Don't miss UFC 191 this Saturday night live on Pay-Per-View from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Wherever Corey Anderson goes, his backpack goes with him.
The first time I ever encountered The Ultimate Fighter season 19 winner, it was in the dead heat of a Midwestern summer in June, and he had just strolled through the doors of the IBG facility that is nestled quietly into the rough and tumble backdrop that is the eastside of downtown Indianapolis. The first thing you notice about Anderson is his size, because a solid 6’3” is never easy to miss, but as he passed a crew of big bodies getting in their daily work on the mats, his backpack stood out sharply.
Not that carrying a gym bag is a unique thing in MMA - every fighter carries their sporting life in some type of duffle - but the reason the Rockford native’s gear transport stood out was the manner in which it appeared to be an extension of his sizeable frame. It seemed as if the pack itself wasn’t so much of an inanimate object meant for hauling sparring equipment from place to place, as it was some type of symbol or badge for the talented light heavyweight’s personal mission.
Here was a fighter born and raised 80 miles west of Chicago, but who trains full-time on the east coast with the likes of Renzo Gracie, Frankie Edgar and Ricardo Almeida, just popping up during a heavyweight session with Matt Mitrione and his Team Two Ton crew. “Beastin 25/8” would spend the next two hours putting in work of his own inside the sweltering cave Indy-based fighters affectionately call “The Meat Factory,” then afterwards everything went back into the pack where it belonged.
Our paths would cross once again five weeks later in a hotel lobby in Chicago, and once again Anderson’s backpack was slung across his shoulders. This time he was about to jump on an elevator to get in some work with “The Answer’s” longtime striking coach Mark Henry and the Iron Army squad, and he had made the two-hour commute through city traffic just to do so.
In that moment, things began to take shape in regard to the significance of what that backpack means for the up-and-coming 25-year-old talent. Hard work and the push and demand of more from himself is ingrained in his foundation, and he’s willing to put the effort into that process anywhere he can find the space to work and knowledge to absorb.
“I follow the words my father always told me in that it doesn’t matter if it is work or sports, you have to give it your best,” Anderson said. “You give it your all in everything you do. Every time I come home to visit he’ll come into my room and wake me up. He’ll ask, ‘Are you getting up to work or are you enjoying the fame?’ It will be 5 o’clock in the morning but that doesn’t matter because he’s just trying to let me know if I’m going capture my dreams I need to keep chasing. That it doesn’t matter where the work is, I better go find it. I need to get up, get in my car and go find a place to train.
“That day we ran into one another in Chicago that’s what I was doing,” he recalled about our conversation by the elevators in the Hard Rock Hotel. “I called my coaches who were up there, jumped in the car and drove two hours to get some training in. That’s just how it has to be. Wherever the best people are I’m going to find a way to work with them. That’s where I want to be. I don’t care how far it is, I’m going to get there. If I have to jump on a plane or train just to train that day and come home that night, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Where the element of work is concerned for Anderson, there has been plenty of it put in during the early stages of his blossoming career in MMA. The Renzo Gracie-trained fighter had spent his collegiate career on the wrestling mats of Newberry College without a shred of interest in switching lanes and stepping in to throw hands inside of a cage. Yet, after receiving some nudges from his teammates and a handful of wrestlers who were already committed to pursuing their MMA dreams, Anderson slowly began to warm up to the idea.
Fast forward three years and the scrappy grinder is currently attempting to write the most prominent chapter of his career to date as he continues his attempt to establish himself in what has long been one of the most prestigious divisions under the UFC banner. This turn of events has certainly been a whirlwind for Anderson, and things fall further into the crazy side because he nearly avoided traveling this path entirely.
“I’ve always said MMA wasn’t anything I ever wanted to chase,” Anderson said. “I was interested in chasing the Olympic dream and had too many lingering injuries to even think about fighting in MMA. But when the opportunity was presented to me I took it and I’m glad I did. It took some convincing, but once I committed to it I put everything I had into it.
“I just kept going and going and I came across more people who could point me in the direction I needed to go. There aren’t a lot of people who do what I was looking to do where I’m from, but meeting guys like Matt Hughes and Ben Askren helped me find the next step I needed to take. They would tell me where I needed to go, evaluated me in training a few times and told me what I needed to work on. I would move on to the next place, train for a bit and ask that coach what I needed to work on in my game. I kept asking questions and doing the work and now I’m starting to grasp the concept myself. I’ll be able to hand that information down to others as it was handed down to me.”
All the determination and focus that sits sharply in Anderson’s eyes is directly tied to his drive to push forward in the fight game. He will get his next opportunity to do just that when he steps back into the Octagon this Saturday night at UFC 191 to face hard-hitting Polish light heavyweight Jan Blachowicz in Las Vegas. While mixing it up with a game opponent in front of a lively crowd in “Sin City” is enough to get Anderson fired up about the tilt, there is a little extra fuel on his fire due to how things shook out in his most recent battle under the bright lights of the Octagon.
In his first bout after his record-setting performance to become the TUF 19 winner, the lengthy grinder squared off with Gian Villante at UFC Fight Night: Machida vs. Rockhold in Newark, New Jersey. The matchup quickly turned into an all-out slugfest, with each man having their moments over the course of the action-packed dust up. That said, Anderson would be felled in the third round of the fight, and his first Fight of the Night bonus would come on the tail end of the first loss of his professional career.
The sting of that setback has Anderson hungry to get back to his winning ways, and he sees the matchup with Blachowicz as the perfect opportunity to not only accomplish that goal, but to make a huge statement in the process.
“There was a different type of fire lit after my last fight. I not only suffered the first loss of my career against Gian Villante, but I got finished. He’s a veteran in the UFC and ended up jumping up to a No. 15 ranking after our fight, so that tells me I was pretty close to securing a good ranking in the 205-pound division. Now I’m being brought back against the guy who is ranked 12th and I think there are two ways to look at it. Either they are trying to feed me to him like a minnow to a shark or they think I deserve this fight. Either way I’m excited.
“This isn’t a game to me. I may be young and I may be new, but I’m here to send a message to everyone that I’m here to do business.”