Of all the former Nick Saban-era Alabama football players who have entered the “real world” after college, Eryk Anders’ world is probably more real than any of the others.
Anders started out as an obscure Mike Shula-era signee. Here is a hat tip for solid evaluation to whichever assistant coach evaluated him, since he ranks alongside other Shula signees Wallace Gilberry and Javier Arenas among the surprising successes in recent UA history. Saban hasn’t had as many — Josh Jacobs is the notable exception — because he recruits at a different level. But Saban found a way to utilize Anders’ talents. The smallish linebacker from San Antonio, overlooked by the teams in his home state, went on to have perhaps the best game of his career against Texas in the 2009 BCS Championship Game.
He stuck around football for a time after graduation — an NFL free-agent shot, Canadian League, Arena League. But when football ended, the competitive fire still burned. So he made his well-documented move to mixed martial arts, competing as an amateur for 20 or so fights, then becoming a professional, earning a degree of fame (if not fortune) that approached some of his former teammates in the NFL.
Saturday, though, seemed like a day when Anders’ UFC career would go one way or another. He’s 32 years old — not past his prime, athletically, but not a rookie. He had lost three fights in a row, although he’d earned respect in his last two defeats. He took a late booking against Brazilian star Thiago Santos — in Brazil — and lost a decision that might have gone the other way had the fight been in Birmingham. But in his next fight, against Khalil Roundtree last April, Anders took a fierce beating. He refused to stop fighting and made it to the end of the contest, to his credit. But one had to wonder if the physical nature of his sport — of both his sports, in fact — was starting to take a toll. Speculation was only fair: if he lost again in the brutally physical way he had lost to Roundtree, would it be wise to continue?
Anders answered those questions Saturday. His opponent, Vinicius Moreira, came into the octagon and tried a frontal takedown. Anders was too powerful, blocking the move, and Moreira never got a chance to make a second mistake. When the two stepped apart, Anders landed one of his blockbuster lefts. When he hit Moreira with a second left hand a few seconds later, the fight was over although the referee apparently wanted visual evidence that Moreira’s soul had exited his body before stopping the bout after just 78 seconds.
Anders’ excitement was evident in his post-fight interview.
“This fight was huge for me,” Anders said. “I was on a little skid and it’s good to get the ship righted.”
He added that he wanted to fight on an upcoming UFC card in San Antonio next month — a short turnaround, although he took no punishment on Saturday — “and then take some time off.”
That’s probably overdue but Anders clearly isn’t ready to stop yet.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.