Fighting Toronto native Elias Theodorou in Toronto doesn’t bother Eryk Anders in the slightest. Why would it? He’s already fought two Brazilians in Brazil and a New Yorker in New York over the course of his five-fight UFC career thus far.
“I love the hostile environment, I love the pressure,” said the middleweight prospect, who meets “The Spartan” on this Saturday’s UFC 231 card. “Especially when you go down to a place like Brazil, where they tell you you’re gonna die – on the way and in the cage. (Laughs) Canada, those guys are really nice, so I’m sure they’ll still give me a round of applause and cheer for me win, lose or draw. There is no more hostile environment than Brazil and I’ve been down there twice, so I don’t think the crowd’s gonna be that much of a factor in this fight.”
And truth be told, Alabama’s Anders is the kind of southern gentleman that is hard to root against, so if you expect him to wear the black hat and be the bad guy when facing a hometown favorite, that’s just not his shtick.
“I don’t think I’m the bad guy,” he said. “I just make it easy for other guys to get fights. They want to fight, I want to fight, so let’s fight.”
Now that’s the reputation the 31-year-old has garnered since his Octagon debut in 2017, with five fights in 16 months proving that he is always just a phone call away. And while he was just in action in September, fighting a short-notice bout against Thiago Santos at light heavyweight, he considers this fight with Theodorou to be one with a full training camp. And he couldn’t be happier to get that extra time in the gym.
“The main thing is that I get to game plan for an opponent,” Anders said. “Obviously I’m always working to better my skills and develop as a fighter and a martial artist, but being able to game plan for an opponent instead of just flying by the seat of my pants and off the cuff, it’s a game changer.”
That doesn’t mean he’s going to insist on this type of thing for every fight. In fact, when I jokingly ask him if he’s ready for a call for another fight before the end of the year, he answers before I finish the question.
“I’m in,” he said. “And the UFC knows that. It might be a little tougher to make 185, so it would most likely have to be a 205 fight, but that’s cool with me. I get to eat and not have to cut a whole bunch of weight. That’s good for me.”
We often talk about someone competing for the love of the game. Most of the time, when that athlete says such a thing, he or she is doing it to provide a snappy quote. Hey, let’s face it, this is a business, and there’s nothing wrong with fighting to get a check and put food on the table. This is called prizefighting for a reason. But when Anders talks about his love for the sport, he really means it. In fact, the former Alabama linebacker dares to say that he loves it more than football at the moment.
“I definitely love MMA and I’m definitely more passionate about it,” he said. “I love that there is a team aspect to it because I can’t get better by myself. I need teammates to get better and drill and spar with. But when it comes game time, it’s all me. I don’t have to worry about somebody fumbling a football or throwing an interception or missing a tackle. If I go out there and get it done, cool. If I don’t, then that weight is on my shoulders. I can live with that and that’s what I prefer.”
That attitude has served Anders well in MMA, and it’s made him the rare athlete who has been able to excel at the highest level of two sports. Not that he spends too much time reflecting on such matters.
“I don’t sit back and reflect a whole lot,” he said. “I think that leads to being complacent, and I’m definitely not that. I’m always looking forward, never in the rearview, and I’m excited for what the future holds.”
That means not too much time spent thinking about his 2018 campaign, one that has seen him gone 1-2 thus far, with a Performance of the Night knockout of Tim Williams sandwiched around a controversial decision loss to Lyoto Machida and the September Fight of the Night defeat to Santos.
“I feel like I beat Machida as well, but my record doesn’t reflect that,” Anders said. “And it’s what the record says. I’ve taken two losses and I don’t do the whole moral victory thing. I got two losses and one win. If you want to look on the bright side, I got two bonuses, so that helps ease the hurt a little bit, but I hate losing more than I like winning. I think that says a lot.”
It says everything about Eryk Anders.