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UFC 196: Corey Anderson is 'beastin' everyday to beat Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier

Interview: No. 12-ranked light heavyweight contender Corey Anderson is already preparing like an elite fighter and he expects to continue his winning ways when he faces "Filthy" Tom Lawlor on the UFC 196 main card this Saturday night (March 5, 2016).

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 19 Light Heavyweight winner Corey Anderson is five fights into his Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) career, but for "Beastin 25/8," it still feels as if he won the promotion's flagship reality show.

"I was watching some episodes the other day to see how I've grown. If it wasn't for that, where would Corey be right now?," Anderson asks himself. "In my eyes, I'd be back in Illinois fighting in some local shows."

The year was 2013 and fighting was "a hobby" back then, according to the former All-American wrestler from the University of Wisconsin - Whitewater. At the time, Anderson was working three different jobs. He was a resident assistant and wrestling coach at Lincoln College in his home state of Illinois, as well as a supervisor at Holland Trucking and Freight in the evening.

Money was tight and fighting wasn't going to be enough to pay the bills. Anderson made roughly $200 to show and $200 to win before he tried out for TUF.

Although it might seem like a hardship, it was not so for Anderson, who had the experience of working for his parents company when he was young. Heck, he even started a retirement fund at the age of 16.

"I've never had that problem [saving money]. I don't travel, or go on vacation. I just buy myself something for my birthday and Christmas," Anderson mentioned.

Anderson moved on to pursue fighting with next to nothing in experience, aside from his pristine wrestling credentials. After competing three times in six months, notching two knockouts and one unanimous decision, he checked into the TUF house by ousting Kelly Anundson and was the first pick by Frankie Edgar.

At 6'3," with a reach of 79 inches, Anderson is a gifted athlete and the chance to learn from Edgar and coaches, like Mark Henry and World Series of Fighting (WSOF) Bantamweight champion Marlon Moraes, was tremendous for his growth in mixed martial arts (MMA).

"I didn't know jiu-jitsu, I never threw any kicks. I learned all of that on the show," Anderson said. "As far as how to carry yourself, I learned so much of that from the guys."

Aside from becoming well-versed in the various forms of martial arts, the Anderson also took notes from the duo of Edgar and Moraes when it came to paying managers and coaches. Under the tutelage of "The Answer" and Henry, he blazed a trail through the TUF bracket, reaching the finale where he'd face teammate Matt Van Buren.

Anderson took full advantage of his first official Octagon appearance, knocking out "Gutter" in 61 seconds. Then he gave quite the memorable, and emotional, post-fight speech, which Anderson said he got props for from commentator Brian Stann.

"To this day, people still make fun of the part where I say, 'I'm very emotional right now. I wanna cry, but I can't because I'm on TV.'," Anderson said.

Winning in the way Anderson did, and securing a six-figure contract with UFC, speaks volumes to his dedication and non-stop grind. It's evident in his nickname and personality.

With the financial side of things taken care of, and his focus lying solely on being recognized as an elite light heavyweight, Anderson can't help but enjoy this bittersweet period in his life.

"When we [my friends and I] were in high school, we went to a restaurant one time and we didn't have the money. I'll never forget, the guy cut us a break," Anderson recalled. "One time I was back home after my career kicked off, we went to the same place and I'm about to pay for everything and the guy comes out and says, 'it's on me.'."

Things didn't change much for Anderson as far as coaching goes because he still works with Edgar and Henry. The 26-year-old calls New Jersey home whenever he has a fight lined up.

Anderson has also worked with a cast of "Dirty Jersey" cohorts like Nick Catone, Frankie Perez and Ricardo Almeida. With their help, and a little bit of elbow grease, he raced out to a 4-1 Octagon record over the 16 months that followed the finale.

A big emphasis was placed on improving his striking, which pails in comparison to his grappling. Anderson's wrestling has been a focal point of his attack since he started in UFC as he's recorded no less than four takedowns in any of his three UFC wins.

"When you're working with someone like Mark, you can't not be confident in your hands. It's like kind of having faith that you when you sit down in that chair, it's not going to break," Anderson said. "When coach calls something, you don't hesitate. If you miss, he adjusts it and it will work. He believes me in me, which makes me believe in myself that I can strike with anyone in the division."

Now a winner of two straight, including victories over ranked combatants such as Jan Blachowicz and Fabio Maldonado, Anderson intends on picking up where he left in 2015 by taking another TUF veteran, Tom Lawlor, to task. He filled in for "Filthy" when the latter bowed out of a clash with the Brazilian slugger Maldonado back in November.

Lawlor, 32, returned from a 27-month layoff to knockout another heavy hitter Gian Villante, who also coincidentally stopped Anderson with strikes, last July. Facing the Massachusetts native is somewhat of a step back for Anderson considering he was slotted against two ranked foes in-a-row.

But he doesn't dwell on that fact. After all, many contenders in the Top 10, like Rashad Evans, were either booked, or hurt. Though the No. 12-ranked Anderson's full attention is on Lawlor, his ultimate goal is a showdown with the division's best.

"In the words of Mark Henry, he just told me the other day, 'When we work our stuff, we don't work on being better than the person your fighting next week. We working everyday to better yourself to beat Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier.'," Anderson said.

For continuous coverage of the entire UFC 196 card, including live updates and play-by-play, click here.

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