As Eryk Anders makes the move from Fight Ready to The MMA Lab in preparation for his UFC 289 bout against Marc-Andre Barriault, it may be time to call the well-traveled middleweight a ronin when it comes to his mixed martial arts career, one that isn’t about the destination, but the journey.
Along the way, there’s no drama, no hard feelings, no nasty barbs traded in social media outlets; it’s just a quest for knowledge that won’t ever end.
“I spent a lot of time traveling,” said Anders. “I went to Marquez MMA up in Philly, I trained a lot at Fusion X-Cel in Orlando. You enhance your skills by training with other people, seeing the different techniques and skillsets and things like that. And you take it, and you apply it. Phil Rowe, for example, is a good training partner, but I can't fight like Phil Rowe. I'm not built like him and I don't have the same skillset, but I can be exposed to some of the things that he does, and when I train to fight an opponent like Phil Rowe, I can fall back on that. Or maybe I learned something from Joe Pyfer or Andre Petroski up there in Philly or I like a technique that John Marquez showed me and I can apply it to my game. I don't think that one coach knows everything. So I think it's up to me, the fighter, to go travel, learn, experience and see what sticks.”
And as far as his training home, Anders is a little over ten miles from his old gym at the MMA Lab run by veteran coach John Crouch. There are still UFC-level training partners, world-class coaching, and “Ya Boi” fit right in with his new crew as he heads into the twilight of his career.
“I’ve got five fights left and I'm going to retire,” Anders said. “So what do I have to do to win these last five fights? I've been around the game a while, so I'm not saying everybody knows me, but I know a lot of people. So it was easy to make those connections and bridge those gaps when it comes to the best possible combination of coaching, training partners and things like that. I wanted to go to a gym where this is all they do – fight and train. John Crouch does nothing else but coach.”
True, but what about this “five fights and out” thing? Win five straight fights in the wide-open middleweight division and that might mean a title shot. The 36-year-old Anders is well aware of that possibility, and of how planned retirements usually go in combat sports, but he’s sticking to his guns.
“That used to be the dream, but, at this point, I'm 36,” he said. “Yeah, I'd like to win those five fights, but I don't care about that belt no more; I don't care about that number next to my name anymore. I'm just trying to cash out and then move on to the next adventure, whatever it is.”
It’s a bold, but smart, move, especially given Anders’ reasoning. It’s not that he doesn’t think he can compete at this level past those five fights, but he’s got a family that he doesn’t want to miss anymore time with as he travels for training camps.
“My kids are getting older, so they’re more important to me than any of this stuff,” the father of two boys said. “At the moment right now, I'm trying to get my money, build my legacy and try to set them up. But if I keep fighting, they're going to mess around and graduate high school and I’ll miss their life.”
And having been around high-level athletes for most of his life, not just in the fight game but when he was a member of the University of Alabama’s football team, he knows just how hard it is to walk away. That knowledge is making his decision easier.
“I just think the problem with athletes is that they never have an end time,” Anders said. “They fight and fight and fight. Look at Roy Jones Jr., for example. He probably would have been considered as the best boxer of all-time, but the guy's 50-something years old and still fighting. I don't want to say his record is tarnished, because I’m not trying to disrespect the guy; he is doing what he loved and it is what it is, but if he had retired 10 years ago, people would see and talk about Roy Jones Jr. in a different light.”
Anders wants to go out on his own terms. That means getting these five fights in, making it a nice and tidy 20 in the UFC, and then walking away.
You know what?
I think if there’s one fighter who can stick to that plan, it’s him.
UFC 289: Nunes vs Aldana took place live from the Rogers Arena in Vancouver, Canada on June 10, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!