Before Justin Gaethje closed out UFC Lincoln with his own impressive knockout, it was Eryk Anders who had the Pinnacle Bank Arena buzzing.
The 31-year-old middleweight opened Saturday’s main card with a bang, crushing Tim Williams with a head kick in the closing moments of the third round that may as well have sent the judges’ scorecards to the shredder.
It wasn’t just the impact that was impressive, it was the timing. Anders threw the fight-ending strike just as Williams was getting up off his back, a move that may have seemed risky at first glance given the often confusing rules surrounding the kicking of grounded opponents. But the move was completely legal, especially in Nebraska where the Unified Rules were in use.
Williams had only one hand hovering near the mat, which meant he was a legal target and, as it turns out, a sitting duck. Proving that preparation is the key to a good performance, Anders had already gone over this exact scenario with referee Blake Grice prior to his fight.
“If I tricked him into it, this is chess, not checkers. That’s like saying something good about me in my opinion, like if you trick somebody into running into your power hand,” Anders told MMA Fighting when asked if he thought anyone might perceive his technique as being underhanded in any way. “I asked Blake Grice before the fight, he comes back there and gives you the particulars, how he’s going to call the fight, he goes back there and tells you if you’re doing this I’ll give you this little warning, he goes over little stuff like that.
“And at the end he asks, ‘Do you have any questions for me?’ So I asked him about the three-point rule and he told me that if one hand is on the ground — and he went through the motions and showed me what a grounded opponent was in the state of Nebraska.”
It was early in the bout that Anders noticed Williams not adequately defending himself when getting back to his feet. On a few occasions, he kicked out at Anders first to keep him at bay, but later he left an opening that Anders didn’t miss.
“That last time he did it right underneath me, so all I had to do was step in,” said Anders. “He had his arm out, but I just kind of kicked underneath his arm. It wasn’t too hard to get to his face.”
One critique that Anders had for himself was that he felt “slow” and “lethargic” in the opening round, which had to be cause for concern given that a lack of activity may be what caused him to take his first pro loss when he dropped a narrow split decision to Lyoto Machida in August. A sizeable middleweight, Anders doesn’t put any of the blame on his cut to 185, and though he’d be open to a 195-pound division, he doesn’t believe it will solve any major issues because bigger fighters will still try to cut weight to get an advantage on fight night.
Up next for him is a potential fight with Elias Theodorou, who Anders called out immediately after defeating Williams. The Canadian has won four of his last five bouts, but is currently scheduled to fight Antonio Carlos Junior at UFC Sao Paulo in September.
Regardless of the name sent his way, Anders is hoping to compete on a pay-per-view event again before the year is through and whether it’s in New York or Las Vegas, two cities he’s previously stated having interest in, or in Theodorou’s hometown of Toronto for UFC 231, he’s looking to continue his climb to the top that was momentarily halted by Machida.
For now, he has to deal with a 30-day medical suspension, though the break will give him time to spend the extra $50,000 he earned Saturday from his first UFC performance bonus. He’s planning to put the money to good use when he travels to Barcelona with his family next month.
And that’s just one of the reasons why he puts his win over Williams at the top of his MMA career highlights.
“It’s definitely No. 1,” Anders said. “First walk-off, got a bonus, national TV. Hard to beat that.”