Eryk Anders: The Transition to MMA, UFC Debut and UFC Fresno Fight
Eryk Anders (9-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC) came in and dominated in surprising fashion when he entered the octagon on just 12-days-notice to take on long time UFC vet Rafael Natal at UFC on FOX 25 in Long Island. In just under three minutes, he had Natal flat on his back staring up at the lights, and his first UFC win under his belt. December 9, 2018 at UFC Fight Night Fresno, Anders looks to capitalize on his momentum and pick up his 2nd win in five months and go into 2018 on a high note, with his undefeated record still intact.
I had the opportunity to speak to Anders in an exclusive interview with MMA-Today to dive in on his collegiate football career with Alabama, his short-notice win over Natal, his upcoming fight in Fresno and what the future holds for him in the UFC.
Going back to the Rafael Natal fight how did you feel following the fight, your successful UFC debut and knockout win coming in on 12-days-notice?
I’m always in the gym trying to get better. I don’t take time off and get out of shape. That’s why I’m able to take short-notice fights. I stay in shape and I’m always ready to go. I don’t like to take a whole bunch of time off. I like to be active, so I stay ready. Realistically I want to fight as often as I possibly can.
Going over your fight with Rafael Natal, right from the start of the fight you were almost stalking him. His back was against the cage the majority of the fight as long as it lasted. Is that something you look to employ with all of your opponents? Making sure their back is against the cage and they have to fight on your terms?
Absolutely. I don’t want my opponent to feel comfortable in there at any moment. When they’re always on edge, they seem to be a little more tense and it seems to help them gas out a little bit when they’re always second guessing what they’ve gotta be doing. I love to apply the pressure and impose my will on my opponents.
Can you describe to me the feelings you had getting that first-round knockout and putting Rafael Natal away? He’s a tough, durable guy and he’s been in the UFC for a long time. Not a lot of guys get someone that established coming in for their UFC debut. Did that make it a little bit sweeter for you?
Yeah, absolutely. I’ve been biding my time, waiting for the opportunity and training non-stop to the point where it didn’t really matter to me who they put me up against. I was just happy to be able to take advantage of the opportunity that was given to me, go out there and get a finish and make it look pretty easy doing it too.
One thing that is brought up a lot when discussing you as an MMA prospect is your background in collegiate football. You played linebacker for the University of Alabama, a power house in college football. Can you describe for me the differences in your training for football as opposed to how you handle your MMA training? Which do you prefer and which do you consider more difficult?
When it comes to training and actual practice for competition, I gotta say football. I was a lot heavier back then, probably a lot bigger than my body really wanted to be. My back was always hurt, my knees were always hurt from carrying all that extra weight. Not to mention all the bigger guys on me, the collisions and what not. So my body definitely feels better doing MMA.
As far as training goes, was it hard for you to switch gears? MMA training is a lot different than training for a football game. Was it difficult to pivot to a different sport or was it more of a seamless transition given your athletic prowess?
I’ll say it definitely took me awhile to develop and acquire a skill set. I came in relatively green but I live in the gym and I love the sport. I fell in love with the training and I just love the sport. I’m training 24/7 so I feel like I’m improving at a much more rapid pace than a lot of these guys.
You’re approaching your second fight with the promotion,looking to get your second victory in Fresno in early December. When you were first confirmed for the card, you were getting another guy relatively new to the promotion in John Phillips. He was pulled due to visa issues so now you’re taking on another newcomer in Markus Perez. What are your thoughts on this? Does it throw a wrench into your camp? Do you train specifically for your opponent?
I pretty much train just to get better in my overall skill set but I do look at the tendencies of each opponent, they way they move and what they like to do. John Phillips is a stand-up guy. It seemed like he was looking to box a whole lot. He wasn’t throwing a lot of leg kicks, he wasn’t shooting for takedowns or anything like that. He’s the kind of guy that’s always coming forward. Markus Perez has them “sweet hips” you know? A little more flashy, a few more combinations and likes to attack from a distance. He throws a lot more kicks, spinning stuff. So I sort of went from more of a bruiser to a dancer so to speak.
You’re 9-0 in your career so far. How do you feel you’re progressing throughout your career? What are some things you feel you need to work on whether it be your wrestling, BJJ, striking, cardio, etc..? Do you feel like soon you’re going to be ready to take on the upper echelon of the division?
I absolutely think I’ll be able to take those guys on soon. If I was watching film on myself, I’d say I need to improve on cutting angles and attacking in combinations, not throwing just one strike at a time. I think I’m a difficult matchup for anyone in the division given my size, ring generalship, power, Fight IQ and all the attributes to go with it.
If all goes as planned Dec. 9th in Fresno, assuming all goes well, what are your plans after that? Do you have anyone in mind that you’d like to fight next?
Anyone in the top 25 man. I’m looking toward the top 25. Pretty much the whole division is booked for a fight right now so that’ll definitely be taken into account when we look towards who we want to fight next. I’m down to fight anyone in the division though.
What is your take on short-notice fights? We know you took the Natal fight but is that something you only took to get you into the UFC or are you down for more short-notice fights if they push you up the rankings more?
Man, I tried to get in on the Kelvin Gastelum fight! Like I said, I’m always in the gym. I’m always in shape and if the opportunity comes my way I’m not going to hesitate. I’m trying to stay active. I want to fight 4-5 times a year if I can. If I’m healthy than I want to be fighting. Like I said, I feel like I’m a bad matchup for anyone in the division like I said, so as long as I’m healthy I’m gonna take the fight.
Im ready https://t.co/mFTpBJwNO4— Eryk Anders (@erykanders) November 10, 2017
At what point in your college career did you realize, maybe I’m not going to pursue the NFL? What prompted that switch over to MMA for you and what made you want to continue competing?
Well, I already knew going into college that the possibility I wouldn’t make it pro was very real. I always made sure I got my education going through school, I made sure I graduated. When football and school was over I just started working different jobs, was just bored and it began me really just wanting to blow off some extra steam and work out a little bit and I just ended up keeping to it and ramping up my training. I took an amateur fight and now here we are. It isn’t even so much about fighting for me. I love the training. I just love MMA so it makes it really easy for me to stick with it.
Tell me a bit about your fight team. You’re currently training at Spartan Fitness in Alabama. How do you feel about your current team? In the era of the MMA super gyms like American Top Team, AKA, Kings MMA, etc, do you think you’ll ever need to migrate to one of these camps to take your game to the next level?
We have a couple Bellator vets, guys like John Salter, Marcus Brimage, we’ve had some guys coming in and out throughout the years. I like where I’m training at now. Everyone helps out everyone. If someone has a fight coming up I’m gonna be a training partner for them and If I have a fight coming up than they’re gonna be training partners for me. I enjoy the family environment and everyone sacrificing their time to make sure someone else is getting better. I’m good where I’m at.