Hall Of Fame
Editor Note: This article was published prior to the UFC 279: Diaz vs Ferguson event change. Nate Diaz will now fight Tony Ferguson in the main event, Khamzat Chimaev will fight Kevin Holland in a catchweight (180) co-main event and Li Jingliang will fight Daniel Rodriguez in a catchweight (180) bout. | Order UFC 279: Diaz vs Ferguson
On June 13, 2014, Chad Anheliger suffered a second-round submission loss to Rick Pfeifer at Hard Knocks 37 in Calgary.
It was his third consecutive loss, the third straight time he had been submitted, and it dropped his record to 2-5 as a professional mixed martial artist.
Saturday night, Anheliger will make the walk to the Octagon for his sophomore outing in the UFC, as he takes on “The Mongolian Knight,” Alatangheili, on the preliminary portion of this weekend’s UFC 279 pay-per-view at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
So what would the 2014 version of Anheliger have said if I were to go all Doc Brown, travel back in time, and tell him that eight years later, he’ll be prepping for his second UFC appearance, riding a 10-fight winning streak?
“That Chad Anheliger would have said the same thing,” said the Canadian veteran when we spoke ahead of this weekend’s clash. “He expected the same thing.”
Some will say there is no way that is true or that Anheliger is playing the results; reframing how he felt at the time now that he knows things have worked out in his favor.
Others will chalk it up to typical fighter talk or athlete talk — someone saying the thing they’re supposed to say in that situation, whether they believe it or not.
But listening to the 35-year-old bantamweight break it down, it’s pretty clear that even despite his struggles in the moment, he never stopped believing he would find his way to this stage.
“I had separated myself from that fighter when I was losing,” began Anheliger, who changed gyms, aligning with Champion’s Creed, and didn’t take a fight for 23 months following that June 2014 setback. “I was so separated from them, so quickly after, because I knew it wasn’t me.
“I didn’t have to be married to that record or career because I can change it and it’s not me. If anything, it’s just annoying because I had to go through this process of changing it, but there was never a point of ‘Oh, I don’t think I can do this’ or ‘I’m not as good as I thought.’ I was only ever frustrated by the results, but the results aren’t always 100 percent in your control.
“You can train well, prepare well, you can be a better fighter, and you can still lose the fight, for whatever reason, and you can’t get too hung up on the results,” continued the Canadian veteran, who earned championship gold in two weight divisions for Rise FC and successfully defended his bantamweight strap with a third-round stoppage win over Brady Heistand prior to the Sikjitsu representative being selected for Season 29 of The Ultimate Fighter, where he advanced to the finals. “I know that sounds crazy now that I’m on this streak and it seems like all I can do is win, but the results are not 100 percent in your control, so you have to let it go.
“They can piss you off, but it’s already in the rearview mirror the next day, and I’m looking at the next thing, looking at beating up the next guy.”
His return to action started with a 53-second knockout win, and since then, he’s continued “beating up the next guy” each time out, including his contract-winning appearance on Dana White’s Contender Series last fall and his promotional debut in February, where he scored a third-round stoppage win over Jesse Strader.
“It was awesome,” he said of his first foray into the UFC Octagon. “It was hard for that to even sink in because it was so great. It almost went too perfect for me, because I really want to show people myself, my skills, what I’m made of, and you need a tough opponent to do that.
“He was in there, he was pushing me but, in the end, I was able to pull it out and get the big stoppage,” he added. “I couldn’t have written it up better. I’m pretty happy with it.”
Just like with his earlier setbacks, Anheliger is “on to the next one” after his victories, as well, keeping his focus on what’s directly in front of him at all times, never allowing his thoughts to move too far beyond the task at hand.
It’s an approach forged during his climb back from that 2-5 start and carried into his Contender Series appearance against Muin Gafurov last September.
Throughout his run, Anheliger knew the only way he was ever going to get the opportunity to live out his UFC dream was if he kept winning, kept putting on entertaining fights. The pressure mounted with each win, as the opportunity seemed to move closer and closer to his grasp.
Once he officially punched his ticket to the UFC, the pressure faded away — he’d made it — but the mindset stayed the same.
“The pressure to win has just gone down and down since I made it through the Contender Series and into the UFC,” he said. “I know it sounds crazy to say that because the fights are bigger and bigger, but there is less pressure because all I care about now are performances.
“I want to fight great. I want to have people talking about it. I want everyone remembering our fight, no matter what. I’m not looking way down the road in the future — I’m looking fight-by-fight, be as exciting as I can be, and all those positive side benefits are going to come.
“If I keep going out there having great fights, knocking guys out, in a couple fights, we are going to be talking about things like titles,” continued Anheliger, who shares Saturday’s fight card with his teammate and training partner, Hakeem Dawodu. “But if I’m not worried about it now and I’m just focused on great performances, that other stuff will come; it will be there.”
A lot of competitors say they’re only focused on the next one, not thinking about titles or looking beyond the man in front of them, but when Anheliger says it, you know it’s true, because it had to be.
For eight years, the only fight that mattered was the very next fight, because any miscues, any setbacks, any losses along the way and the already difficult road to the UFC probably would have become too daunting to navigate.
So the 2-5 fighter set out to win the next one in exciting fashion, and 10 fights later, having collected a highlight reel finish in his UFC debut, the approach remains the same.
“I’m really just putting my focus on making the fights as great as I can make them.”