UFC newcomer Eryk Anders draws former top-15 middleweight Rafael Natal for his promotional debut at UFC on Fox 25 on Long Island. While Anders faces a tall task in the biggest challenge of his MMA career, he has been in bright spotlights before in his athletic career.
Anders, a collegiate linebacker for the Alabama Crimson Tide, secured a momentum-shifting sack that aided his school in capturing the 2010 BCS National Championship.
Anders, now 30, had NFL aspirations that didn’t pan out. There was a free agent deal with the Cleveland Browns, as well as a trip to Canada to play for a team there, but neither opportunity came to fruition. Enter mixed martial arts.
“I needed something to do that was stimulating both physically and mentally,” Anders told MMASucka. “There were few things like MMA that could do that. I walked into a gym, started training, and fell in love in a matter of seconds.”
By February of 2012, Anders fought for the first time as an amateur after just two months of training. Three-and-a-half years later, Anders made his professional debut on August 22, 2015. Less than two years after that, he has compiled an undefeated 8-0 professional record and earned a chance to make an immediate splash in the sport’s biggest promotion.
The jump to fighting professionally was made easier by the fact that Anders has been an athlete for most of his life.
“I started playing football when I was seven years old,” he said. “Since then, I’ve trained my body for speed and explosion, and I feel those are big attributes for MMA, as well as work ethic.”
While the transition did not come without a couple of growing pains, Anders seems to have embraced the challenges that come with getting into a whole new sport.
“I really had to re-teach myself to move my body,” he said. “I had a general athletic background. I really worked hard on my technique and it’s all coming to fruition.”
In his most recent bout last month, Anders fought 25 minutes for the first time in his career and defeated Brendan Allen by unanimous decision for the Legacy Fighting Alliance vacant middleweight title.
Then, he got the call.
“Man, me and my coach and all my training partners knew it was right around the bend so we knew to stay ready,” he said. “You never know when the phone is going to ring. A short-notice fight is one of the fastest ways into the UFC.”
Anders said that he likes the match-up with the Brazilian grinder, mentioning his own technical striking as his biggest asset. With a win, Anders would likely immediately be a top-20 UFC middleweight.
“If I win this fight, maybe I’ll get respect from the other guys in the division,” he said.
On fight night, the new face at middleweight said fans can expect a finish, since he doesn’t like edging out decisions or playing it safe.
Whatever happens, Anders said that he will make the most of the opportunity.
“Now that the door is opened, I plan to kick it down and eventually win a championship in the UFC.”