Eryk Anders: Passing the Torch
Early in the 2007 season, the Green Bay Packers and their devoted fan-base had no idea what life would be like after Brett Favre eventually retired. The then-37-year-old quarterback had been with the team for 15 seasons, but had minced with the prospect of retirement for several years. For the past two seasons, Favre had been a sub-par quarterback but his legacy alone had kept him firmly in the driving seat when it came to the QB role and seemingly there was nobody to challenge him for his place on the throne.
Aaron Rodgers, the heir apparent to Favre, had spent two seasons warming the bench, and rumours swirled during the 2007 offseason that the Packers were considering trading him to Oakland in exchange for Randy Moss.
Then on November 29, 2007, Rodgers got his chance to give Favre a push. In the second quarter of a matchup between the 10-1 Packers and 10-1 Cowboys that would ultimately determine which team topped the NFC, Favre injured his throwing arm, and Rodgers was thrust into the most significant playing time of his career up to that point. He led two scoring drives, threw his first career touchdown pass, and at one point, brought the Packers within a field goal of the Cowboys after he came into the game down 27-10. Though the Packers ultimately lost, 37-27, the several successful drives Rodgers led against one of the NFL’s best teams showed that he could be the new star that the Cheeseheads had envisioned. That offseason, the franchise divorced itself from Favre and moved ahead with its future quarterback. The torch had been passed.
You may have read the title to this article and you’re now wondering what on earth Rodgers and Favre have to do with Eryk Anders; Passing the torch is a key part of all sports, the longstanding veteran ultimately succumbs to the younger, fitter prospect and in such a moment the mantle is passed onto the next generation as the older man sails off into the sunset. Rodgers and Favre of course weren’t the first example of this - in my lifetime alone I’ve seen it happen when Manny Pacquiao decimated Oscar De La Hoya and most recently when Kevin Durant and the Warriors defeated Lebron James and his Cavaliers in the NBA finals.
It’s often a far more celebrated and sweeter moment when the torch passing is completed outside of a contact sport, but unfortunately we’re in the hurt business and so when the torch is passed in this game, the veteran is likely going out face down. Earlier this month I spoke with UFC Middleweight Prospect Eryk Anders as he prepares to face 30 fight vet Lyoto Machida in his native Brazil on February 3rd in Belem.
Back in December of last year, Anders dominated Markus Perez en route to a unanimous decision victory and used his post-fight mic time wisely to call out ‘The Dragon. We’re in an era now where a solid post-fight speech is almost as important as the fight itself; Whether you’re preaching about making the world a better place, implementing a new catchphrase, demonstrating how humble you are, thanking God (or Al Haymon if you’re watching boxing) or calling out a new opponent. Anders however took his shot and it paid off for him, he explained ‘I figured that he didn’t have an opponent and he’s from Belem so they would be looking for someone that he could fight. A lot of the middleweight division is booked up, I was free, he was free so I thought I’d ask for it and see what happens’.
As the younger man by over nine years, and twenty fights, Eryk feels that the pressure will be on the other side of the octagon on February 3rd as ‘he has a lot more to lose than I do at this point’.
One of the tricky points when it comes to fighting a veteran is what kind of fighter to prepare for – As much as it’s worth noting that Machida is on a three fight skid, those losses were to already established names in Brunson, Romero and Rockhold and so it’s likely that above all others, this will be a fight that the Brazilian is heading into with real confidence. As a fighter is growing older, the fight IQ continues to improve and the overall decision making should be superior to that of a less experienced athlete, the only flaw being that speed and reaction times will have diminished and although the fighter may know what is required, the body sometimes just is no longer able to produce it. We’ve seen it many times before, there is often one more big night left in the aging elite and although that may not result in a win, it can certainly be enough to push the young lion to the very brink (just ask Anthony Joshua).
From a preparation standpoint though, ‘Ya Boi’ is doing all that he can do, and that is preparing for the very best version of Lyoto Machida. When asked how he feels the fight will play out, he admitted ‘Lyoto has shown a bunch of different looks; Sometimes he throws a lot more feints and acts as more of a counter striker and then at other times he’s been a lot more offensive, so I’m not really sure which version of Lyoto we’re gonna get, but whatever happens, I’m confident my hand will be raised in victory’.
If the torch is successfully passed, then one of the key components to maintaining the success is having support in the light behind you; As a former linebacker for the Alabama Crimson Tide (His career at Alabama culminated with a victory in the 2009 BCS National Championship against the Texas Longhorns, a game in which he led the Crimson Tide with seven tackles and a forced fumble) he already has his fair share of support, something that he says has existed even since his early days in the sport. ‘The Alabama fans don’t forget the guys that played well and represented the university, so even as an amateur I was getting a lot of support’ he said.
Having only competed in 10 fights professionally, most would consider it to be early in the career of Anders, but due to his previous career in football, I posed the question as to whether he felt that his body had more miles on the clock than other competitors at similar stages in their careers. He felt that in fact his situation was the complete opposite, confidently claiming ‘Man, this is the best my body has felt in years, I don’t think I have a lot of miles on me. I know I did play football for a long time, but my body really isn’t that wrecked and beat-up. I think that my body’s holding up well, it feels great and there are no signs of slowing down’.
Eryk found the sport of MMA relatively late compared to others in his field, which is why he had over twenty amateur fights, he explained ‘I have no background in this whatsoever. I had to start from scratch and develop several different skillsets’ and having now competed in two sports separately, there seems to be a clear winner when it comes to the side in which Anders enjoys the most. He revealed ‘I just played football because I was good at it, all my brothers played football, everybody in my neighbourhood played football so it was just natural that I fell into it. I definitely like MMA a whole lot better, I like the individual aspect of competition – I think if I found MMA at the same time that I found football, then I probably wouldn’t have had much of a football career’.
It seems that Anders is telling the truth when he says his body is feeling as good as it ever has. He has now competed five times in eleven months and staying active is clearly a preference for the thirty year old. ‘I definitely prefer to stay active. I continuously train, I don’t have training camps, so it’s not like I take 3 months off between fights. I’m always in the gym training and getting better, unless I have an injury then I don’t see any reason not to get in there’ he said.
The goal for 2018 is clear, Anders is looking to take the torch and run with it – ‘I’d like to crack that top 10 or top 5 and work my way into title contention by the end of 2018’ he said. When asked as to why he fights, Eryk’s reasons go back a long way as he explains ‘I thoroughly enjoy everything about mixed martial arts – coaching, teaching, training, all of it. I love getting ready for an individual opponent. The Romans kind of did the same thing, it’s a form of entertainment, just put two guys in a circle and just let them go at it, I think it’s just natural’.