Over the past year of his career, Eryk Anders has found himself in the middle of the gap between middleweight and light heavyweight in the UFC. After a bit of experimenting, the 32-year-old fighter believes he’s found a home at 185 pounds.
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The 20-pound difference between the two divisions leaves many fighters in a similar situation as Anders. They can compete at 185 with a tough cut, or they can feel healthy at 205, but lose some of the advantages they possessed in the lower weight class.
“I don’t see too much of a speed difference between the middleweights and the light heavyweights and [the light heavyweights are] way bigger,” Anders told John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock. “So if I’m going to be at like a speed disadvantage anyways, you know, I’d rather be the bigger guy, stronger guy.”
Anders first tested the waters at 205 in September of 2018. He stepped up on short notice to face Thiago Santos at UFC Sao Paulo and was forced to retire on the stool after the third round.
Anders returned to middleweight for his next bout just over two months later. He dropped a split decision to Elias Theodorou.
Following the loss, Anders went back up, where he had two vastly different performances.
He ate leg kick after leg kick in his bout with Khalil Rountree that rendered him unable to hold himself up as the fight went on. Anders would lose the bout in a lopsided unanimous decision.
His return was triumphant, though. Anders knocked out Vinicius Moreira in the first round of their bout in May.
Despite the positive result in his most recent bout, Anders still believes middleweight is the best spot for his future as a fighter.
“I hit these guys at middleweight and, you know, they either to go to the ground or go flying across the cage,” Anders said. “[Light heavyweights] can just take more punishment. I think they’re more durable at 205. So, you know, it just plays better for me.”
Eryk Anders vs. Gerald Meerschaert
Now back at middleweight, Anders will face Gerald Meerschaert in a main-card bout at UFC Tampa.
Meerschaert most recently snapped a two-fight losing streak with a third-round guillotine win over Trevin Giles in August.
“The thing about Gerald is, man, he’s really good at taking advantage of his opportunities,” Anders said. “Trevin, you know, kept engaging in the grappling and the wrestling and the scrambles with him and came up at the end and that’s kind of a Meerschaert’s M.O. You know, he kind of likes it. He likes the chokes and he gets them from everywhere.”
The fight was Meerschaert’s eighth in the UFC and 41st overall as a professional. The ever-evolving Anders looks forward to measuring his skills against a veteran.
“He’s certainly battle-tested,” Anders said. “[He’s] been in there with some real killers. I think every fight in the UFC is a test to see where you’re at and whatnot. So, I think this will be a good fight.”
This is the second-straight grappler that Anders will face, but he’s not expecting the fight to go the exact same way as his win over Moreira did.
“I don’t think Gerald will be desperate,” Anders said. “I think he’s definitely more confident on the feet. But at some point he’ll be looking to close the distance, get attached and try and get it to the ground or, you know, just get attached, man. He finds chokes from anywhere. So I think that that’ll be his game plan to submit me.”
Diversifying his training
Anders hasn’t limited his resources in training, a recurring theme in his preparation for fights.
He made numerous stops on the way to Tampa, including a trip to Fortis MMA. There, he trained with the likes of Uriah Hall, Geoff Neal, Ryan Spann, and Kennedy Nzechukwu.
Anders also made the trip to Las Vegas to put rounds in with fellow middleweight Brad Tavares at Xtreme Couture MMA.
“I’ve been all over the place,” Anders said. “I really didn’t take too much damage in my last fight, so, you know, training as usual, just getting ready. And as soon as that contract is signed, we just up the intensity and I take it to a new level.”
And while all of the fresh faces and new looks earned from traveling are great, Anders just can’t help but prefer training back at home in Birmingham, Alabama.
“It’s good experience and I think that’s kind of the thing about martial arts, man,” Anders said. “You can travel, pick up and absorb from other people, other places and bring it back and, you know, kind of adapt it to your own game.”
Anders may be an eight-fight UFC veteran, but he still treats his training like a fighter on the regional circuit, staying ready at all times and working on rounding out the skills.
“Just working on me, continuing to evolve, get better, faster, stronger, you know, being a more complete athlete,” Anders said. “You have to be forever evolving in the sport, just because that’s what the sport is doing. You can’t get left behind. So, you know, I work on everything all the time.”
If all goes well for Anders against Meerschaert, he’ll get right back into that same routine, and he just might try to get one more bout in before 2019 comes to a close.
“If I’m healthy, I’ll jump back in,” Anders said. I like fighting four times a year. This will be three. So maybe another one in December will be something I can do.”
Shane Connelly is a journalism student at Penn State with a passion for sharing the stories of MMA fighters.