SPORTS

Alan Belcher looks to celebrate comeback against Canadian Jason MacDonald

09/16/2011 02:00 EDT | Updated 11/16/2011 05:12 EST
Canadian middleweight Jason (The Athlete) MacDonald scored his comeback win last time out. Alan (The Talent) Belcher thinks it's his turn when the two veterans meet at the UFC's "Battle of the Bayou."

Saturday's televised main event at the New Orleans Convention Center features welterweight Jake Shields (26-5-1) who lost to champion Georges St-Pierre at UFC 129 in Toronto, against Jake (The Juggernaut) Ellenberger (25-5).

MacDonald also featured on the April card at Toronto's Rogers Centre. Fighting for the first time in almost a year, he impressed by submitting Ryan Jensen in the first round.

For MacDonald (26-14), just getting back in the cage was a victory.

The 36-year-old from Red Deer, Alta., had two steel plates and 10 screws inserted in his left ankle courtesy of a gruesome accident in a loss at UFC 113 in Montreal. Fighting John Salter, MacDonald's leg got caught as he was being taken down. He broke both the tibia and fibula and tore both ligaments off the bone.

This time it's Belcher (15-5) making the comeback — from two sets of eye surgery.

For a while he didn't know if he would be able to fight again. And there were times when he didn't know if he wanted to.

But restored to health, he is savouring his return to action.

"Just getting one more fight is even amazing," Belcher said.

"I feel like I'm starting over, getting my first fight again," he added. "I feel kind of nervous and the nervous energy, I think, is going to translate into a sharper mind."

The 27-year-old from Biloxi, Miss., defeated Canadian Patrick Cote on the same May 2010 card in Montreal that saw MacDonald go down.

The next month, Belcher was training in Brazil in advance of a fight with jiu-jitsu ace Demian Maia when he started having blurry vision.

"At first I was hoping it would just go away," he recalled. "It was one of those things where (I thought) I've got something in my eye, I can't see. I was just in denial about. I thought it would go away.

"The next morning I woke up, it was worse. So I knew something was wrong."

He saw some local doctors who diagnosed a detached retina and advised him to return home and "get your surgery fast."

"It was all bad from there, man," Belcher said.

"Bad news, bad news, bad news, surgery, 'let's not talk about you ever fighting again.' Bad news and then a month later, healing up from the surgery we were all optimistic, it detached again so then I had to have another surgery . . . One (surgery) is bad, but then going back in there and digging around and cutting and doing all this stuff, it's not good."

Belcher credits his surgeon, Dr. Henry Semple of Mobile, Ala., for fixing him up.

While initially there was no talk of fighting, Semple allowed Belcher to start grappling in December-January. He followed up with monthly checkups on the retina, taking extra time to ensure that the surgery had worked.

He wasn't back to full training until March or April.

"I was feeling pretty sluggish and pretty off, but within a few weeks I was starting to feel like my old self again."

Belcher acknowledges there was a time when he thought his fighting career was over, when he was focused on his other career as a gym owner and trainer. And even when he got the green light physically, there was work to do mentally.

"I lost my desire and everything, man," he said. "It took me a while after I got to train again, to really get the feeling back, get the desire back and get going. But once I did, I'm feeling better than every and now I'm performing better than ever.

Belcher was more than holding his own in the UFC when he was sidelined by the eye problem. He won four of his last five with some observers believing he deserved the nod in a split-decision loss to Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 100.

Sporting a 7-4 career mark in the UFC, Belcher won fight of the night honours against Akiyama and Wilson Gouveia (a first-round TKO), plus submission of the night for the victory over Cote.

Belcher has sharp standup skills and, with a brown belt in jiu-jitsu, is no slouch on the ground. Other submission victims include Canadian Denis Kang and Kendall Grove.

But MacDonald is also a skilled grappler and, at six foot three, is a prickly, relentless opponent to subdue. His career UFC mark is 6-6 over several stints.

Belcher, listed at six foot two, comes into the fight brimming with confidence. Given what he has come through, he says he no longer feels the pressure he used to.

And he has worked hard to take the positives from the whole experience.

"Right now I feel mentally sharp," he said. "So whether my skills and my body have improved or stayed the same, I don't think really matters. I know that I've improved mentally, so it would be a surprise to me if my performance was any less than amazing."

Belcher is no stranger to pain. He has a Japanese tattoo on his right bicep that says just that.

He says it reminds him of the pain he has been through — and that "it's one of those things that make you stronger."

That tattoo is overshadowed by the likeness of Johnny Cash on the other arm of Belcher, a big music buff.

Belcher, whose wife is expecting in a few months, has nothing but respect for MacDonald and his own journey back.

"Fighters are resilient, especially the top fighters in the world" he said. "Canadians especially. Canadians have amazing heart."

Originally from Arkansas, Belcher now lives an hour and a half from New Orleans and expects a good showing from family and friends.

I think it's going to be a pretty amazing atmosphere Saturday night."

MORE:cpSports