Even after suffering his first professional defeat to Lyoto Machida in February, Eryk Anders remains one of the most promising young middleweights on the Ultimate Fighting Championship roster.
The former University of Alabama linebacker will lock horns with onetime Cage Fury Fighting Championships titleholder Tim Williams at UFC Fight Night 135 on Saturday at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska. Anders rattled off 10 consecutive victories to start his mixed martial arts career before winding up on the wrong side of a five-round split decision against the aforementioned Machida. The 31-year-old has authored seven finishes, six of them inside one round.
In this exclusive interview with Sherdog.com, Anders discusses his days on the gridiron at Alabama, his forthcoming showdown with Williams and the tragic loss of his No. 1 fan:
Sherdog.com: Do you ever miss football this time of year?
Anders: Yes and no. I thoroughly love and enjoy what I do now, but football is fun. I enjoyed the camaraderie of it, and I loved the physicality of the game -- running at someone full speed and tackling them and all that fun stuff -- but I think I’ve found my home in MMA. I’m really happy with where I’m at, but I definitely still enjoy watching football.
Sherdog.com: What did you learn from playing football at the University of Alabama, if anything, that you could carry over into mixed martial arts?
Anders: The process … there’s no such thing as an overnight success in MMA. You’ve got to do everything you can, especially the small stuff, just to have a chance at winning. Winning isn’t guaranteed, and I learned that at Alabama. You can’t leave any stone unturned. It’s very similar in that it’s a team sport when it comes to practice, but when it comes to game day, it’s a whole different experience.
Sherdog.com: Do you stay in touch with Nick Saban?
Anders: We keep up a little bit, as much as we can. He’s probably the busiest dude in America, so he doesn’t have a lot of free time to chitchat and hang out. He and I recently had a conversation and watched a little film that will be airing on Fox on fight week. He thinks it’s great, and he’s not surprised by my success in MMA because he knows how hard I prepare as an athlete. Same thing with my former teammates. They all love it and show me a lot of support. It’s easier to keep in touch with them (laughs).
Sherdog.com: What has MMA taught you about yourself?
Anders: That’s a tough one to answer because I’ve known for a while that if you put in the work and time and have the ability, you can reach pretty high levels in whatever it is you do. I just put my foot all the way on the gas, and it’s led me to this point. I’ve been like this for a while, but MMA has certainly reinforced it and does so daily.
Sherdog.com: What did you learn from your last fight with Lyoto Machida and did you alter your preparation at all?
Anders: I can’t go hunting for the knockout; the knockout has to come naturally. I shouldn’t be reaching for that one-punch knockout necessarily. I should be trying to set it up with combinations as much as possible. I also learned that when you’ve got your opponent hurt, you’ve got to get in there and finish him with strikes. That’s not the time to wrestle. [This next fight is] extremely important but only because wins are always of the upmost importance. I’ve corrected all the errors I’ve made, and I’m antsy to go in there and show my improvements and get another victory. The loss didn’t affect my preparations. Home base is always Spartan Fitness in Alabama, but I also trained with Julian Marquez a bit in Las Vegas and at Team Oyama in California. I enjoy traveling and getting as many different good looks as I can.
Sherdog.com: What do you know about Tim Williams?
Anders: He’s a grappler. Half of his wins have come by submission, and all of his losses have come by knockout. I think he’s going to try to close the distance, put his hands on me and see how he can do grappling with me. Regardless of where the fight goes -- whether it’s on the ground, against the cage or on the feet -- I feel like I’m going to get the finish.
Sherdog.com: What do you want to accomplish in the UFC?
Anders: I want to be a champion, I want to provide an amazing life for my family and I want to be remembered as one of the best to ever do it in the Octagon.
Sherdog.com: If you were given the opportunity to sit down and have dinner with three people you have never met, who would they be and why?
Anders: Barack Obama would be one who jumps to mind, but I actually did get the chance to meet him briefly after our national championship win [at Alabama]. Long-lost relatives come to mind. [William] Shakespeare might be one; he’s one of the most influential minds of the past. I wouldn’t mind sitting down with Warren Buffett and Elon Musk maybe to pick their brains a bit about finance and entrepreneurship.
Sherdog.com: Imagine you could travel back in time and impart some wisdom on your younger self. What would it be?
Anders: Slow down. I feel like I was very impulsive when I was younger. I did lots of things without really thinking too much and [considering] how it would affect me and the people around me. Slow down and just think things through. They say a hard head makes a soft ass, and that’s definitely been the case in my life (laughs). I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I’m doing my best now.
Sherdog.com: What was the most traumatic experience of your life so far?
Anders: That would of course be the night after we played in the Independence Bowl in 2007. Me, one of my brothers and my parents went to a casino and had a good time. Everyone went to sleep, but my dad didn’t wake up. That would definitely be the most traumatic experience in my life so far. He never got to see me fight. At first, I think he might try to talk me out of it, but just like my mom, when he’d see how committed I am to the sport, he’d be my biggest supporter, my No. 1 fan.