When longtime UFC veteran Alan Belcher announced his retirement from MMA this past week, the news wasn’t exactly shocking. The 31-year old Mississippi-based fighter last competed at UFC 159 against Michael Bisping nearly two-and-a-half years ago, a middleweight bout in which he lost after receiving an eye-poke that he couldn’t come back from.
At the time, an eye injury was scary for Belcher, who’d undergone surgeries on his right eye after suffering vision loss due to a detached retina. He received eight stitches on his eyelid after the Bisping fight, and was ultimately okay. Yet, though he flirted with the idea of a return this past December, Belcher decided to hang up the gloves.
And the eye issues that he’s been dealing with for so many years were but a small part of his reasoning.
"I just had to make a decision at this point, right now, about am I going to keep in the back of my mind thinking, ‘okay, I’m going to find the time here to train and go back, or I’m going to dedicate 100 percent of that time and even those thoughts that are wasting on retirement?" he said during a spot on The MMA Hour on Monday. "For some reason it was keeping my chi unbalanced, and I was…the vibe was off a little bit, and I wasn’t completely focused as I needed to be, not to mention there were 10 people a day asking me when is my next fight.
"Every time I post something on social media, one of the comments is, when are you fighting next? So after a couple of years it starts to, not become annoying, it becomes a distraction. And I think I could do better with everyone knowing I’m here to do business. I’m here to help people learn martial arts and expand on that as much as possible."
Belcher, who made his UFC debut at UFC 62 in 2006 against Yushin Okami, posted a 9-6 record with the promotion (going 18-8 overall as a pro). He told Ariel Helwani that he had been toying with the idea of retiring for a while, yet that it wasn’t necessarily due to a lack of motivation, or any kind of specific injury, or even a noticeable decline in his skills.
It was simply that he needed to go one direction or another, and the business end trumped fighting.
Belcher, who went by the nickname "The Talent," said he’s become a "really hardcore entrepreneur" since opening his first gym at 22 years old, slightly before the Okami fight. He called the opening of his Diberville-based fight club "hands down the best decision of my life," and has since been expanding on the idea with online schools. He began that a little over two years ago, right around the time of his last bout in the UFC.
He says he’s generated over two million dollars in revenue since that time, and had to make a decision. Yet still, even with success in business luring him away, it wasn’t easy. Belcher was thinking of coming back to fight again less than a year ago, this time as a light heavyweight. He said there were plenty of reasons that went into his urge to return, but those urges went away nearly as fast as they came.
"Just indecisiveness," he said. "It was really, it’s just human nature. People desire things and then they change their mind. So, at that time, I was in really good shape, and I was like, you know what? I’m going to do this. And, a few different things slowed my momentum — because I had a lot of momentum going into it, and I was on the verge of asking Joe Silva for a fight. So, if I would have made the phone call and asked for a fight then you’d see me fighting really soon and I would dedicate a lot of my time to it and go from there."
Belcher also cited a lingering shoulder injury as a contributing factor to his loss of momentum on the idea of a return.
Asked how his eye is doing now, Belcher said he could live with it.
"It’s never going to be 100 percent okay," he said. "I have a little bit of blurriness at times, and I can’t see to my right side, a little bit of peripheral vision I’ve lost. I get headaches. I get visual migraines a lot because of all the surgeries that were done to it."
He also said his right eye doesn’t dilate as it should.
"Like if I’m in a dark room, it doesn’t dilate at all. So, out in the sun both are little, but the dimmer the room is one starts to get really big and it actually compensates. My other eye will almost turn black, so it’s kind of crazy looking. But, otherwise, I’ve kind of lost the fear of getting poked in the eye. I don’t have that anymore. And it doesn’t give me too much problems."
Belcher had some memorable fights in the UFC, including his victories over Wilson Gouveia and Jason MacDonald — the latter whom he faced after undergoing the eye procedures.
But perhaps the single most memorable fight from a fan's standpoint was his battle with Rousimar Palhares at UFC on FOX 3 in 2012. Belcher, in a bold statement on live broadcast television, willingly went to the ground with the jiu-jitsu ace Palhares, who was already considered the most dangerous submission artist in the division. Not only did he survive the grappling, he dictated the fight. He won the bout via knockout late in the first round.
When asked if that fight marks the topper-most highlight of his career, Belcher said it's right up there.
"Yeah, that’s the one that sticks out in most people’s minds," he said. "I think that was one of the first shows on FOX. I know it was the first one that I fought live on FOX, I know it was the first one that I fought live on FOX. It was like one of those really first ones that got out to the masses and everybody was watching, so I’m glad I was a part of that, and that I got to be a part of the UFC when it got to be mainstream.
"I’m blessed to be part of that time period, and that’s what people remember. That’s what they say was my best performance, then I guess that’s…if I was to judge it, I would say yeah that’s definitely in my top two or three memorable fights that just made me super-happy that I was pumped to win."