Corey Anderson is one of the top young fighters in the UFC today, a light heavyweight with enormous potential who, if you recall, didn’t even want to fight after finishing up his college wrestling career.
Olympian Ben Askren changed his mind on that end of things, but after the then-unbeaten Anderson got some unplanned dental work courtesy of Gian Villante in his third UFC fight in April, one had to wonder if the Rockton, Illinois native was finally going to have some second thoughts about his current vocation.
“Not at all,” he said. “Not one time. After the Villante fight, I think it lit a new fire under me. It was the first time I had lost since 2012 in anything, and sometimes you need that. Sometimes we need to remember what defeat feels like, so when you’re in the gym, you don’t stop. When you’re at the breaking point, you go a little bit further. That fight definitely ignited a new fire and helped me out tremendously. You could see the difference in my performance in the last fight.”
That last performance, at UFC 191 in September, saw Anderson defeat veteran 205-pound standout Jan Blachowicz pretty handily, earning a three-round unanimous decision that upped his pro record to 7-1. It was an important victory, not just because Anderson returned to the win column after his punishing Fight of the Night loss to Villante, but because he didn’t show any signs of being gun-shy after trading hammers with the New Yorker for 14 minutes and 18 seconds earlier this year. In fact, Anderson’s coaches may not want to read this, but the 26-year-old actually enjoys fights like the one he had with Villante.
“That’s what my coaches are there for, to make sure I stick to the game plan,” he laughs. “Without Mark Henry in the corner, calling the punches, I’m just out there to brawl, which I wouldn’t mind. This is a warrior sport, so let’s go toe-to-toe and see who the best man is. I did enjoy that Villante fight. It was fun, and I enjoy a war like that, man to man. And at the end, win or lose, you have each other’s respect.”
It’s an old school value, one of many Anderson has picked up from his father, who constantly reminds his son that in his day job – or in anything he chooses to do – the work never stops if you want to be the best.
“Every time I go home, my dad asks ‘are you still working hard or are you just enjoying the fame?’” Anderson said. “I tell him I’m working hard and enjoying the fame – I’m loving it all and I can’t complain.
“My father is a hard worker,” he continues. “He came from nothing and now he’s a successful businessman and he’s got it made, so he always tries to make sure I don’t forget that no matter what, you always keep working hard. Continue to work hard and remember how you got there. He always reminds me. Every fight I won, he’s always happy. ‘Man, that was a great fight, but you should have done this.’ It’s never ‘great fight’ and that’s it. (Laughs) But that’s okay because that’s the difference between a fan and a fam.”
As far as Anderson is concerned, it’s also the difference between wanting to be a celebrity and wanting to be a champion. Anderson is an affable young man with an engaging personality, but when he’s not traveling back home to see his family, he’s in the gym in New Jersey, always looking to get better. And according to his coaches, he’s doing just that.
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“My coaches say ‘it’s like the other guys are standing still next to you,’” he said. “I’m like what do you mean? ‘You’re getting better all day. The same people that you started with when you moved out here just seem like they’re in the same place. You’ve been submitting black belts and brown belts in practice and you didn’t have any jiu-jitsu when you came here.’ They say I’m definitely growing and a lot of guys are still standing still because they don’t put in as much time in and don’t pay attention to detail like I do.”
This Saturday’s bout with veteran slugger Fabio Maldonado should be a good barometer of where Anderson is at the moment. “Beastin’ 25/8” is making his debut in Brazil against a Brazilian, and when you make a good guy the bad guy, especially when it’s Anderson’s first trip outside of the United States, it will be interesting to see how he reacts. At the moment, he’s not bothered by any of the above.
“You go to fight, and sometimes more fans like him than they like you,” he said matter of factly. “Or if you look at college wrestling, you go to somebody’s home gym, and it’s a big dual and you’ve got the whole stadium packed and booing you because they want you to lose, and you just block it out. You know what you came there for – you came for one mission, you trained for it, and you didn’t train to have people like you; you trained to win. I’m there for me and nobody else, I’m representing myself and my team.”
If there is a worry, it’s that Anderson will fight Maldonado’s fight and simply stand there and slug for three rounds. The 14th ranked American knows what to expect, but he’s only making one promise when it comes to his approach to the fight.
“He’s a warrior,” Anderson said of Maldonado. “He’s a big guy, and these guys keep taking him down and ground and pound him for two rounds, and they gas out and he just keeps coming back to finish them off or get the decision. I plan on going out there and giving it my all, three rounds of what Corey Anderson does. Everybody knows that Corey Anderson has a gas tank, so that’s the plan, to keep the pressure on non-stop. Pressure breaks pipes and I break opponents. That’s always the plan.”
And if a brawl happens to break out?
“I put too much time in to act like a little punk,” he said. “I’ll man up and face what I gotta do.”