Following his third win in a row last December, Corey Anderson believed he should be knocking on the door of a title shot in his next fight. He was dominant in all three victories, including a short-notice drubbing of former title contender Glover Teixeira.
But as much as Anderson felt like a fight against the reigning light heavyweight champion Jon Jones should be on the horizon, he was realistic enough to understand his standing with the UFC.
Anderson, an “Ultimate Fighter” winner, has never been much for trash talk, and he’s not a flashy finisher with a highlight reel that includes a string of jaw-dropping knockouts. He’s a winner, but he does it the old-school way by putting his head down and doing the work. That doesn’t seem to appeal with fans, which leaves him in limbo when it comes to a potential title shot.
“I ended up meeting with the owners of the UFC, and it’s pretty much the same thing they said,” Anderson said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “(They said), ‘We’ve got to get the needle moving on you before we can get you any big fights.’
“If I do something exciting, my stock will jump, but I’m not that guy. I’m going to do the same old thing that got me here.”
“It didn’t sit well with me, but at the same time, what can I do? I’ve got a contract, I can’t go nowhere, I can’t do nothing else. It’s not like I can boycott. One person ain’t going to do sh*t. It is what it is, (and) I just have to play the hand that’s dealt. I just have to go the Kamaru Usman route and just keep winning. Win, win, win until nobody’s left.”
Usman, the reigning UFC welterweight champion, expressed a similar frustration when he climbed the ranks at 170 pounds. He complained top-10 ranked opponents wouldn’t accept his challenge.
Eventually, Usman’s hard work paid off with a lopsided decision over Rafael dos Anjos, which earned him a title shot against then champion Tyron Woodley. Usman made the most of his opportunity with a dominant performance, and he is now the welterweight champion.
Anderson feels like he’s going to have to walk a similar path, because with just under 40,000 followers on Twitter, and no viral videos on his resume, he’s not driving enough traffic to create a groundswell of interest in a title shot.
“They pretty much told me, ‘The needle doesn’t move on you,” Anderson relayed. “(They said), ‘What we tried to do is we tried to get the [Alexander Gustafsson] fight to happen, and if the Gus fight happens, then you’re sitting high and you beat the No. 1 guy.’ At the time it fell, my wife was going into labor when they wanted me to fight. After that, it was, ‘All right, now you’ve just got to fight somebody else.’
“The way the cards fall, when you hear ‘Corey Anderson,’ who wants to watch that fight? It’s not like a big thing with everybody. (They said), ‘We’re trying to find that fight that’s going to make that switch, that’s going to get people on Corey Anderson’s side. Then it would be more of a chance of you getting that fight.’”
Anderson also responded to a jab he took from UFC president Dana White, who said back in July that there was no chance he’d be getting a title shot, allegedly because he “turned down about 50 fights in the last month,” a likely reference to the proposed Gustafsson fight.
“What about all the fights where I stepped in on short notice?” Anderson said. “(On) two weeks’ notice I went to Germany. I stepped up multiple times and still went out there and won, and he says some sh*t like this? All this time I’ve been a yes man for the company, and you’re going to say that?
“That’s when I realized this is just a business. I’m just a number to them. I’m employee No. 3,467. I’m not a Jon Jones, I’m not a Conor McGregor. Guys like us, we’ve just got to step up to the plate when they call us and do what they ask and get it done.”
As much as he would love to argue against that logic, Anderson knows that he’s fighting an uphill battle by trying to engage in a public back and forth with his bosses at the UFC, who still ultimately decide his fate.
“It rubbed me the wrong way, but at the same time, I knew that’s what it was,” Anderson said.
On paper, the fight is a step down for Anderson. Based on the UFC rankings, he’s currently sitting at No. 7, while Walker is at No. 11. But Anderson knows this might be the only opponent offered to him where he’ll have the chance to shine.
“That’s the whole point of taking this fight,” Anderson explained. “It’s the needle-mover. If you think of all the guys in the light heavyweight division, and who they say should be fighting Jon Jones next, and who they think will be the one to beat Jon Jones, they all say Johnny Walker.
“So I’ve just got to go out there and show everybody he’s not who they think he is, and hopefully put my name in the hat again.”
With that said, Anderson isn’t all that confident that a win over Walker will really improve his chances to get the next shot at Jones and the light heavyweight title.
Instead, the 30-year-old former college wrestler believes the narrative after a win at UFC 244 will be built around a hyped prospect like Walker being exposed rather than focusing on the man who exposed him.
“I’ll beat Johnny Walker, and everybody will say he was a one-trick pony, he wasn’t as good as we through he was, and Corey Anderson still sucks,” Anderson said. “That’s just how they do me. No matter who I beat or how I win, I’m not that guy who’s flashy.”