The matchup between the former UFC contenders finally takes place inside the Bellator cage in the co-main event of Saturday’s event at the Footprint Center in Phoenix, Ariz., and also will serve as the first of two semi-final matchups in the promotion’s light heavyweight grand prix. Heading into the matchup, Anderson had revealed that he had trained with Bader in the past and felt like he got the better of the current Bellator heavyweight champion.
While some believe it’s a bit of mental warfare being attempted, Anderson is hoping it actually helps fuel Bader’s fire even more.
“Yes, [I do feel like he has some doubts] but I think it’s gonna make this fight that much better,” Anderson told MMA Fighting. “For me, I show up at my best... I had a coaches in college who told me, ‘You always fight down to your opponent. You’re great and if you go out with an opponent ain’t that good, you won’t wrestle that [well]. You’ll win, but if you go out with a guy that’s super good and dangerous, you make guys look like they shouldn’t be on the mat with you.’
“The three performances I felt that happened was Patrick Cummins, Glover Teixeira, and my last opponent. Three of my standout performances took place against guys that I thought were gonna be super good and I trained that much harder. And I feel like me talking about [the past training sessions] with Bader is making him train that much harder, because even if he believes it didn’t go that way, in his mind it’s like, ‘Well am I forgetting something? What is he talking about?’ So that’s gonna make him train that much harder to bring it to me on fight night, and that’s gonna make me on my A-game. That’s gonna give the guys, the girls, the fans, the media, the promoters, everybody the fight that they want.”
Anderson signed with Bellator in 2020 following a mutual parting of the ways between he and the UFC, a move that seems to have put him in a much better spot mentally, as he discussed on Wednesday when he appeared on The MMA Hour. “Overtime” has picked up consecutive finishes in his first two promotional appearances — TKO wins over Melvin Manhoef, and Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov in the opening round of the grand prix.
Bader advanced in the tournament with a unanimous decision win over former UFC champ Lyoto Machida at Bellator 256. Considering the roads both fighters have taken to get to this point, the pairing could have happened years ago. In Anderson’s mind, that would’ve been too soon.
“When I say I’m excited, I’ve got goosebumps thinking about fight night,” Anderson said. “I’ve trained so hard, I brought in some heavy hitters, I wrestled with an Olympic champ this camp, I’ve done stuff I’ve never done. I always go hard, but I’ve brought guys in to beat me up all camp instead of guys I can beat up — and at the end, I was getting the best of them sometimes.
“I just feel like I’ve hit a new pinnacle, I have a new energy and I’m just 32 years old. I’m in my prime. I started this thing fresh out of college, in four fights I was in the UFC. Here we are 16 fights later and I’m about to make my way to Bellator gold. I couldn’t be more excited and I’m glad this fight is happening. The paths between me and Ryan, we’re gonna finally see if what I said [was right], what he knows, what I believe, what he believes. Everything just meets in the middle of that arena and it’s gonna be a blast.”
Anderson believes he will see current champion Vadim Nemkov in the finals in the aftermath of Saturday’s fight card. As far as how he sees his matchup with Bader going, he’s going in the cage to get a win on Bader’s home turf.
“I don’t do predictions, I just know I’m good everywhere,” Anderson stated. “Wherever he wants to take it, I can go and I know I will be better than him at that position. At the end of the day, I am the better fighter and I will leave the cage with my hand raised, and then on to the next step.”