When it comes to fighters that deliver the most excitement in the octagon, Justin Gaethje would be on almost everyone’s lists, but one person who does not share that opinion is middleweight Eryk Anders.
Anders, who will be fighting on the UFC Fight Night card in Lincoln, Neb., on Aug. 25, an event headlined by Gaethje facing fellow lightweight James Vick, said he’s not a fan of Gaethje’s reckless style.
“I don’t think it’s very smart, I don’t even think it’s very entertaining. I could go to a bar down the street and watch people do that, just stand in the middle and throw punches as hard as they can,” Anders told The TSN MMA Show in reference to Gaethje, who has averaged 140 strikes absorbed in his three fights. “He doesn’t mix it up very much. He’s a Division I or Division II wrestler, so he’s got the grappling skill set, but for whatever reason he's just choosing to stand and bang, which is cool if that’s what you want to do, but it just doesn’t seem too intelligent to me.”
Despite being ranked seventh in a stacked lightweight division, Gaethje is 1-2 in the UFC after losing his previous two fights to top-5 ranked Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier. Gaethje is known for his penchant for pressing forward and absorbing strikes in order to land strikes, including his leg kicks, which are among the most vicious in the sport.
One thing that Anders knows is that Gaethje’s fights likely won’t go the distance and that could be what draws fans to his fighting style.
"Someone’s getting knocked out; you know that when he fights, whether it’s him or the other guy, so I guess that makes it exciting,” said Anders. “But, up until that point, you saw what Dustin Poirier did to him, pieced him up … Eddie Alvarez, those are some of the better guys in the division, but you kind of figured that he would run into that being a one-trick pony.”
Anders, who had stints in the NFL, CFL and Arena Football League prior to committing to mixed martial arts full time, said he would embrace having an opponent like Gaethje in the future if there was such a fighter in the middleweight division.
“Styles don’t matter to me. If someone does choose to fight like that, it’s better for me – high risk, high reward,” said Anders in response to facing a fighter like Gaethje.
Anders is still very early in his professional fighting career. Boasting a 10-1 record, which includes six first-round finishes, Anders looks to continue that success when he faces Tim Williams on Aug. 25.
Both Anders and Williams are coming off of losses. Anders suffered the first setback of his professional career in February when he was handed a split decision loss in his fight against former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida in Brazil. It was a fight that many felt he should have won. Williams lost for the first time in nearly three years when he was knocked out by Oskar Piechota in his UFC debut in February on a different card that took place in Austin, Texas.
Following the loss, Anders’ UFC record is now 2-1 and despite his penchant for early finishes, he knows that fighting at the highest level is a different animal.
“This is the highest level of competition, so these guys are tough. Machida was really savvy, he knew how to move, he knew what he was doing, he knew how the judges would score the fight,” said Anders. “I really didn’t think that the leg kicks should have counted towards him winning, I definitely did more damage. Markus Perez, he had a head full of rocks, some of these guys you're not going to be able to finish, but it’s not for a lack of effort.”
Before he made it his career, Anders had some experience when it came to fighting in football locker rooms.
"If someone says your name in the locker room, you’ve got to get up. You can’t get punked out there in the locker room – that’s the last place where you want to show weakness. I think the locker room is the most hostile environment there is on earth, so you’ve got to get up and you’ve got to make it happen,” Anders said, laughing. “Probably after the first two or three, I boomed some linemen, some defensive linemen, some offensive linemen.
“I lifted them off their feet and those guys don’t want that no more.”