Like I've said before, you never know who you'll see at local fighting events. This weekend, I realized that also included local grappling tournaments.
This weekend I attended the 1st Helio Soneca Grappling Tournament. Check it out on the web here. They haven't posted results yet, but there were definitely some good matches. They had both gi and no gi competitions. A number of guys from Highlander MMA were there as well as Stephens Vale Tudo.
A couple hours into it, Helio Soneca made an announcement that Alan "The Talent" Belcher had walked in. I was definitely surprised by this, and sought out Alan to get a few words with him. Belcher is coming off a split-decision win over Ed Herman at UFN 15, and is slated to welcome Denis Kang to the UFC at UFC 93.
Check after the jump to see what Alan had to say.
PreView: So you're coming off a split decision win over Ed Herman - what have you been doing since the fight?
Belcher: Man, I've just tried to jump in the gym a little bit faster than I normally do. Just been training every week and trying to get back into my conditioning, like two weeks after [the Herman fight]. I started just working on my speed and stuff, trying to keep going, because I think I'm at the age where I can improve the next couple years on my speed and strength. I think that's going to be what makes me beat everybody, so that's what I've been working on. Mainly my agility and speed, hand-speed, stuff like that. I'm up here in Kentucky training with Helio Soneca. I've been with him about the last four years. I got my blue belt and purple belt [under him]. I try to get up here whenever I can.
PV: Prior to the last fight with Herman, I heard you spent a lot of time working on your muay thai.
Belcher: My deal is I have a lot of different styles. That's something a lot of people can't do. You can pretty much tell what one guy is going to do if they only have one style, so I have a couple different styles - you don't know if I'm going to counter or clinch; it keeps the guys on their toes. But my main thing is always going to be my athleticism, my footwork, hand speed, that kind of thing - slick boxing, sparring muay thai and trying to use a lot of that. I'm getting stronger, my takedown defense is getting stronger. I'm getting to a point in my life where I'm just worried about getting ready for the fight. I've got complete confidence in my game. I used to sit in bed the night before a fight and go through every situation and worry about what to do in those. I'm learning to, kind of like a boxing mentality, just go in there and do my work; spar, do my different kinds of training, get my hands and my eyes going. Go in there, get in the fight, get hit, have fun.
PV: What's your training schedule with Helio like?
Belcher: I just train with him whenever I can. I've got the fight [with Kang] coming up, and I'm going to do a camp with Duke Roufus up in Milwaukee, so I thought I'd take a week and come up here. We train twice a day every day; I'm also sparring with Brent Weidman, a really good local fighter, and just working with the gi and no gi, trying to get slick on the jiu jitsu, take time to work my mind. He [Helio] has some really good jiu jitsu guys up here, too.
PV: Talk to me about your upcoming fight.
Belcher: January 17th, against Denis Kang. It will be his first fight in the UFC.
PV: How do you feel about the fight right now?
Belcher: I feel strong. He's good, and he's got a lot of the same aspects that I do. I've got a couple things on him. I'm bigger, and taller, and I've got a lot more experience boxing. My hands are a lot faster. He brings a lot of stuff to the table; I'm sure he could beat me in a straight wrestling match or jiu jitsu tournament, but it's going to be hard for him to take me down. That first fight in the UFC is hard for everybody. It's going to be a little bit different than what he's used to and I think he's going to be a little nervous about going in there and falling on his face in his first fight [in the UFC] like some of the Pride guys have. I think he's looking for an easy win, so I've just got to take him down - I break people's spirit, so I look forward to every guy trying to take me down and breaking their spirit when they figure out they can't - then I've got them.
PV: Where do you see yourself in the middleweight title picture?
Belcher: I'm definitely thinking about it. I want to keep improving. In my last fight, I felt it was all starting to come together for me, I'm started to get it figured out. So we'll see how this one [against Kang] goes. If I can do what I did in my last fight, it could be in the near future for sure. There are so many tough guys though, it's hard to say who you need to beat to get in contention for that top spot. You know, there are five or six guys who look equal to me. In the UFC, it's all about what the fans think, what [match-ups] makes sense to the fans, who to put in there. So if this fight is on TV, and they see me and a lot of the people are talking about it, it's only going to make sense to the fans that I deserve to be there. It's weird ranking people in the UFC - there's no guy that's undefeated. Everybody has some loss, and you never know who's going to lose, so it messes the mathematical rankings up. So who knows? If I put together a couple wins, you may see me in there fighting for the belt. I definitely feel like I can fight with anybody. It's just about going in there and letting my hands go.
PV: I know you're not looking past Kang, but is there anybody in the division you'd like to fight that you think would put you in a better spot to fight for the title?
Belcher: I'd like to fight Rich Franklin or Dan Henderson. Both of those guys could be a good fight for me, I see myself beating both of them. And those guys would definitely put me up there [to contend for the title]. The guy I'm most afraid of now would be Nate Marquardt. He's a really dangerous, aggressive guy. Being aggressive as he is, he can throw guys off their game. As far as guys I think I match up with - I'd like to fight Demian Maia or Jason MacDonald - I think those guys would match up well with me, all of their fights are hard.
PV: What do you think about the Penn vs. St. Pierre, and then the potential match-up of St. Pierre vs. Silva? Do you think these fights are just going to hold up the titles or what?
Belcher: It does [hold up the title], but us UFC fighters, we're just trying to keep fighting and keep getting a pay raise every time, and it ain't really - that's just something we deal with. The titles are always held up - there aren't many title fights and there so many good fighters, it's [getting a title shot] is a very slow process.
PV: What do you think about the recent criticism of TUF? As a fighter yourself, do you think TUF is a bad thing for the image of the UFC as a whole?
Belcher: No, because there is a good mix of guys on there. It shows that everybody is their own person. I think that maybe if the show wasn't there, I'm not sure that MMA fighters would have a better rep. At least on there it shows that just because you're an mma fighter doesn't mean you act a certain way. Every single one of the guys has a different personality. Some of the guys aren't really tough guys at all; some of them are sweethearts and nerds. I think it's good for the sport; it gets new fans all the time and gets more people interested, so I'm not hating on it.
PV: How many fights do you have left on your current contract?
Belcher: I got a new one after my last fight, so I've got four fights on it. They keep you on a leash like that. When you win, they give you a new contract, and you don't want to turn it down, because it's a little bit more money than you'd be making your next fight anyways.
PV: Does that exclusivity bother you? Would you like to be fighting more often?
Belcher: I'd like to be fighting more often for sure. I'd like to be making more money for sure. The UFC is the world championship - I can't wait to be making that world championship kind of money.
PV: About money, what do you think about a guy like Lesnar coming in so early in his career and getting a title shot and getting paid so much for it? As somebody that's been in the game longer, does somebody new coming in like that, making that kind of money bother you, or do you think it actually benefits the other fighters?
Belcher: It does [benefit us]. I think it's great man. That guy [Lesnar] has got skills - he's spent his whole life wrestling, and he went into the WWF because that was the way he could make the most money. A lot of these top wrestlers get stuck not being able to make money doing wrestling. I'm proud for him. He worked hard and he deserved it for sure. He's an athlete and he deserves to be where he is. I guess if you're the best, you should be making the big money.
PV: I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me Alan. Any predictions for the Kang fight?
Belcher: I'm predicting I've got a knock out coming. I haven't had a knockout in a while and I'm wanting one pretty bad. I think I'm going to end up catching him. I'm going for a knockout for sure, I'm trying to push it a little bit harder every fight. I trust my conditioning. I'm scared to death of getting tired, but I think I'm going to push it this fight and get that knockout. If not, I'll definitely win a decision, it would be nice to get one of the bonuses for KO of the night or Fight of the Night.
So there you have it. I really appreciated the fact that Alan took as much time as he did to talk with me, and he was just as accommodating with the rest of the crowd. He was there the rest of the afternoon, hanging out and talking with everybody, even helping coach some of Soneca's fighters during their matches. He also helped present an award on behalf of Soneca to Allen Manganello for his service in supporting BJJ in the state of Kentucky - I'll be talking more on that with Allen in the future.
I'm interested to see what Belcher does against Kang. I do think he showed a marked improvement against Herman, and I'll be looking for him to score that bonus-winning KO.