Getting his hand raised in victory will be high on Corey Anderson's agenda in 2021. Photo: Bellator MMA

At Bellator 257 on Saturday April 17, Corey Anderson will aim to shock pundits and make his mark on the Light Heavyweight Grand Prix against Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov.

Recently, Bellator MMA made the switch to Showtime as their United States broadcast partner. With this has come a new deal that will see the promotion’s events air live in Australia on Channel 10 through the 10 Play app.

The move – which started on April 3 – is a timely one for Australian fans who will now have live access to the star-studded eight man Light Heavyweight Grand Prix. Over the weekend, former Bellator champion Ryan Bader soundly defeated former UFC champion Lyoto Machida by unanimous decision.

One fighter who will be hoping to simultaneously advance to the million dollar final and impress a new audience is Corey Anderson (14-5).

Entering as the third ranked Bellator Light Heavyweight, Anderson is very familiar with the ‘survive and advance’ mentality required to be successful in a tournament format.

It is from experiences as a collegiate wrestler and the season 19 winner of The Ultimate Fighter that he has found confidence ahead of his bout at Bellator 257 on April 17.

“I feel good, I feel great. I’m excited about it”, Anderson told The Inner Sanctum.

“A Grand Prix is kind of like a format that I’m familiar with.

“Being a wrestler, you go to a tournament Saturday morning, you see the bracket and you know who you’re going to have to wrestle. Throughout the whole bracket you know who you have next.

“Then the tournament aspect, the fact that I’ve done The Ultimate Fighter. I got my fight career started in an eight man tournament, down to one champion to get into the UFC. Now, pretty much the same thing. You fight down to be the champion in Bellator.”

In what will be his second fight with the promotion after making the switch from the UFC, the fighter known as “Overtime” will face Bellator debutant, Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov (18-5-1) from Turkmenistan.

Despite living up to his marquee signing status with a dominant second round stoppage of veteran Melvin Manhoeff in November 2020, the upcoming bout and Anderson’s presence in the tournament more generally, has flown under the radar.

Much of the attention has instead centred on recent signees Yoel Romero and Anthony “Rumble” Johnson. The fortunes of current Bellator Light Heavyweight champion Vadim Nemkov, and former title holders Ryan Bader and Phil Davis have also been at the forefront of MMA narratives.

Not that the 31-year-old is concerned, though. In fact, the tag of underdog is one that he embraces fully.

“I like flying under the radar,” Anderson said.

“I like the fact that everybody don’t expect me to come out and do anything. They expect me to be the one that’s going to get in and be out early. I love being the underdog, I’m an underdog type story.

“The one fight they had me favourite to win was the last fight against Jan Blachowicz and I lost. If I’m the underdog, I fight best.

“Glover Teixeira, I was a huge underdog, there’s no way I could beat him – I smashed him. Johnny Walker, it was ridiculous how much of an underdog I was – I smashed him. Ilir Latifi, the underdog – smashed him.

“Cinderella man of it all. That’s just how it’s been my whole career.”

Although Yagshimuradov is a relatively unknown commodity within the mainstream MMA realm, Anderson will not be taking him for granted.

“I had to dig deep and do my research and I found his six most recent fights. That’s all I need. I don’t need to go much further past that”, he said.

“I just need to see how he’s been in the recent and then expect him to do similar things and expect him to tweak and get better at the things he’s already doing.”

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Anderson is instead preparing for the challenge in a way that ensures his well-rounded skills remain sharp, focusing only on elements of the fight he can control. This has led to emphasis on his wrestling roots that have served him well during his career.  

“My style, the best me, the best style is my wrestling,” Anderson said.

“All of my greatest fights, my greatest accomplishments came from wrestling.

“Even the Johnny Walker knockout that everybody remembers and knows came from me setting up the wrestling. I wrestled a little bit, he got to the point that he was scared of wrestling so that opened the overhand right.

“It’s always the plan to focus on what we’re good at. If we master what we’re good at, it’s hard to stop.

“That’s what the focus was. That’s what my focus is every camp.”

Rinse and repeat is the mantra. If you couple this with an environment that Anderson feels rewards winning and not the ability to draw eyeballs, then there is a benefit for both the fighter in his eyes.

“I feel like in Bellator there’s no politics. You don’t have to please anybody. You don’t have to sell tickets to get a title fight”, he said.

“Especially now with the Grand Prix, there’s no way to avoid it. You go out there and win, no matter how you win you’re going forward to the title.

“My job is to go out there and do my job and fight. That’s it. I show up, I make weight, I fight.

“I feel like you go out there, you win and no matter what, you move forward.”

Moving forward for Anderson won’t be easy. In fact, debates still rage as to whether Bellator can lay claim to having the best stable of Light Heavyweight fighters in the world.

To “Overtime”, there is no competition. He believes the strength of their 205 pound division is indicative of the incremental growth that the promotion is going through.

“For Bellator, they’re getting names that can compete at the top level. They’re building divisions up toward the point that it’s not just one or two big names”, Anderson said.

“As time goes on, fans are going to come over to Bellator and then we’re just going to be in different markets – In Asia, in Australia, in China, all over the place. Russia.

“The more people we get from different nationalities, different backgrounds, the more countries and backgrounds we’re going to have watching. And we’re going to continue to grow worldwide.

“Once it starts growing, like this tournament, it’s a great way to show that Bellator has the best 205 division right now.

“Four fighters in this tournament have fought the number one contender in the UFC’s 205 rankings, three of us have beat him.

“Glover Teixeira’s the number one contender I’m talking about and me, Rumble and Phil Davis have all beaten Glover Teixeira.

“We’re all in Bellator, and if Glover Teixeira is the number one contender and if Jan Blachowicz is the champion and I’m one and one with him, it’s kind of hard not to say 205 in Bellator has the better division.”

It will be these best Light Heavyweights in the world, then, that take to the cage as the Bellator Grand Prix continues on Saturday April 17.

Anderson vs Yagshimuradov will serve as the co-main event to fellow first round match up and the Light Heavyweight title fight between Vadim Nemkov and Phil Davis. Every reason to be following Bellator live as they begin their journey into the Australian market.

“I think Australian fans should be tuning in to see a great night of fights. As for the grand prix, two great match ups”, Anderson concluded.

“As for me, you’re just going to see me do what Corey Anderson does. He’s going to go out there and stick to his game plan. He’s going to use his ground and pound, he’s going to use his wrestling, he’s going to use his striking.

“He’s going to use everything to be a complete mixed martial artist and move one step closer to a million dollars.” 

Bellator 257 goes down on April 17 and will air live Channel 10 through the 10 Play app from 11 am AEST.

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