To hear Eryk Anders tell it, the upcoming UFC headliner’s path to the UFC sounds anything other than straight forward and simple. Eventually a standout linebacker for the University of Alabama, in a recent profile Bleacher Report, Anders reveals that he almost quit football, and maybe school altogether.
Eventually, and despite getting very little time on field in his first two seasons of college ball, Anders stayed with the team. By his senior year he had positioned himself as a standout player in the SEC, with 14 tackles for a loss and 6 sacks, including a late game forced fumble on Garret GIlbert in the 2010 BCS championship game, to help secure an Alabama national title.
However, despite a strong senior season, some reasonable Pro Day numbers, and his standout play in Rose Bowl performance, Anders went un-drafted that year. He ended up briefly on practice squads for the Cleveland Browns and the New York Giants, but a lack of size for a pass rushing specialist seems to have been a consistent concern of the 6’ 2”, 225 lb player.
An invitation to train from fellow Alabamian (and current UFC heavyweight) Walt Harris planted the seed for MMA in his mind. But, even that took time to grow, as Anders bounced between working his way into a desk job and playing football in Canada and the Arena League.
“Just sitting at a desk was hard,” Anders tells Bleacher Report. “I had already found this passion and had been training for two years. That’s when I started having these thoughts like, ‘Is this really it for my life?’ I’ve never been so tired as I was when I sat at a desk all day. Sitting there doing nothing and I was exhausted.”
It’s a classic story in the annuls of mixed martial arts, more often told by collegiate wrestlers than former football players. But, the narrative is the same: lifelong athletes who just can’t picture a future without sports. And while the transition from the gridiron may be a less natural one than going from the mats to the cage, Anders credits the coach-ability that football instilled in him for his success.
“The most important thing football taught me was how to be coachable,” he says. “Learning how to be coached is a big thing. Instead of just thinking that I know it all. Being at Alabama, I learned how to study film and breakdown my opponent, learned how to be coachable.
”It’s been a big help in my career. Because I go other places to train, and I kind of see the athlete being stubborn and not really listening to what the coach is saying. Then when it comes fight time, he goes out and loses because he didn’t do what the coaches said or stick to the game plan.”
And it’s also given him the ability to handle pressure. Something he expects to show fans and his opponent, when he enters the Octagon in Belem, Brazil. “I thrive under that pressure,” Anders says. “That’s proven. And I’m happy to prove it again to Machida and to Brazil.”
UFC Fight Night: Machida vs. Anders takes place this Saturday, February 3rd in Belem, Brazil. Anders will look to take advantage of a rare opportunity to headline a UFC event against a former champion, in just his 3rd bout for the organization. A win here could fast track the 30-year-old up the division and make him a long-term main card attraction for the promotion going forward. A loss, however, likely means he’ll be back in the trenches, making the slow climb toward the next big chance, along with the rest of the pack.
For a more complete look at Anders’ life, coaching, and career, check out the full profile over at Bleacher Report.