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Eryk Anders eyeing Madison Square Garden, Las Vegas shows after UFC Lincoln fight

Eryk Anders faces Tim Williams at UFC Lincoln.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

His first career loss has only made Eryk Anders more eager to return to action.

The college football standout turned MMA fighter got the fight he wanted in February when he stared down former light heavyweight champion and one-time middleweight title challenger Lyoto Machida in the main event of UFC Belem. The scorecards did not go Anders’ way, with two judges ruling the five-round bout in favor of Machida, but it was a learning experience for the 31-year-old who was competing in just his 11th pro bout.

Up next for Anders is the relatively lesser known Tim Williams. The middleweights will open the main card of UFC Lincoln on Aug. 25, and Anders is hoping that a return to the win column puts him under consideration for two of the UFC’s bigger events down the road.

“I’d like to fight twice before the end of the year,” Anders told MMA Fighting when asked if he’d try and squeeze in another bout before 2019 rolls around. “All the other middleweights are fighting Nov. 3 in the Garden, so I think with an impressive performance in August, I’ll get my invitation as well. Or at least I hope so, anyways.

“And then that Dec. 29 card in Vegas, I still haven’t fought in Vegas yet. If I can cap off the year with Madison Square and the T-Mobile Arena, that’s the goal, that’s what I’m trying to do. We’ll see if we can’t make that happen.”

The Nov. 3 show that Anders is referring to is UFC 230, and outside of an as-yet-to-be-determined main event and a highly-anticipated lightweight bout between Dustin Poirier and a returning Nate Diaz, it may as well be marketed as a showcase for the middleweight elite.

Currently tied to UFC 230 are former champions Luke Rockhold and Chris Weidman, top-10 contenders Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, David Branch, and Derek Brunson, and rising star Israel Adesanya. That seemingly left no room for Anders, despite the impressive start he’s had to his MMA career.

That said, he had no issue being matched up with Williams and only regrets the time he’s had to take off.

“Six months I think is a little bit too long for me to have a layoff,” said Anders. “I had elbow surgery right after the Machida fight, that put me on the mend for a little bit, and then a lot of the middleweights had either fought or were about to fight, so it was just kind of like playing the waiting game, waiting for somebody to come up, become available and whatnot.

“So if you look at the Madison Square Garden card, they’re all middleweights pretty much with the exception of Nate Diaz and Dustin Poirier they just added. It’s just kind of how it goes, the weight class fights in waves I feel like. I just had to wait on somebody to be available.”

That somebody proved to be Williams, known on the east coast as “The South Jersey Strangler”. Williams (15-4) had an inauspicious start to his UFC career, losing to Oskar Piechota by first-round KO in February in what was his official debut after appearances on two previous editions of The Ultimate Fighter years ago.

However, he carries the reputation of being a submission specialist, something that Anders is looking forward to given his own desire to show off his grappling skills.

“Him and I were supposed to fight my second fight in the UFC, but for whatever reason the fight fell through, I can’t remember exactly why,” said Anders. “I remember doing a little research on him then and now and it definitely seems like he prefers the grappling. He’s not in any rush to take it down, his wrestling’s not that great, but I would imagine he’s going to try and put me against the cage and get it to the ground. Half of his wins have come by submission due to some kind of choke, whether it’s a D’Arce choke, rear-naked choke, he’s got those long arms so I would expect he’s going to try and find my neck.”

Because Anders has shown a propensity for standing and striking — he knocked out Rafael Natal inside of a round in his UFC debut and all three of his Octagon battles have taken place primarily on the feet — his grappling has been an afterthought, but he expects it to not only be tested on Aug. 25, but to be his path to victory.

“I feel like my ground game is something I keep in my back pocket. No one ever talks about my jiu-jitsu or wrestling or anything like that. I only use it when I need it,” said Anders. “I like to throw hands, but I train everything, I’m very comfortable no matter where the fight takes place.

“Whether I’m on my back, on my feet against the cage, my back on the cage, it really doesn’t matter, so I think if it goes to the ground I’ll be able to get back to my feet and sweep him and then end the fight with some ground-and-pound.”