In his two years as a UFC fighter, Eryk Anders has developed a good feel for the business. He knows what it takes to impress the boss and what not to do if you plan on keeping your spot on the roster.
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As a multi-sport athlete, Anders knows that at the heart of all sports — not just MMA — is entertainment. For that reason, the release of ranked middleweight Elias Theodorou didn’t come as a surprise to him.
Anders spoke with John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock about Theodorou’s release as well as Walt Harris’ USADA suspension, yet another controversial topic surrounding the UFC.
Eryk Anders on the business of MMA
“It’s a business,” Anders said of the UFC. “How do you make a business work? You put butts in seats.”
The way Anders sees the situation, Theodorou wasn’t moving the needle for the UFC, which played into his release after one loss that broke a three-fight winning streak.
Theodorou hails from Canada, a market the UFC has attempted to maintain and grow ever since losing stars Georges St-Pierre to retirement and Rory MacDonald to Bellator. Unfortunately for Theodorou, being from the Great White North — even training at Tristar Gym — isn’t enough for the fans to root for you.
“Even when him and I fought, they booed him in Toronto, and that’s where he’s from,” Anders said.
Anders faced off against Theodorou on the preliminary portion of UFC 231. Theodorou used his movement and “effective awkwardness,” as Paul Felder described it on the broadcast, to win rounds one and three on two judges’ scorecards. Despite a second round that saw him rock Theodorou on three separate occasions, dropping him once, Anders left Canada with his third professional loss. For Theodorou, the fight resulted in his last win in the UFC.
After competing against him in the Octagon, Anders has respect for Theodorou’s accomplishments, but he doesn’t believe they make up for his polarizing fighting style.
“My man went 8-3 in the UFC, Ultimate Fighter winner, so he’s had a pretty good career, but, you know, he’s just not entertaining,” Anders said. “I don’t think that people like the way that he fights.”
Another opponent weighs in
Anders’ opinion on the issue differs from Theodorou’s most recent opponent, Derek Brunson.
Brunson and Theodorou fought in the co-main event of UFC Ottawa. The bout, which drew criticism for being uneventful, ended in a unanimous decision win for Brunson. It was the eighth-straight fight that went the full 15 minutes for Theodorou as well as the ninth of his 11 Octagon appearances.
The 31-year-old middleweight was released by the UFC shortly after the loss. Dana White explained to TSN’s Aaron Bronsteter why he decided to cut Theodorou.
“I’m looking for people that can break into the top five or possibly become world champions,” White said before clarifying that he doesn’t believe every single fighter on the roster falls under that circumstance.
“You’ll see people stick around that are on a skid that put on unbelievably exciting fights,” White explained.
Brunson didn’t buy the idea that his fight with Theodorou was the nail in the coffin for the Canadian. Unlike Anders, he felt the release was unjustifiable.
“It wasn’t the way that he fought,” Brunson told MMAFighting. “You can’t cut a guy who’s 8-3 or whatever his record is in the UFC. He was 16-2 before he fought me and he only had two losses in the UFC and he won The Ultimate Fighter also. The guy, he’s a good competitor.”
“I think it was other stuff. I know it wasn’t just that fight. Guys have boring fights and do boring stuff all the time but it had to be some underlying issue with the UFC I’m guessing.”
Brunson didn’t provide any specifics in his claim. Theodorou is an outspoken advocate for in-competition medical marijuana use, which pitted him against USADA at times, but neither he nor the UFC have indicated that played into his release.
Both Anders and Brunson do seem to agree that their former opponent will land on his feet. Theodorou told MMAJunkie that he is fielding offers from multiple different organizations and will announce his next step soon.
“I think he’ll be successful elsewhere wherever he ends up,” Anders said.
Eryk Anders on Walt Harris’ USADA situation
Another hot-button issue in MMA is USADA’s decision to suspend UFC heavyweight Walt Harris.
Harris ingested a banned substance when taking a new supplement, causing his B sample to come up positive in a test with VADA. He worked with USADA in an attempt to clear his name but was ultimately handed a four-month suspension despite USADA concluding he ingested the substance unintentionally.
Anders and Harris are friends, so when the news broke about the failed test and subsequent suspension, it came as a surprise to Anders.
“I know Walt personally, and I know he’s not a cheater,” Anders said. “He wouldn’t do that intentionally.”
Harris told The Body Lock the whole debacle cost him “thousands” in fines and other payments to VADA, which led him toward pursuing legal action against the supplement company.
“When you see guys like him and [Yoel] Romero actually taking legal action, it makes it hard to believe that they did it intentionally,” Anders said. “You see guys who just take their sentence and lay down and it’s like, ‘mm, I don’t know,’ because if I got popped for something I didn’t do intentionally, then I’mma explore every avenue to clear my name.”
Romero recently won $27.45 million in a lawsuit against Gold Star Performance Products after one of the company’s supplements was deemed to have caused Romero to fail a 2016 USADA test.
After seeing that figure, Anders hopes Harris will find similar success in his own case, jokingly saying, “If he makes that Romero money, then I think him and I are both going to retire.”
Shane Connelly is a journalism student at Penn State with a passion for sharing the stories of MMA fighters.