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May 22, 2012

Anders making his mark in MMA

TUSCALOOSA | For about as long as Eryk Anders was at the University of Alabama, putting on weight a difficult goal.

The smallest player in five-plus years to start at coach Nick Saban's "Jack" linebacker position at about 230 pounds, Anders has now found it far easier to go in the opposite direction.

In a completely different sport.

Anders embarked upon a fighting career as a mixed martial arts competitor earlier this year, and has quickly amassed a 5-1 record and something of a reputation as an MMA up-and-comer. Now at just 205 pounds, Anders won the International Sport Karate Association's Tennessee state title in the light-heavyweight class (186-205 pounds) on May 12 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Anders scored a technical knockout of Taylor Yeager for the title.

"He tried to take me down and I defended the takedown, he tried to arm-bar me and I got out of that, then I got behind him and started to choke him out," Anders said. "We rolled around a little and the ref called it because he wasn't defending himself."

Anders said former UA teammate Ali Sharrief was in attendance for the bout.

Although Anders has dealt his share of punishment in his brief MMA career, he has absorbed some as well.

"I've only been hit for real in one of my fights, and that was the one I lost," he said. "I got kneed in the face in that one. The dude landed a couple of other shots, but that's the sport."

After getting as big as he possibly could in hopes of a professional football career two years ago, Anders has dropped roughly 45 pounds in his latest endeavor.

"When I was training to get into the NFL, I got up to about 250 - that's the most I've ever weighed. I was eating a lot of fast food and bad junk like that," Anders said. "I had to totally change by diet. I had to start eating a lot of salads, chicken, rice, stuff like that. And the training sessions are so intense, they usually last two or three hours a night. At that high intensity, the weight just comes off. You can't help but cut weight."

Anders trains at Champions Freestyle MMA in Birmingham under coach and manager Jon Dye. He also trains in jujitsu under Suzanne Ramsden in Huntsville.

Anders has a background as a wrestler in high school, something Dye said helps him in the ring.

"Wrestlers learn to have heavy hips. They know when you take someone down, you've got to sink your hips down toward the mat," Dye said. "It makes it hard for the guy to get up. It's hard for a guy who's never wrestled to deal with a wrestler."

Anders said he plans to remain an amateur for the time being, continuing to train and avoid the pro ranks until he thinks he is ready. Dye believes Anders needs more amateur seasoning as well but sees high potential in his pupil and has found it more difficult to arrange fights for Anders as his reputation has begun to grow.

"In MMA, when a guy kicks and misses, a lot of times he'll do a full circle and turn around," Dye said. "In one of Eryk's first fights, this guy went to kick Eryk, missed and when he spun to come back around and reset his position. Eryk just bull-rushed him before the guy could even turn back around. Eryk was just all over him, and that's something I've never seen anybody do. I've been coaching MMA for a few years, and I've never seen anyone do that."

Reach Chase Goodbread at chase@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0196.

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