Anders will take on Krzysztof Jotko on the main card of UFC on ESPN 8 on Saturday night. The event takes place at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla and will be headlined by a pivotal heavyweight matchup between Harris and Alistair Overeem.
“Ya Boi” will look to extend his winning streak to three after picking up victories over Vinicius Moreira and Gerald Meerschaert. Anders and Harris will share the same card for the first time in over seven years when they competed for Alabama regional promotion Strike Hard Productions in December 2012.
Getting back and competing amid a global pandemic is exciting enough. But getting to share a card with his close friend and training partner puts it over the top for Anders.
“Man, it means everything,” Anders told MMA Fighting while appearing on What the Heck. “I think the last time him and I fought on the same card was at a local promotion in Birmingham. I was actually an amateur. I know I won, and then he went out and knocked out Josh (Robertson), he’s an American Top Team guy. But I know he went out there and knocked that guy out and we’re looking to repeat similar results come May 16.”
Both matchups were scheduled to take place in April at the postponed UFC Portland event. For Harris, this will be the third time his fight with Overeem has been rebooked.
There are those who may look at a middleweight working with a heavyweight as a main training partner as a potential disadvantage. In the mind of Anders, preparing with Harris his been like working with a fellow 185-pounder.
“I think training with Walt as he’s getting ready for a fight, and I’m getting ready for a fight, I think we’re both looking pretty good right now,” Anders said. “I think that Jotko’s biggest asset that he has in this fight is speed, but Walt’s got it dialed in. I’m willing to take the Pepsi challenge on who has the fastest hands in the middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions, and I bet you he would win.
“For sure in the heavyweight division, no doubt, has the fastest hands in the division—probably light heavyweight and middleweight divisions, too. I know he doesn’t fight in those divisions, but my point is that every day I’m training and sparring with a guy that can do everything Jotko does. It’s faster than Jotko is. The hardest thing you can replicate is speed and I’ve been seeing it for the last five months now getting ready for this fight. I don’t think May 16 will hold any surprises.”
With it being “The Big Ticket’s” first UFC main event, he looked to Anders for some guidance. The former University of Alabama football standout headlined a February 2018 event in Brazil opposite Lyoto Machida. Although Anders lost a close split decision, there was one benefit from his first promotional headliner he shared that made Harris smile a little bit more.
“Of course there’s the two extra rounds, but they were supposed to headline in December and I remember having a conversation telling him, ‘Man, you get a little main event bonus,’” Anders said laughingly. “You get a little extra bread for being a main event and that was probably the more exciting thing to him than anything else I had to say.
“At the end of the day, it’s money that makes the world go round and gets guys ready to get in there and go fight. He can go collect a few checks in the main event. I would imaging him getting a knockout bonus or a performance bonus so he should be sitting pretty after this fight.”
Much like that night in December 2012, Anders will be first to enter the cage to set the table for Harris. With everything Harris has gone through over the last several months following the tragic death of his stepdaughter Aniah Blanchard, the 33-year-old Anders hopes to get his teammate an extra boost.
“I go out there and get a knockout,” Anders stated in regards to setting the table for Harris. “(I plan on) giving him something to chase, a little motivation. I feel like if you go out there and sleep somebody, you’re definitely in the running for that performance bonus and that’s also something that we fight for. When that bonus hits your account, there’s not much better feeling than opening your account on a Monday—eight weeks after you fought—and you probably forgot. Then, boom… and extra $50,000 in there.
“I’m smiling right now just thinking about it. I got bills to pay and kids to feed so I plan on going out there and putting in work.”