A UFC belt is displayed during a news conference in Las Vegas, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, John Locher

A UFC belt is displayed during a news conference in Las Vegas, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, John Locher

Alberta bantamweight Chad (The Monster) Anheliger ready for long-awaited UFC debut

Anheliger (11-5-0) says head coach Brian Bird put him ‘through the ringer’

After earning his UFC contract with a win on Dana White’s Contender Series, Alberta bantamweight Chad (The Monster) Anheliger makes his UFC debut Saturday against American Jesse (Sui Generis) Strader on the undercard of a Fight Night card.

For the 35-year-old Anheliger, it’s been a long time coming.

He lost his first two pro fights in 2010-11 and five of his first seven. He then took a break from June 2014 to May 2016 and has won nine straight since.

The 135-pounder switched Calgary gyms to Champion’s Creed MMA, saying the move rejuvenated his career.

“I had to kind of walk in, hat in hand,” he said. “I had lost to some of their fighters and I just said, ‘Hey you guys are winning and I want to win too. And I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I’m working as hard as I know how to work but I’m not getting my results.’”

Anheliger (11-5-0) says head coach Brian Bird put him “through the ringer.”

“I had to prove myself and my commitment to the gym,” he said. “And improve some skills. So that’s what those two years (away) were all about.

“Add then when we were ready to come back, I was levels ahead of where I was … That reset really helped kind of fill in the gaps. And it really elevated my game as my record shows now.”

The main event at the UFC’s Apex production facility in Las Vegas features Brazil’s Johnny Walker (18-6-0), ranked 10th among light-heavyweight contenders, against No. 12 American Jamahal (Sweet Dreams) Hill (9-1-0 with one no contest).

Anheliger has been juggling a lot, getting ready.

In addition to training, he teaches at Champion’s Creed and has a day job. A longtime mechanic, he is the boat service manager at a Bass Pro Shops outlet.

“It’s a very very busy schedule. It always has been,” he said. “But it’s one of those things where I’ve done it for so long, it’s just become such normal routine for me.

“And it’s still working. So if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. I’m really fortunate to have a really supportive girlfriend who allows me to be gone for most of the day every day and my work is really supportive too, giving me the time away I need to make sure I’m training appropriately.”

Anheliger won his way into the UFC contract via a split-decision over Tajikstan’s Muin Gafurov in September.

“I’m still kind of riding the momentum off that win,” Anheliger said. “I kind of carried that energy with me all the way through training camp and I’m ready to keep it rolling.”

It was the ninth straight victory for Anheliger, who also holds a win over Season 29 “Ultimate Fighter” finalist Brady Hiestand. Anheliger was a substantial underdog against Gafurov, who was suspended for six months in December after failing a doping test.

A native of Consort, Alta., who now makes his home in Calgary, Anheliger says life hasn’t changed much since making the UFC.

“I still really haven’t done anything yet,” he said. “I need to get in there and win in the UFC. That’s the goal, that’s what I need to make happen. If anything all it did was kind of rejuvenate my motivation and my career — give me that extra push to keep pushing hard, training hard even though I’ve been at this for a long time.

“Getting that UFC contract, it kind of feels fresh again. I fell like I’m an 0-0 fighter again. So a lot of motivation going into this.”

Strader (5-2-0) lost his UFC debut last March via first-round KO at the hands of Montel (Quik) Jackson. He took the Jackson fight on short notice, failing to make weight by 1.5 pounds.

“He’s definitely going to be a tough fight,” said Anheliger, who adds Strader should not be judged on the Jackson loss.

Anheliger has felt plenty of pressure in recent fights, knowing he had to preserve his win streak to have a crack at making the UFC.

“Now I feel like I get to really just focus on a performance,” he said. “I just want to perform as great as I can. I want to put on an exciting fight. I want fans to be talking about me and my fight the next day.

“It’s kind of a different feeling. The pressure’s still there, but in a different way.”

Anheliger, who trains with fellow UFC fighter (Mean) Hakeem Dawodu, played hockey growing up and was looking for another sport when that road ran out.

“Then I just walked into my first MMA gym and I was hooked,” he said.

Anheliger has fought from 125 to 145 pounds, but says bantamweight (135) is where he performs best.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press