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Meet the former Alabama football player turned MMA fighter

In Alabama, where sports conversations don’t often deviate from the topic of college football, UFC middleweight and former University of Alabama linebacker Eryk “Ya Boi” Anders has blazed a unique path. By making a name for himself in the internationally popular sport of mixed martial arts, he has established himself as a beacon of true versatility and perseverance for Iron City sports fans.

(Eryk Anders MMA/Facebook)

Anders played linebacker for the University of Alabama during their 2009 National Championship win, leading the defensive charge with 7 tackles and an impressive forced fumble late on Texas’s Garrett Gilbert late in the 4th quarter, sealing the game and marking the beginning of Nick Saban’s reign of terror as the program’s most accomplished head coach.

Anders did not decide to play professional football after his college career. Transitioning from football to MMA was certainly no easy task for Anders, but now he has been competing at the very highest level of the sport for many years. His 16-fight and counting tenure in the UFC’s 185-pound division has been a spectacle to behold.

“I went from being a black belt in football to a white belt in fighting,” Eryk Anders shared with WBRC.

Anders has some seriously impressive performances on his record. Training out of Birmingham’s own Spartan Fitness MMA, he has cemented himself as the face of Birmingham’s mixed martial arts scene. Before he entered the Ultimate Fighting Championship, he secured a unanimous decision victory against Canadian contender Brendan Allen in the Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA), who is currently ranked #6 in the UFC’s middleweight rankings.

In his 2017 UFC debut against Brazil’s Rafael Natal, he won by brutal knockout after a blistering stand-up dogfight, even sending his opponent flying into the cage at one point. His first loss came at the hands of former Light Heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida by a hard-fought split decision. His resume speaks for itself—Anders has traded blows with the absolute best of the best.

Anders, in addition to his excellent fundamental boxing and ground game, is known for his unbreakable will in the Octagon even when the odds are against him. His fighting spirit was put on display in another tough loss against the aggressive Muay Thai technician Khalil Rountree Jr., who throughout their 3-round bout, managed to knock the iron-chinned “Ya Boi” down multiple times.

(Eryk Anders MMA/Facebook)

He may not have prevailed with the victory that evening. Still, in a situation where most other fighters would have considered throwing in the towel, Anders gave it his all to the very last bell—not allowing himself to be finished. Only in a place called the Iron City could an unbreakable will be forged such as Anders’s. He has only ever been knocked out one single time in the UFC—a shockingly impressive statistic for fighters who have 16 fights and counting in the promotion.

His traversal through the gridiron and into the Octagon is an inspiration to all Birmingham sports fans and has also played a role in many Alabama football fans becoming fans of the sport. He trains at Spartan Fitness MMA, an accomplished gym in the Homewood suburb of Birmingham.

The gym itself has a great reputation. Walt “The Big Ticket” Harris, the well-loved Homewood native who was ranked #14 at one point in the 265-pound heavyweight division, also trains out of Spartan Fitness. Harris’s best win is another jaw-dropping knockout against Russian contender Serghei Spivac—one of the division’s finest grapplers.

Ander’s unique sports journey is an inspiring one, and his role in putting Birmingham mixed martial arts on the map has been nothing short of instrumental.

Courtesy of SoulGrown Alabama.

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