You only get one chance to make a first impression, and UFC middleweight Eryk Anders made a big one in his UFC debut earlier this year.
Making a big impact in their promotional debut is the dream of pretty much every UFC newcomer. That said, it’s a feat few accomplish. Eryk Anders (9-0), however, did just that. The former (and inaugural) LFA middleweight champ made his presence in the UFC’s 185lb division felt immediately. In July at UFC on FOX 25, he absolutely crushed former Ring of Combat champ and Strikeforce/UFC standout Rafael Natal. The loss would serve as the impetus for Natal to call it a career; Anders own career, meanwhile, is looking up following that performance. He returns at UFC Fight Night 123 in Fresno this Saturday looking to keep the train rolling. Coincidentally, his sophomore opponent at UFC Fresno will be another LFA champ, Markus Perez.
Anders took the time to speak to Cageside Press heading into the event about crossing over from pro football to MMA, his bout against fellow ex-LFA champ Perez, and why he actually prefers shorter notice fights.
Anders got his start as an athlete playing football, and had a successful college career with the University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide, claiming the 2009 national championship against the Texas Longhorns. From there, he made his way to the Cleveland Browns of the NFL, then to Canada, where he did a brief stint with the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders.
That’s quite a journey, and with Cageside’s roots being in Canada, we just had to know what the CFL experience was like for him.
“I was very fortunate” Anders told us. “I’m grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had. The whole thing in Canada, another country, it’s not too much different from America to be honest with you.”
While the surroundings may have been familiar, “unfortunately I wasn’t there very long. They [CFL teams] can only keep I think ten Americans per team, so I kind of fell victim to a numbers game. That didn’t last too long.”
That said, he has kept tabs on the league. A few days prior to our conversation, the CFL hosted one of the snowiest Grey Cup games in recent memory, which saw the Toronto Argonauts claim the championship over Ander’s former team, the Stampeders. Did he catch any of the action?
“Yeah, my buddy who I went to high school with, played little league football, actually plays for the Argonauts” Anders explained. “Shawn Lemon. It’s cool to see him go out there and get the championship. It’s his second one.”
Football seems to have led any number of athletes to the fighting world — Matt Mitrione and Brendan Schaub immediately come to mind. So when making the jump to MMA, was there anyone in particular Anders used as a blueprint?
“Not really” said Anders. Rather, “Everyone has a different path, different struggles. It’s a different thing for everybody. I had to make my own path and my own way.”
His own way took him through over fifteen amateur fights, a number almost unheard of in MMA. Especially for a fighter winning the majority of those bouts. While it was very much a case of a newcomer looking to gain experience, what finally prompted the move to go pro?
“I think I was like twenty-eight already, I wasn’t getting any younger. I had just developed to the point where I could hold my own in the regional circuit” Anders told us. “When it came to it, I was ready to make my step out to the big show. I’m constantly growing and evolving in this sport. The time was right, the opponent was right. All the stars were kind of in line, So I went ahead and made that pro jump, and I’ve been at it ever since.”
That’s still a lot of time spent fighting for free, but Anders has no regrets about his path to MMA’s biggest stage. “No, not at all” he answered when asked if he regrets not turning pro sooner. “I don’t think that, being 9-0 — I’d rather take my time and do it right the first time. One you turn pro, there is no going back. You can do everything you need as an amateur, but once you turn pro, you’re 0-0 again.”
“Once you turn pro, if you take a few losses, it’s definitely going to be hard to achieve the goals you set for yourself.”
“It’s not just me when I step into the cage.”
So far, with an unblemished records, Eryk Anders seems to be ticking off goals one by one. What does he attribute his success to in a year that saw him become LFA’s first ever middleweight champion, then follow it up with a showstopping knockout of the veteran Natal?
“Coaching. Training. I have an awesome team, training partners. My wife, my family.” It’s probably true of any fighter, but can never be said enough. “It’s not just me when I step into the cage.”
Despite the high profile win, however, Anders has been paired up with a lesser known name at UFC Fresno. Two, in fact — original opponent John Phillips was forced off the card, to be replaced by Perez, who like Anders sports a 9-0 record. Was the middleweight at all surprised at not getting a higher profile fight?
“Not really,” he explained, mostly because he was campaigning hard to get to the octagon again this year. “I stayed in their ear, and stayed in my manager’s ear” Anders said. He continued saying that “I wanted to fight two more times this year actually. I fought in July, I wanted to fight maybe in October and December.” His persistence eventually paid off with the Fresno date. “I just [said] ‘I want a fight, I want a fight, I want a fight'” and the response was “‘well this is what we’ve got for you.'” Anders never wavered on accepting.
It’s safe to say he’d like to stay a little more active then, moving forward? “Absolutely.”
On page two we discuss Anders’ preference for shorter notice fighters, his bout with Markus Perez, and traveling the world.