Every athlete at some point in his career comes to the stage where it’s time to take off the jersey, stop lacing up the shoes, or in a fighter’s life hang up the gloves. It’s one thing for athletes to make that choice themselves, but it’s a much different animal when an athlete has his career taken away from him due to injury.
Alan Belcher faced that very scenario after enduring an eye injury in training that left him with blurred vision and then almost no vision. When he returned home from training in Brazil and met with his doctors, the prognosis sent a shiver down his spine.
“It was actually kind of sporadic, but the doctor he’s not really sure if it was one blow or what, but for some reason I had some tears in my retina and it caused it to detach. I didn’t even realize anything was happening until I was down in Brazil training for the Demian Maia fight, and then all of a sudden just lost most of my vision in my eye,” Belcher told MMAWeekly.com on Wednesday.
Not realizing the severity of the injury right away, Belcher ended up extending his stay in Brazil, although in retrospect he fully admits that was a mistake. Once he set foot back on American soil, he had to be rushed in right away for surgery on the injury that had career-ending potential.
“I came back and had to have emergency surgery,” Belcher commented. “I had the first surgery and then it detached again about 5 weeks later, and I had to have another surgery.”
The first surgery seemed like a success according to Belcher, but when he visited his doctors again, they said he had to go back under the knife for a second time.
“At first it looked promising. I had the first surgery, but when it detached a second time that’s when it was real scary,” said Belcher. “It was like how many times are we going to have to go through this? I kind of had to do it all over again.”
Following a second surgery, the doctors didn’t put a percentage on the chances of a comeback to fighting for Belcher. He had to sit with the real thought in his mind that his UFC career may be over.
“It was kind of open, they weren’t really sure. It was just taking it one day at a time. They thought I would get a lot of vision back and I might probably be able to fight again if I wanted to take the risk, but they weren’t really sure,” Belcher said.
They say time heals all wounds, and that was the key to Belcher’s injury as well. As the hours turned into days and the days into weeks, Belcher’s eye continued to heal and his vision started to get better. Another trip to the doctor’s office, and like a weight being lifted off of him, the news was the best thing he had heard in a long time.
“Now we’re at where we’re at now, it seems everything is healing good this time. The doctors said I can start exercising and I can probably be back doing contact as early as January,” said Belcher.
Belcher has been working closely with Dr. Chris Semple out of Mobile, Ala. who is a retina specialist, and he credits him for the job he’s done getting the middleweight back into the cage again.
“He’s been really hands on and been supportive everyday through text and e-mail, and he’s done a really great job,” said Belcher about his doctor. “I give a lot of credit to him.”
Prior to his injury, he was set to fight in a main event bout against Maia in September. Belcher had been rising up fast through the ranks in the 185-pound division. While he understands that the weight class had to move on without him competing, he plans to work harder than ever to get that spot back.
“I’m itching really bad, I’m missing it,” Belcher commented about training. “It’s been a part of my life forever pretty much. I haven’t taken this much time off from sports and exercise in my whole life. I can’t wait.
“I’ll return strong and win and be right back where I was, and maybe even higher.”
As far as timing his return, that’s all going to depend on his progression in training, but Belcher is focused on coming back to the UFC and reminding the middleweight division just what he’s capable of.
“If I start back hard in January, it’s probably going to take me a little while to get back in fight shape. I want to have a good base under me before I accept a fight, but once I do it will be on,” said Belcher.
“Whatever is soon, but when I’m ready. As soon as I’m ready.”
Belcher hopes to get back into fight shape starting at the beginning of the year, and when he is ready he’ll call UFC matchmaker Joe Silva to start looking for a fight for him. Realistically, Belcher is looking at somewhere between six to 10 weeks after he gets fight ready, and then it’s an all out assault on his next opponent.
As far as his recovery, the doctors have helped Belcher get ready for his physical return, and his wife has been phenomenal with her emotional support, but the Mississippi native is quick to point out how supportive UFC fans have been throughout this ordeal.
“The fans have been awesome, they’ve been keeping me going,” Belcher commented. “All the fan mail, e-mails, they’re just steady flowing in, Facebook, Twitter, it’s amazing. It’s really what keeps me motivated and I want to thank the fans and please keep it up because that really means a lot whenever a fighter’s down and out.”
It may have been down and out, but now the only direction Belcher will be going is up. Look for “The Talent” to make his Octagon return in the first half of 2011, and no one will be more excited than Belcher.