If may sound counterintuitive to speed up your career by slowing down, but to Alan Belcher, it makes perfect sense. It's a strange phenomenon he discovered during a period of severe adversity in his life. It happened when Belcher badly injured his right eye, a problem that put his career in jeopardy.
Having to take a forced absence from the sport put things in their proper perspective. Gone was the overwhelming urge to do things at 1 million miles per hour. Family and health came first, he realized, and everything else would fall into place with hard work and time.
The theory will get tested at next weekend's UFC on FOX 3 show, where he will face Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace Rousimar Palhares, a man for whom there is rarely interested opposition. Belcher bucked that trend by accepting the fight before it was even truly offered to him. In that way, he made an opportunity where one didn't previously exist.
To him, it was a logical move. The matchup presents an upgrade in opponent level from his last fight, a submission win by strikes over journeyman Jason MacDonald. That had been Belcher's first fight back after 16 months away. Palhares is considered a fairly ruthless competitor, particularly on the ground where 10 of his 14 career wins have come via tapout. His specialty is heel hooks (he's got six all-time).
The fight is equal parts danger and opportunity. Belcher said that he believes Palhares, who he calls "the best submission guy in our division, and in MMA," to be capable of beating current middleweight champion Anderson Silva.
So for him, a win would make a declarative statement that he is indeed all the way back to form. The irony is that for the first time in his life, he's in no rush to prove that.
"It seems like once I slowed down and stopped wanting it so bad, that’s when everything came," he said on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "It’s just a fact. I had all that animosity because I was trying so hard. I just wanted to get ahead and go so fast. The time I’ve taken off in the last few years, it's helped me grow so much as a person and as a fighter that it was really valuable time off. Slowing down has really helped me out a lot."
Slowing down the fight might also be a key. Belcher noted that he doesn't want to get into scrambling mode with Palhares, acknowledging that in that type of fight, "he's going to catch me."
But that's not the way he sees it playing out.
In preparation for Palhares' dangerous ground game, he's spent some time training with fellow specialists like Dean Lister and Daniel Moraes, working on dictating the action even on the ground. As a result, his confidence level is high.
"I see myself getting a TKO or knockout," he said. "I really do. I think I’m going to frustrate him, catch him and hurt him and finish him. I think I'm going to get one of those bonuses."
That would be most welcome, considering the Belcher family just added a new baby to their household last November. Spending the proper amount of time with his family and finding a balance between his work and home life have also affected his preparation.
He said that in the past, he would go from one extreme to the other. When it was time for training camp, he'd separate himself from his family to get into fight mode in hopes of building intensity. Then, when the fight was over, he'd return home and become a family man, spending too much time relaxing and eating badly with little thought of training. Now, it's just enough of both. He spends most of his camp at home, leaving only for two weeks in Milwaukee with trainer Duke Roufus. That allows him to spend quite a bit of time with his wife and two children, and a good amount of time training.
"That's something I needed to do to make it to the top," he said.
If it seems like family is a big part of Belcher's winning equation now, that's exactly right. The fighter has a soft spot in his heart for children, and in the leadup to this fight with Palhares, has promoted a fundraiser for the March of Dimes.
Belcher believes he he has it all together now, everything in harmony. His eye is healthy, his family is thriving, and now, the time is right to prove his worth as a key player in the middleweight division.
"I want to impress the fans, and obviously the UFC leaders and show them that I’m the No. 1 guy," he said. "That’s what I’m woking for. I worked really hard for this fight. I feel really strong physically and mentally. I think I got a good plan going in. It’s wide open so I'm going to seize this opportunity and step into that spot."