by Steven Marrocco – MMAWeekly.com
Alan Belcher (14-5) is all about shortcuts.

The middleweight is perfectly positioned to make an early statement against Japanese import Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 100, the talented, if flawed, superstar who made headlines by bolting stateside. He’s first on the card – that’s the rumor, he says – and gets the chance to make the first impression on what could be hundreds of thousands of fresh eyeballs.

A win over Akiyama, quite simply, means bigger paydays and an invitation to the realm of contenders.

“We thought that it would give me a shortcut to the top,” Belcher said about taking the fight. “This is one where I can really show myself to a lot of new fans, and show people that think I’m the top contender that I really am.”

The Biloxi, Miss., resident has always been confident of his abilities, but that confidence has sometimes led him to be shortsighted. Like many fighters who enter the UFC with standout skills in one realm of fighting, Belcher has lived through a reality check: you can never underestimate an opponent, or think you’ll be carried by one part of your game.

“I always look at the pros and cons of every situation; I don’t like to make the mistakes I have in the past and try and get confident over one little thing,” he said. “I know my advantages, but I think they’re kind of slim, and I’m going to have to work hard and especially to win the way I want to. I want to make a statement.”

That statement, of course, is a knockout, the pot of gold to every striker’s rainbow. Belcher expects Akiyama to stand and trade. On paper, he thinks he comes out on top.

“I’ll throw straight, crisp, technical strikes, and he’s kind of wide,” said Belcher. “He’s also going to have trouble reaching me. But I’m expecting him to be really tough. I’m also expecting him to be as strong as me or stronger, so I’m not really looking at the size. Also, he doesn’t have to cut weight probably, and I do.”

But that would be getting ahead of himself. Along with champion kickboxer Duke Roufus, he has pinning machine Ben Askren for wrestling and Eric “Red” Schafer for jiu-jitsu, guys who helped engineer his guillotine victory over another Japanese import – by way of Canada and Korea – Denis Kang, at UFC 93.

If the action hits the mat, he won’t just hold for a stand-up.

“I’m getting offensive with my jiu-jitsu,” he said. “The Kang fight was probably the first time that I felt comfortable in attacking and not trying to stand up, so it gave me a lot of confidence to know where I’m at on the ground.”

With most of the division’s top middleweights crossed off by champion Anderson Silva, the time is now. Losing to an import is not an option.

“I still don’t think I’ve hit my full potential, and I think this could be my breakthrough fight,” he said. “Every time I’m getting more aggressive and letting it go, so I’m going to try to finish him and be really mean and aggressive.

“I’m definitely not going down as someone’s stepping stone.”