Megan Anderson grew up in Australia with no idea about what the future might hold for her. She was fairly certain, though, that she would not become a UFC fighter.
She was, she says with a laugh now, one of those people who used to see MMA as barbaric.
But even if she could get over her objections to the sport, there was another problem in her path.
“I was definitely unathletic as a child,” she said. “Extremely unathletic.”
It’s strange the turns that life takes. Anderson has become one of the world’s finest mixed martial artists and on Saturday will make her UFC debut when she faces Holly Holm in a featherweight bout at UFC 225 in Chicago.
Anderson is the Invicta FC featherweight champion and could soon hold the UFC title if things break right for her. It’s a long way from the kid who was unathletic and who saw the UFC as barbaric.
“It’s crazy how in 10 years, things have turned so dramatically,” Anderson said.
She got hooked because a group of friends decided to have a night out at some MMA fights in Australia. There, Anderson met the promoter, who became her first coach.
He took one look at her frame – she’s 6-feet tall, with long arms and legs – and asked if she trained. She said no, but for some reason she still can’t articulate, agreed to give it a shot.
And it sent her down a path she couldn’t have comprehended the day before.
“I’ve always been uncoordinated and this is the only sport that I’ve really ever attempted and that I was actually OK at,” Anderson said. “I fell in love with it pretty quickly and I picked it up pretty quickly.”
Anderson made her pro MMA debut with a majority decision loss to Zoe Shreiweis on Nov. 16, 2013. Less than five years later, she will face Holm, who, in November 2013, had already completed her legendary boxing career and was a developing 5-0 future MMA star, just two fights away from joining the UFC.
That the two are now going head-to-head in the first non-title women’s featherweight bout in UFC history is remarkable. It’s no surprise, however, to Invicta FC president Shannon Knapp, who saw Anderson grow from a fledgling, unsure fighter into a champion in a span of about 18 months.
Anderson lost to veteran Cindy Dandois on Sept. 12, 2015, when she submitted to a triangle choke in the second round of Invicta 14, but was the organization’s champion by Invicta 21, when she knocked out Charmaine Tweet in the second round.
Knapp laughed upon hearing that Anderson said she was so unathletic growing up.
“She might not have embraced her athleticism before she tried MMA, but once she turned in that direction, she proved fairly quickly that she is an athlete,” Knapp said. “You know how it is sometimes with some kids, they have these growth spurts and they get so big so fast that they’re kind of gangly and awkward and what not. But eventually they come out of it and they develop and I think that might be what you saw with Megan.
“She’s a big, solid girl and she has the kind of tools that could make her a star in this sport. I think when you look at her, if things go correctly, she has the ability to really become a star.”
Anderson was supposed to debut at UFC 214 last summer, when she was slated to face Cris Cyborg for the women’s title. Anderson had to pull out of the fight for personal reasons and still hasn’t spoken about why.
To Knapp, though, it may have been a blessing in disguise. Cyborg is the greatest female fighter in MMA history at this point and at the peak of her powers. Anderson is a developing fighter and Knapp thinks it could have been a case of too much, too soon.
“Absolutely that was fortunate [she had to pull out],” Knapp said. “If I’m being honest, I would have rather see her have some more cage time before this fight with Holly. Holly is a big, strong girl and she has a lot of experience. Megan has so much potential, but she doesn’t have the experience of just having been in there as much as those others have. That’s not to say she has no chance to win, but it’s just that from a development standpoint, it might have served her better to get more time in the cage and have a better feel for things.”
Anderson, though, is confident she’s ready for her emergence into the big-time. She was, she says, devastated to have to pull out of the Cyborg fight, and disappointed by some of the words she saw on social media.
A fight with Holm, though, gives her another high-profile match and she’s ready to take advantage of it.
“This is something I’ve been preparing for for a long time,” she said. “I’m ready to go out and put on a great performance. I’m a lot better now than I was and I’m a more well-rounded fighter. I’m just eager to show that.”
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