Corey Anderson has been nothing short of sensational in his Bellator run thus far, with three straight TKO victories since joining the promotion. He now finds himself in the finals of the promotion's light heavyweight grand prix and is preparing himself for an upcoming showdown with reigning champ Vadim Nemkov.
The stakes are incredibly high, with a grand prix title, a championship belt and a $1 million check all going to the winner. Anderson said he's impressed by the skills Nemkov brings to the cage.
"If I take a little bit of everybody I fought in my career, you can put a little bit of everything in him," Anderson told The Underground. "His kicks are great. He throws a head kick like (Ovince Saint Preux), throws a head kick real fast. You don't see it. That's what knocked me out with OSP. You know, his hands is great, like Jimi Manuwa. He puts power on it when he sits on his shots. He has power. He throws output combos like I fought when I fought Tom Lawlor. You know, Tom Lawlor, to this day, I tell people that's probably the toughest fight I have.
"His wrestling is not like the greatest wrestling, but he has wrestling. You know, he's got submissions from the ground. He can do it all. So I think, well, he's got the mindset of a mixed martial artist, the style as a mixed martial artist."
Anderson (16-5 MMA, 3-0 BMMA) and Nemkov (15-2 MMA, 7-0 BMMA) are slated to meet at Bellator 277, which takes place Friday, April 15 at SAP Center in San Jose, Calif. The night's main card airs on Showtime following prelims on YouTube.
Anderson openly admits it's the biggest fight of his career, even if he does have a special connection to a 2018 win over current UFC light heavyweight champion Glover Teixeira.
"I mean, for title accolades – yes," Anderson said. "To me, I still think the biggest fight of my career was the Glover Teixeira fight, you know, at the moment, because of who he was, who he fought, what he's done, where he's been the whole time he's been in UFC. But right now, as the momentum and the title fight everything, yes, it's the biggest thing in my career, the biggest fight so far."
Anderson has already taken out both Ryan Bader and Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov en route to the finals, and though Nemkov represents an awfully difficult challenge for any opponent, Anderson said he feels confident he's up to the task. At 7-1 in his past eight fights overall, Anderson believes he's in his prime, and thinks his happiness as a member of the Bellator roster has given him an additional edge.
For that, he credits the Bellator team, especially president Scott Coker.
"There's no more stress," Anderson said. "I had nobody else to prove anything to. I met with Scott Coker and he told me, 'Mr. Anderson, I can tell you this: You go out there and you do your job' – this was before the Grand Prix with even thought of - 'I'm going to make sure you move forward because that's how it's supposed to be. I grew up in a martial arts business. My father had a martial arts dojo, and he always said the athlete is the show. The athletes are always going to be the show. We've always got to respect the athletes. We treat the athletes (well) because without them, we have nothing as an organization or a gym.'
"When I sat there eating breakfast with him, we talked about that, and it put me at ease thinking I was coming to a new beginning. Like I said to my mom, my wife, everybody, it was going to do a new beginning, new slate, new faces. We're going to do everything over, and we're just going to have go back to having fun. From day one, there's been nothing but fun, and I'm just just glad to be here."
Winner of "The Ultimate Fighter 19," Anderson went on to fight 15 times under the UFC banner during a six-year run with the promotion, though he was never quite able to make his way to a title shot. Beating Nemkov would be a crowning achievement, his first world title. But it's not the only goal for Anderson right now.
Sure, he's still trying to earn his first belt at the moment, but he's already got his eyes on a second title, as well, one that doesn't seem too far-fetched after dispatching of reigning Bellator heavyweight champion Bader in just 51 seconds this past October.
"I mean, we definitely want the other belt," Anderson said. "We definitely want the heavyweight belt, especially when the champ is somebody I just beat in 51 seconds. You know, it's kind of dumb not to go up and challenge him. I mean, If that's the guy I just beat – not taking nothing away from Ryan Bader and what he's doing a heavyweight. Like, I talked to him after he won the fight: 'Congrats, you looked good.' But when I got a win like that over somebody, and you got the other belt, as well, it's like, 'Well, why wouldn't I come up there and take that, as well?'"
First things first, of course. There's the not-so-small matter of Nemkov to deal with on April 16. But Anderson is confident in his abilities, and he believe it's his time to shine.
"It's been a long time coming, ladies and gentlemen," Anderson said. "This is it. I know a lot of ya'll wrote me off – you're still writing me off – but when it's all over, said and done, I don't want to hear from, you know?
"No new fans. If you've been doubting me, keep doubting me because like I told somebody a long time ago, don't tell people about me. A robber never comes announced. He comes silent in the night when he's least expected. This is my time, baby. We coming silent in the night when they least expect it."
To see the full interview with Anderson, check out the video above.