Anderson (13-5) secured his release from UFC last week — despite two fights remaining on his contract — and immediately signed a deal with Bellator. The news was unexpected, as Anderson had just headlined a UFC event in February and was highly ranked in his division.
The 30-year-old Anderson told ESPN the conditions of his release came about quickly in July, following a heart procedure that cleared him to compete. After a loss to Jan Blachowicz in his last fight, Anderson collapsed in a friend’s driveway and eventually underwent multiple procedures to correct a heart condition that threatened his professional career.
“I literally came out of the last procedure, rolled into my waiting room and turned my phone on and had a contract from the UFC for a fight,” Anderson told ESPN. “I agreed to the fight, but then [the opponent] got hurt and they were doing the same thing they did in the past, offering me fights that didn’t make sense for the money I was making.
“I’m No. 4 in the world, and I’m making money like it was my fourth fight in the UFC.”
Anderson, who made $130,000 for a win over Ilir Latifi in late 2018 — the most recent bout in which his pay was disclosed by an athletic commission — said he tried to ask UFC to renegotiate his contract, but the promotion was unwilling to do so. At that point, Anderson said he requested his release, and UFC agreed.
“I used to say I don’t care about the money, that I’m fighting to be the best and I don’t need the money,” Anderson said. “After hanging out with [Cormier], he broke something to me. He said, ‘You know how you say you don’t fight for money? When was the last time you got in a street fight? You don’t fight for free. You fight to pay for your family.’
“I said, ‘Let’s see if we can get a little more money for the fight.’ And the UFC wouldn’t budge. I asked for my release, and they said, ‘All right, we’ll release him,’ in 20 seconds. I’ve got no anger toward the UFC, but this is how I know my worth to them.”
Anderson’s manager Ali Abdelaziz clarified to ESPN that the possibility of Anderson’s release came up during fight negotiations and was not something the team specifically asked for. The release came as a result of ongoing talks to book Anderson a bout, and Anderson was in favor of it.
Anderson said he has been cleared with a clean bill of health and is eager to compete in Bellator. He is an immediate candidate to fight for the 205-pound title, which currently is held by two-weight champion Ryan Bader. Bader will look to defend the title against Vadim Nemkov at Bellator 244 on Aug. 21.
Whether that’s Anderson’s first fight with Bellator, he said he is ready to agree to anything the promotion throws at him, now that he’s satisfied with his contract.
“If it’s the Bader-Nemkov winner, I’m with that. If it’s Phil Davis–Lyoto Machida, I’m with it,” Anderson said. “I’m at the point now, they’re paying me to fight. This kind of money, it’s hard to say no to whoever they offer, whereas before, it was a calculated risk. The risk they wanted me to take wasn’t worth what was in my contract. Now this is what they’re paying me for, to go out and fight.”