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Eryk Anders wanted to fight. Simple as that.

Anders, a former University of Alabama linebacker and current UFC fighter has never competed in a kickboxing tournament. If things would have worked out, his first one would have been a doozy.

As of the first day of the kickboxing competition, which was Wednesday, Anders was on the schedule to compete in The World Games kickboxing +91kg division, which is the heaviest weight. His route to that point was hardly traditional. One of the heavyweight fighters from another country was unable to reach the United States because of travel issues. Anders lives in the Birmingham metro area and trains at Spartan Fitness in Homewood. He was asked by some kickboxing leaders if he was interested in competing, so the eight-man bracket could be filled.

It didn’t take him long to answer.

“I felt confident going in, especially at heavyweight,” Anders said. “They are not the most skilled or agile or technical. Some of those smaller guys, I was watching them and was like ‘Oh (no).’ Heavyweights, I was like, 'I can hang with these guys.' I wasn’t sure about the point system, how points were scored and stuff. I’m not sure if I would have won but I’m more than positive I can compete with those guys.”

He actually pulled out of the field the night before, even though the schedule didn’t indicate it.

“My manager called me and said the UFC is not going to like that,” Anders said. “(He said) it would be a breach of contract, if you do it you’re going to get cut. Instead of doing something for free and losing out on pretty good money fighting for the UFC, I had to forego it and keep my job.”

Azerbaijan competitor Bahram Rajabzadeh, who was scheduled to be Anders’ opponent on opening day, won the gold medal on Thursday.

There was a time when fighting – at least fighting to make a living – was far from Anders’ mind. The San Antonio native chased an NFL opportunity after helping Alabama win a national championship in 2010. When that didn’t work out, he turned his car back toward where he spent his college days.

“I came back to Tuscaloosa where I thought there’d be a nice, cush office job waiting for me,” Anders said. “It was far from what actually happened.”

What happened was he fell into the worst time of his life. He said he abused drugs and alcohol. He was homeless at times and lived in hotels at other points. He chased fights in the streets and the bars. He basically was on the path to destroying himself.

“I had a moment of clarity one day and figured it’s not going to end well for me,” Anders said. “I’d end up getting shot, seriously hurt, in jail or whatever. I just wanted the blow off some steam, went to a gym and [started] training, that was it from there.”

He went to a local Tuscaloosa gym to “blow off some steam,” and a future was born.

After training in Tuscaloosa for a short while, he moved to Birmingham. He then went to Huntsville before coming back to Birmingham and joining the Spartan Fitness family.

He steadily built himself into a solid professional fighter and has been a solid citizen. Anders is 14-7 as a professional fighter and 6-7 in the UFC. Four of those losses were split decisions.

“I’m definitely in the twilight of my career,” said the 35-year-old Anders. “I’m planning to keep fighting until they cut me. Once they cut me, I’ll be done.”

Anders has two fights remaining on his most recent four-fight deal. He doesn’t have a scheduled fight, at this point, but is ready to get back in the octagon to earn more money to support his family. Winning those fights could earn him another four-fight contract.

“One or two mistakes and I could be right back in that (bad) situation,” Anders said. “I try to live my life right. I stay inside, stay at the house, avoid trouble, keep working and try to make more money so once I am done with the UFC, I will have invested my money and be able to live off that. I’ll still be able to train, do ju-jitsu and stuff like that.”

At that point, maybe he could even chase a gold medal.

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email steve.irvine@1819news.com.

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