Longtime UFC middleweight Alan Belcher is retiring from fighting. After 11 years as a professional mixed martial artist, all but two of those on the UFC roster, the 31-year-old announced via web video this morning that his new “calling” is teaching and working with gym owners and instructors “to be better and to affect more people.” So the Alan Belcher Era is officially over.
I guess the Alan Belcher Era wasn’t a particularly notable one. The Arkansas native was a great fighter but he was probably never going to be the UFC champion. He was never controversial (except maybe for that Johnny Cash tattoo on his left arm), and aside from some words exchanged with Michael Bisping during the lead-up to what would prove to be Belcher’s last fight (and who doesn’t exchange words with Michael Bisping before a fight?), Belcher didn’t make a whole lot of noise in the press. Oh, he had his moments, none greater than the time in 2012 when he re-established a sense of karmic justice in the world by escaping the leg-lock attempt of notorious submission villain Rousimar Palhares (whose reputation for holding onto submissions for too long was already well-established) and knocking out the Brazilian with punches. For that one fleeting moment Belcher was a superhero in the MMA community, a great righter of wrongs. Otherwise, though, he was just one of those guys who was always there. Like Sam Stout or Rich Franklin. They’re all retired now.
When you first start watching MMA, the journeymen fighters seem like bogeyman waiting in dark corners, strange anonymous beasts who attack other people in cages for money. At first they seem inhuman, faceless and not famous but always around and willing to fight. The rich and famous guys make sense, but fighting from paycheck to paycheck seems strange and terrifying. Who would do such a thing? But as you find yourself spending more of your time watching fights and less of your time reading or cultivating meaningful human relationships, those are the fighters—the Ed Hermans, the Evan Dunhams, the Yves Edwards, more than the superstars like B.J. Penn or Anderson Silva—who you come to rely on: workaday guys who provide a sense of continuity from event to event and year to year, who humanize what can seem like a wildly inhuman art, and who fill you with delusional and dangerous thoughts, principally: “I could do that.”
Alan Belcher was always there, from the time I started watching MMA. Now he’s gone. Like Kenny Florian and Paulo Thiago and Chris Lytle and countless others I always assumed would always be there. It’s possible that after this weekend either Dan Henderson or Vitor Belfort could be gone as well, or both. But that’s how things go, I guess. In sports, eras are always ending, so what’s to get upset about? There are always plenty of new fighters to distract from your loss of the old ones. But with each thing you fall in love with in life you add another thing to mark the passing of time by, and so each retirement of an MMA fighter is another sign of the inevitable fleeting nature of everything. It would be depressing if it weren’t so beautiful.
"So this is my official retirement. That's it,” Alan Belcher told the world this morning. “I'm not really going to shed a tear or anything. I'm done. I don't care. I don't want to get hit anymore."
That’s got to be a remarkable moment in the life of an MMA fighter. When, after 11 years and 26 fights and countless broken bones, bloody noses, and bruised ribs, you wake up and realize you don’t want to get hit anymore. What other profession offers that kind of clarity, that kind of on/off switch? And who am I, an admitted nostalgist who would prefer every fighter who was on the UFC roster in 2009 still be there, to argue with a desire like that?
Good luck, Alan. I forgive you.
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