Previewing Alan Belcher's return bout against middleweight vet Jason MacDonald...
On September 17th’s intriguing Battle on the Bayou card in New Orleans, there are a number of matchups pitting solid contenders and prospects against each other in the type of crossroads bouts that almost always end up in memorable encounters. One such bout will see the return of Alan “The Talent” Belcher after a layoff of over a year to face longtime middleweight standout Jason MacDonald.
Here’s a closer look...
WHERE THEY’VE BEEN
From 2009 on, it looked like Alan Belcher finally got “it”. Always a raw talent, Belcher’s early UFC career was filled with moments of brilliance followed by crippling letdowns. But after he rebounded from a slow start to submit Denis Kang, he began to fulfill his potential. A UFC 100 decision loss to Yoshihiro Akiyama could have gone either way while earning Fight of the Night honors, and his last two bouts – a TKO of Wilson Gouveia and a submission of Patrick Cote – both earned post-night awards as well. Then disaster struck. But more on that in a bit.
A pro since 1999, Jason MacDonald is a fighter’s fighter. He didn’t get any gifts on his way up the ranks, and he’s had more than his share of setbacks, but he kept persevering. After an eight fight stretch in 2005-06 where he lost six bouts, many fighters would have packed it in, but “The Athlete” got back on track, won four in a row, and earned a shot in the UFC as the foil for Ed Herman’s first post-Ultimate Fighter bout. MacDonald stunned Herman, submitting him in the first round, and a solid UFC career followed, one that saw him go up against the likes of Chris Leben, Rich Franklin, Yushin Okami, and Demian Maia. A three fight Octagon losing streak led to his release in 2009, but wins in three of his next four brought him back to where he belonged in 2010.
WHERE THEY’RE AT
Scheduled for his first UFC main event bout against Demian Maia in September of 2010, Belcher was about to take things to the next level, but a detached retina not only scrapped the fight, but it threatened his career. Thankfully, after two surgeries, rehab, and receiving a clean bill of health, Belcher will return on September 17th. Yet the question for the 27-year old is how much – if anything – has he lost due to the layoff. Ring rust is a very real phenomenon, and while he’s always been confident in his skills, being off for over a year can make even the most confident fighter wonder if everything will come back when he needs it to on fight night.
Canada’s MacDonald had a memorable return to the Octagon at UFC 113 in May of 2010, but for all the wrong reasons, as he broke his leg in a freak fall against John Salter. After rehabbing the injury, he was brought back for UFC 129 in April of this year, and he knew what was on the line when he took on Ryan Jensen. MacDonald responded in a big way though, submitting Jensen via triangle choke in just 97 seconds. The win resurrected the 36-year old’s career, and a win over Belcher will cap off a big 2011 campaign.
WHERE THEY’RE GOING
With champion Anderson Silva doing a helluva job of clearing out the middleweight division, there will be no one complaining if a new name gets thrown into the title picture. With a big win on September 17th, Belcher is a likely candidate to be that name, as a victory will be his third in a row and fifth in six fights. The next step will likely be a highly-ranked contender, and then he can start looking at “The Spider.” The road to a possible title shot is a lot longer for MacDonald, but he has the talent to beat Belcher in New Orleans and then put together the type of winning streak that could turn things around in a hurry. So there’s plenty at stake in the Big Easy.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Belcher’s ground game has been improving with each fight, and Cote and Kang certainly won’t argue with that, but MacDonald’s prowess on the mat is on another level, and a repeat look at his bout with Maia will prove that. No, he didn’t win that night in 2008, but his back-and-forth battle with perhaps the best jiu-jitsu player in the UFC was something to watch for fans of groundfighting. So on the mat, MacDonald has the edge. But when you talk about the standup game, it’s the reverse. “The Athlete” can handle himself while on the feet, but Belcher has a decided edge in speed, power, and technique, so the battle lines are clearly drawn. The one key in the bout is Belcher though. If he’s on and picking up where he left off in May of 2010, he’s going to be a handful for anyone in the division; if he’s feeling rusty or going back to the days when he would run hot and cold in the Octagon, MacDonald suddenly becomes a big favorite. Whatever happens that night though, I’ve got a feeling this fight is going to be a major topic of conversation on Sunday morning.
Belcher – Jorge Santiago, Sean Salmon, Kalib Starnes, Ed Herman, Denis Kang, Wilson Gouveia, Patrick Cote
MacDonald – Bill Mahood, Joe Doerksen, Gideon Ray, Ed Herman, Chris Leben, Rory Singer, Jason Lambert, Vernon White, Matt Horwich, Ryan Jensen
OTHER NOTABLE OPPONENTS
Belcher – Marvin Eastman, Yushin Okami, Kendall Grove, Jason Day, Yoshihiro Akiyama
MacDonald – Travis Lutter, Nate Quarry, Wilson Gouveia, Demian Maia, Yushin Okami, Rich Franklin, Patrick Cote, Kalib Starnes, Shonie Carter, Marvin Eastman, Jason Brilz, Matt Horwich