bisping doesn't possess the same level of power that Belcher has, he definitely can dish out a higher volume of strikes and his output could overwhelm Belcher if he can keep it up. As long as he avoids eating that one big power shot, he can definitely outwork Belcher and at least score a decision victory
Who will come out on top at UFC 159? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!