When a fight camp stretches in length the way Megan Anderson’s has ahead of her featherweight title bid against Amanda Nunes, managing one’s work rate over that span of time is key. Moreover, finding pockets of time to relax and take your mind off a fight months away is also important, and for Anderson, that often meant two things: Naruto and Chinese food.
“I watched so much Naruto that I just craved ramen (laughs),” Anderson told UFC.com. “So, I would get Chinese food because that was the closest thing I could DoorDash, so I would eat so much Chinese food on the weekend.”
Anderson isn’t the first fighter to mention their love for the iconic anime series, nor will she be the last, and while the combat-centric portions of the series are the easiest connections to observe when it comes to a mixed martial artist, the Australian really connected more with the other aspects of Naruto. She admitted to one character’s demise unexpectedly moving her to tears, and she appreciates the fleshed-out philosophies of the show.
“I see a lot of myself in so many characters,” Anderson said. “That’s what I love about anime is that people think it’s for kids, but it has so much more meaning. It has a deeper meaning than people realize, and they talk about subjects that are for adults. Seeing the growth of the characters and the growth in myself over the years, it’s really surreal to see. I feel like it’s why you get invested so much in these characters. I love it.”
Megan Anderson Hopes To Put It All Together | UFC 259
Megan Anderson Hopes To Put It All Together | UFC 259
When it comes to Anderson’s growth and development in the Octagon, that’s relatively plain to see as well. She was originally booked to make her UFC debut at UFC 214 against Cris Cyborg for the vacant featherweight title, but that fight never happened. A bumpy road followed, including losing two of her first three fights. Her fourth fight in the promotion at UFC 243 felt like it carried particularly high stakes, and her first-round submission earned what appeared to be a cathartic win, according to her Glory MMA coach, James Krause.
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“The win in Melbourne, for her, was a huge mental hurdle that she overcame because it was her first – in her head – her first real win,” Krause said. “With the Cat fight, she won, but there was a lot of controversy. I didn’t see it being much controversy, but in her head, I could tell, she didn’t really accept that as a win. She wouldn’t accept that one as a win, which is fine. The fight in Melbourne, she finally overcame that.
"She got a legitimate, in her head, a legitimate win, and that’s what she needed to be like, ‘OK, I belong here now.’ Obviously, we’ve seen when she fought Norma (Dumont), big difference in her confidence. She just looked like a different fighter, so I definitely think that fight was a huge mental hurdle for her that she overcame and she passed with flying colors.”
The win over Dumont came more than a year ago in Norfolk, when Anderson landed an emphatic right hand on the Brazilian, dropping her and ending the bout about halfway through the round. She almost immediately pointed straight to Krause Octagonside for what she described afterwards as “a moment” between the two.
That win set her up for a title shot once Nunes dominated Felicia Spencer at UFC 250. First booked for December, the bout was pushed back to March, where it will occupy the co-main slot at UFC 259. In total, the camp lasted about seven months – a long wait extended even longer for Anderson’s shot at gold, and a test of all the changes she and her team have made in the last couple years.
“We did a really good job of balancing,” Anderson said. “One of the risks of having such a long camp is you run the risk of burning out and not peaking when you need to, so if I was feeling a little bit worn down, I would take a couple days off, or I would take a week off. My problem is I struggle to eat enough, so James would be like, ‘Go eat,’ or just, ‘Go take a day,’ or, ‘Go have a rest,’ or, ‘Just drill. Don’t go live.’ We had to manage that a lot better so we didn’t burn out, and we were able to perform when we needed to.”
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That time in Kansas City, where Anderson has made her home for more than a half-decade, has helped establish the kind of connections that allow unspoken understanding and frank conversation between athlete and coach.
“Obviously, the more you work with somebody, the easier it is to talk to them, learn what makes them tick and stuff like that,” Krause said. “She’s been at the gym for quite a while, so I know her pretty well. She’s definitely a person that doesn’t like to say she’s not feeling good or whatever, but it’s also easy to tell whenever something is a little off. I think just keeping her focused within a long period of time is the most important thing that we’ve had to deal with so far.”
Fighting a woman who is considered the consensus greatest women’s mixed martial artist of all-time and one of the best to do it bar-none can come with a certain amount of pressure and a particularly bright spotlight. For Anderson, she hasn’t really felt fazed by the extra attention, citing that her fight weeks are often pretty busy regardless.
"I legitimately started crying."@MeganA_MMA talks about her reaction to Alexander Volkanovski, Dan Hooker and Robert Whittaker supporting her 🔊⬆️— UFC News (@UFCNews) March 4, 2021
Order #UFC259 here ➡️: https://t.co/00tQd8jJoX pic.twitter.com/aYDIfY0i1l
In general, it’s rare to see Anderson’s stoic demeanor crack when it comes to fighting. From faceoffs to the walk to the fight, she often appears incredibly composed, which made her emotional reaction to her win in Melbourne all the more notable. Ahead of the biggest fight of her career, though, it seems like it’s business as usual.
“I haven’t seen any signs that the pressure has really got to her at all,” Krause said. “She puts a lot of pressure on herself anyway, so I have not seen any bit of difference, and there shouldn’t be any difference. It’s for a title. It’s a big fight, but that doesn’t mean that you have to change anything. You gotta do what got you to that point. I think if you do anything outside of that, you risk messing everything up, so I don’t see any difference at all. I think she looks great. She’s mentally tough right now. She’s as strong as she’s ever been, fast. She looks good.”
The build-up to the fight hasn’t been void of emotional moments, of course. There was the aforementioned Naruto-induced heartbreak, and recently, a video of fellow Anzac fighters Robert Whittaker, Alexander Volkanovski and Dan Hooker sharing their support moved her to tears once again.
“I legitimately started crying,” Anderson said. “I was not ready for it. I did not know that they were doing that. Particularly, Alex, I fought on the same card as Alex back in Australia. I’ve been following all of their careers for almost 10 years now. I’m a huge fan of Rob’s. I’ve met him a couple times at fight weeks, and he’s always been so nice and genuine and supportive. I’m a huge fan of Dan. I think our styles are very similar, and I love watching him fight. I was not ready for it.”
The fight represents a historic moment, as Anderson will become the first Australian woman to compete for UFC gold. If she can pull off the upset, she’ll become the first woman to defeat Nunes in a title bout, and depending what happens in the preceding bantamweight title between Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling, she could become the first title challenger to defeat a UFC champion in more than a year.
Who's chopping onions 🥺— Megan Anderson (@MeganA_mma) March 1, 2021
Words cannot express how much it means to have these legends' support. I've been following their careers and been a huge fan of each of them for almost 10 years. Thank you @alexvolkanovski @danthehangman @robwhittakermma 💛 https://t.co/NcHyNUnqWn
All of that hasn’t really crept into Anderson’s mind, though. She’s focused on making good on a long training camp and performing in the Octagon. The “X-factor” in her mind comes via her stature. At 6-feet tall and with a 72.5-inch reach, she feels that her size presents unique challenges that Spencer and Cyborg couldn’t bring to the table in Nunes’ previous featherweight title fights. Other than that, though, she’s calm as you’d like before the biggest moment of her career.
“I don’t really think about it, to be honest,” Anderson said. “I just see it as another fight. There’s just gold on the line this time.”