“A level change is your first line of defense!”
If you ever spend any time in Spartan Fitness, a Mixed Martial Arts gym located in a shopping center in Homewood, AL, you’d hear gym owner Chris Conolley consistently preaching this to his pupils. On this particular summer day, Eryk Anders (10-1, 7 stoppages) is one of the pupils present. The time is 10:30 a.m. He’s been in the gym since about 6:30 a.m. Him and his workout partner execute the previously mentioned “level change” in one on one drills. For Anders, the word “change” is something he’s pretty much lived his entire life. After being born on an American Air Force base in the Philippines, he would then move to Texas during his sophomore year in highschool to play football. After receiving no Division 1 offers to play, he planned to walk on at Ole Miss under then head coach Ed Orgeron. However, when his high school coach gave then Alabama offensive line coach Bob Connelly a copy of his game film, Anders was able to secure a late scholarship to play for the Tide. After struggling in his first two seasons, he came on strong in his last two, especially the final year. Anders would close out his college career leading his team in tackles in the final game and delivering a sack-fumble on Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert to secure the 13th national title for the University of Alabama. For Anders, the logical next step was the NFL. But after failing to be drafted, he signed a free agent contract with the Cleveland Browns but was cut during minicamp. He also played for the CFL (Canadian Football League) and Arena Football League, but neither panned out. Although he didn’t make it to the NFL, Anders said he could sleep fine at night, knowing he gave it his all.
At this point, Anders was simply trying to support his young son, let alone play professional sports. Taking care of his son was something Anders was prepared to do by any means necessary, even it meant putting his pride in the back seat. “Taking care of a child is a 24-hour responsibility. He didn’t ask to be here,” Anders said, during our face to face sidewalk sit down interview. “Everyday I wake up, the first thing on my mind is how am I going to provide for this little boy.” And provide he did, while working as a janitor for LabCorp. Other jobs Anders assumed included working for The U.S. Army, Coca Cola, and a car auction company to name a few. Around the same time, he begin training at Spartan Fitness to blow off steam and stay in shape. His first day in he was asked could he fight. With him being the “alpha male” he is, Anders said he couldn’t turn down the invitation, even if he didn’t have any formal training whatsoever. “I told the guy yeah I can fight,” he remembers. “I use to fight with my brothers all the time growing up so this shouldn’t be much different.” When I asked him what he remembers the most about his first time in the ring, he simply replied, “I got hit. A lot.” However, Anders wasn’t deterred. He would stick with it and shortly after begin fighting as an MMA amateur.
Shortly after, he would meet his future and current wife, Yasmin, after one of his fights on the local circuit. Anders says they clicked immediately and she’s been by his side ever since. After his second professional fight, Yasmin would give him a, at the time, very scary ultimatum. She told him that she saw how dedicated he is, waking up at 4:30 a.m. to train, and again after working a 10-hour shift. She asked him why not put everything you’ve got into fighting for the next two years? If it doesn’t work out, you can always go back to working a regular job. Anders admits he was hesitant at first, citing his child as the main reason why. “It was a very risky move,” he recalled. “If it doesn’t work out, I can’t just be homeless on the street living in my car. I still have to provide for my son.” With Yasmin giving him the self described “kick off the ledge,” Anders was quickly climbing the ranks and eventually found himself in the UFC.
His trainer, a black belt mixed martial artist among other things, Chris Connelly has seen Anders transform from a basic, unskilled gym rat to the talented contender he is today. Anders’ athleticism was eye-opening for Connelly. “When he first got here he was just an athlete, Connelly recalls. “No skills but a really good athlete. I remember thinking man that guy’s an outstanding athlete, but not a very good fighter. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. Eryk was a unique case. Although he wasn’t a good fighter, his fight IQ was off the charts. And that strength helped him a lot. His attitude also helped guide him as much as his physical gifts. I’ve had tons of guys come through here and say they want to train, but they don’t really want to train. They don’t want to work on jiu jitsu, or any other stuff that makes them uncomfortable. They want to do it their way, and in here that doesn’t work. Eryk loves working on different things, things that he’s not good at. And that’s what makes him so enjoyable to work with. I don’t have to worry about him. He’s not gonna be doing things he shouldn’t be or hanging with people he shouldn’t be with. He’s always on time for workouts, no matter if it’s 5 a.m. in the morning or 9 p.m. or night, he’ll be on time. He’s a 52 week fighter. This is his life.” Connelly also spoke on how he was impressed by Anders' ability to teach.
“When he first got here, (Spartan Fitness) we just provided him an opportunity to make a living through coaching and training, which he was outstanding at. When you can disseminate the information to someone and make them better, well that’s takes a real level of understanding. Eryk never wants to stop learning.” When asked how far he sees Eryk going in the sport, Connelly was quick to not only say world champion, but also that Anders would have a long reign. His reasoning? All the accomplishments Anders already has under his belt. “You have to remember, he’s on the come up and has only been training properly for a few years, and look at what he’s already done; He’s a world champion in Jiu Jitsu, he’s won boxing tournaments, and he’s a real martial artist. He trains in Jiu Jitsu, he wrestles with better wrestlers and isn’t afraid to go in there and get worked. All these things make up his experience. Most of the guys in MMA have been training in the arts since they were a kid. He hasn’t and he’s already three fights into his UFC career with so much more to accomplish.”
Anders will continue his journey when he faces Tim Williams at UFC Fight Night 135 on August 25 in Lincoln, Nebraska. He is embarking on a road that many ex-football players have traveled. Some with disastrous results, some with better.
Eryk Anders is prepared for whatever “change” may come. I mean, look how well his plan B is working out.