by Matt Hill – MMAWeekly.com
Mississippi native Alan Belcher returns to the Ultimate Fighting Championship at the U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati on Saturday to face tough Canadian fighter Kalib Starnes.

UFC 77 “Hostile Territory” – as it has been dubbed – will be headlined by former middleweight champion Rich Franklin and the man who took his belt, Anderson Silva.

The same night that Franklin will be looking to regain his lost gold, Belcher will be looking to make his own run at the title by entrenching himself into the landscape of the middleweight division with a win over Starnes.

Belcher is coming into this fight off of an impressive victory over highly touted wrestler Sean Salmon. He looked impressive in the contest, ending the fight by guillotine choke a mere 53 seconds into round one.

Before achieving a quick victory over Salmon at UFC 71, though, Belcher was tasked with facing “The Ultimate Fighter” winner Kendall Grove, perhaps the most arduous test of his UFC career to date. Belcher came up short against Grove, but soon after the loss was asked to step in on short notice to fight Salmon at 205 pounds.

For Belcher the answer was an easy “yes.” He wanted a chance to redeem his loss.

He said recently on MMAWeekly Radio, “The quicker you get that win after a loss, it doesn’t erase it, but it sure makes it feel a hell of a lot better. I was definitely happy to get back in there.”

Now that Belcher has some positive momentum built up, his next career objective is to make it two in a row inside the Octagon.

“The Sean Salmon fight was kind of just a glimpse of the attitude that I’m going to take into this fight.”

Because of the current structure of the UFC’s middleweight division, if he does pull off a win Saturday, Belcher could be looking at a possible shot at the title within the next year, depending on his next couple performances.

How does he feel about a possible match-up with either Rich Franklin or Anderson Silva for the title? “The confidence that I have right now … I don’t want to stick my foot in my mouth or anything man, but I feel like a world champion right now.”

That confidence spurs from many reasons. Belcher explained, “It’s just a combination of things. I’m growing up, I’m getting older, getting more experienced … I’m getting past the demons that are holding me back. My family, my friends … everything is just perfect in my life right now. My faith in God is growing and I’m just so happy right now.”

For Belcher, the road to Cincinnati will be a bit different than it would typically be. He will be traveling in from the north not from the south, as he typically hails from Biloxi, Miss.

He changed up camps for this fight by flying up to Wisconsin and training with Thomas Denny. Of the training, he said, “I sacrificed my comfortable house and my business, my family and all of the good eating places and the kind of lazy, half-ass training style that I had, to come up here for six weeks and just kill myself and get ready.”

Belcher believes that the temporary change in scenery, the hard work that he put in during training and the sacrifices that he made while in Wisconsin will lead him to supremacy.

“This is the best camp I’ve ever had for sure. I couldn’t ask for anything better … I’m in perfect shape, no injuries. To be 100% prepared and to be ready for the fight, now I know what it means to not accept losing, because I won’t.”

He continued, “I get better every time and this camp I totally took it to a different level. This is the first time that I feel like my game’s there, it was just about getting totally prepared in the camp, man, that’s what I spent all my time for is just crushing somebody and pushing the pace for three five-minute rounds. It feels great.”

He is hopeful that with a victory on Saturday would keep him on the path that began so many years ago.

“This last year has been unreal. It’s kind of like something that I’ve been working for. I fought my first MMA fight when I was 15 years old in Paragould, Ark., against an adult with head butts and downward elbows and the whole nine yards. Being in the UFC is like a dream come true. Even if I’ve had a couple of losses, it’s still been a great experience.”

Belcher plans to continue that dream against Starnes, “Just expect me to stop the fight. I can’t promise when it’s going to be, but it’s going to get stopped at one point or another. I’m going to try to stop it in the first round, hopefully [with] a knockout.”