Corey Anderson might stop in Yummy Sushi for some tom yum soup, but that’s never his main priority when he comes into Robbinsville.
“I’m here for one reason,” Anderson said. “If I’m in Robbinsville, I’m in the gym.”
“Overtime” Anderson is one of the highly ranked Ultimate Fighting Championship contenders who trains at the Ricardo Almeida Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy in Robbinsville. Anderson is the heaviest of those training under the jiu jitsu expert. He is ranked sixth in the light heavyweight division following a win by unanimous decision over Ilir Latifi of Sweden at The Forum in Inglewood, California, on Dec. 29, 2018.
“I’m not here just to be here,” Anderson said. “I’m here for one reason—that’s the belt. Anything else doesn’t make sense for me.”
It’s been quite a winding trip that’s brought Anderson to Robbinsville. He wrestled in high school in his native Illinois before wrestling in junior college at Lincoln College, also in Illinois. He placed as high as sixth in the Junior College nationals. He finished his collegiate career in style at Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he placed second in the heavyweight final at the 2012 NCAA Division III national championships.
“It helped and motivated,” Anderson said. “I fell short in wrestling. I took second in the country. I vowed to myself, the next thing I compete in I’m going to be the champion. I have to keep working until I get it.
“I went to ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ and I told my coaches I will not lose in the finals again. If I get the opportunity where the belt’s on the line, I’m going to get it. That’s what I did at ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ and now I’m planning to do the same in UFC, keep chalking up these W’s and work my way to a title fight. And when I get there, I’m going to win.”
Anderson had to be convinced to give mixed martial arts a try, but once he got hooked, he rose quickly to stardom. After he won The Ultimate Fighter 19 with the quickest knockout in TUF history—61 seconds—that reality show helped connect him to Robbinsville.
“Ricardo Almeida, Frankie Edgar and Mark Henry, they all coached me on the reality TV show ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’” Anderson said. “After the show, they contacted me and said how they enjoyed working with me, and if I wanted to come train with them, I was more than welcome. They invited me out for a little bit of time to try it. As I came, I liked it. Every time I went back to Illinois, I would come back and bring a little more of Illinois with me. Before you knew it, I had my own place out here as well.”
Henry, a New Jersey based striking coach, was impressed immediately by Anderson’s ability to listen and use his coaching. They clicked immediately, and when Edgar won the coin toss at TUF, Henry convinced Edgar to make Anderson his team’s first selection. Henry has continued to work with Anderson now that Anderson has moved to New Jersey.
“It’s great to see Corey grow,” Henry said. “I appreciate how he’s grown as a person.”
It’s been a big few years in the life of Anderson, who lives in Jackson now. He got married on Valentine’s Day 2018 to Jenny D’Acquisto, another MMA fighter who he met in the gym. They had their first child in March, which temporarily has put Anderson’s fight schedule on hold.
“It’s more motivation,” Anderson said. “Nothing’s going to change. I’m still going to be the same. I’ll have the baby to care for, and I have to be there more for my wife, but all it is is more motivation. We make things happen, we’re going to make it work.”
After some struggles in 2017, Anderson was unbeaten in all three of his 2018 fights. It’s something that he credits the training he’s done since coming to New Jersey and the coaching he has gotten.
“The focus, the team, and the work I put in,” Anderson said. “When your team is with you and no matter what, everyone treats you the same… You see so many gyms where the guys lose and it’s like they’re not that important anymore. You don’t hear the coaches talking about them, you don’t see the coaches working with them as much. They get played out. When you get a team like us, when I was losing, they helped me fix the things I was doing wrong. Once they fixed those things, it made a world of difference.”
Said Henry: “He’s an amazing listener. He could listen and adjust to what we said. He’s a student of the game. Everything has definitely gotten better. Corey has always been good. His jiu jitsu and wrestling have gotten better. His wrestling was good, but his MMA wrestling was only OK. His MMA wrestling is way better and his jiu jitsu is really improved.”
Among those that train at RABJJ Academy with Anderson are fighters like Marlon Moraes, the top-ranked contender in bantamweight, Edgar who is the No. 3 ranked contender in the featherweight division, and second-ranked Sijari Eubanks and third-ranked women’s flyweight contender Katlyn Chookagian.
“Everybody in our lineup is ranked in the Top 10 in UFC,” Anderson said. “We’re a small tight knit team, like a family. We all push each other.”
That’s been important to Anderson’s progress. He can’t afford to fall behind in the competitive UFC, and his training partners are vital.
“Even though I’m the biggest one on the team, we have some 85’ers that come from other gyms that will hit with us,” Anderson said. “We have little guys, Frankie’s got a ton of guys his size, but everybody in our lineup out of Ricardo’s is in the rankings. If you’re in the UFC, you’re ranked right now. That’s because we all push, we’re only as strong as our weakest link, like they say. We make sure the next person is just as good as everybody so we get better together. If I’m getting with a training partner that’s a bum, I’m not helping him get better, and I’m not making myself any better so I’ll be stagnant.”
Anderson also values his team of coaches that push him in a number of different disciplines. He’s not just working on one aspect of his fighting.
“Jiu Jitsu is with Ricardo,” he said. “Ricardo Almeida Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, that’s sort of who we represent. We have Nick Catone MMA in Brick; Mark Henry who’s a boxing coach out of Middletown; my Muay Thai coach is in Brick as well, he owns Driven up in Woodbridge. We have coaches from all over.”
They come together to give him guidance, and Anderson has thrived in the high intensity atmosphere. He’s training constantly, maximizing his time spent in the gym. He also helps to train others on the side at Nick Catone’s.
“That’s why I am and who I am and where I am because of the family environment there,” Anderson said. “You go to so many gyms and there are 100 to 1,000 people on the mat at a time. Big gyms, but you’re not getting the attention you need from different coaches and teammates and whatever help you need to grow. Every day you’re coming in and you’re sparring, and a bunch of guys on jiu jitsu mat are wrestling, but you don’t get that attention where a coach can actually see you doing something wrong and let you know what you need to change to fix it to be good at this move or to make this move happen.
“At Ricardo’s we only have 20 people on the mat at a time, only 10 of them are fighters and only seven are in the UFC. When we have practices, it’s pretty even with our two or three coaches there to give everybody there a hand and help everybody out.”
Anderson is just one of the fighters in Robbinsville who has benefitted from that culture. He’s part of a group that has climbed the UFC rankings together.
“I think it’s great that Corey sees a lot of these people come in and they weren’t ranked,” Henry said. “They fight the best all of the time. It’s not like there’s anywhere to hide. It’s a testament to them.
“Frankie is the main thing. Everyone sees his work ethic. Corey is just like him. Everybody has to follow suit. When someone like Frankie Edgar is your general, it makes everything easier.”
Anderson spends as much as two hours on each discipline in a day. He does two or three styles each day, and makes sure that he does each discipline at least twice per week. Adding Almeida’s jiu jitsu training started him toward developing a new style of fighting for him.
“It solidifies my game,” Anderson said. “Without his jiu jitsu, I wouldn’t be the Corey Anderson that everybody knows in the UFC. You can take that either way. Some guys say my fighting style is boring because I take guys down and maul them on the mat or ground and pound them and they don’t get up. But before I got here, I was the type to stand and bang. I had all finishes coming into the UFC. Granted, I only had three fights, but those were finishes where I just stood up and punched guys, hit them hard. When I took them down, it wasn’t like jiu jitsu style, it was just get over top of them and hit them as hard as I can.
“But I think Ricardo’s has been great because it’s helped me become more of a martial artist instead of just a stand and banger or a sprawl and brawler. Now I’m actually a technician. I can change everything around. I can strike with you, I can do kickboxing, or I can take you down and do jiu jitsu. I’m ready for everything.”
Anderson is working his way toward a title shot with light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. He already had former title holder Alexander Gustafsson ask for a fight March 16, which was only days after his son Corey Jr. was due.
“His style for Jones is great,” Henry said. “I think he’s a great matchup for Jon, if he fights the way he can. He’s never fought for a title for five rounds. Everybody is a little different the first time you fight for the title. I think he’s a great matchup for Jon. I hope he gets that fight.”
Anderson has been using his time out of the Octagon since December to continue to develop in hopes of a title shot.
“I’m a more complete fighter than before,” Anderson said. “Will I say I’m complete? No, I plan to grow. I plan to get 1 percent better every day and I’m going to get 1 percent better every day. The time I stop getting 1 percent better every day will be the time I walk away. If I feel like I’m not getting any better before I’m 31, I guess I’ll walk away then. But if I’m just getting better, I’ll leave on my own plan.”
Anderson intends to fight another two years before moving on to the next phase of his life. He’d like to coach wrestling in college, preferably back in the Midwest.
“Right now, everything is going according to plan,” Anderson said. “By the time [my son’s] talking and knowing what’s going on, I’ll be done and he won’t have to see his father get beat up or come home all bashed up so I can play catch and travel with my son and be at his matches and not worry about being in the gym and missing important dates.”
Anderson still has some big goals ahead of him, but he’s been happy with the results of his time spent in Robbinsville. He’s in the middle of an exciting time. He’s starting a family, rising in the rankings, starring as one of the profiles in the YouTube series ‘Anatomy of a Fighter,’ and taking advantage of the perfect environment to reach his goals.
“I’m here for the training,” Anderson said. “That’s my main focus. I’ve been training out here for four years. I haven’t seen Central Park, I haven’t really been in Times Square of Manhattan. I’m here for one reason: training and getting a belt.”
And maybe when the mood strikes him, a good bowl of soup.