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Former Alabama linebacker Eryk Anders looks to knock off MMA legend Lyoto Machida

Eryk Anders has gone from the gridiron to the MMA cage. On Saturday he headlines a UFC Fight Night in Brazil with former champion Lyoto Machida. Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Eryk Anders has held a high opinion of Lyoto Machida from the first moment he saw him.

So much so, in fact, he placed a blind bet on him with his college roommate in 2009.

At that time, Anders was a linebacker at the University of Alabama, and a casual fan of mixed martial arts. He remembers watching Machida capture the UFC light heavyweight title over Rashad Evans that year -- and netting a small profit from it.

"My roommate was actually the guy who put me on to the UFC," Anders told ESPN. "I really didn't know much about it, but I liked 'The Dragon' nickname. They put his highlights on and I was like, 'Oh my goodness. Yeah, that's him. He gonna win for sure.'"

On Saturday, Anders (10-0) will square off with Machida (22-8) in the main event of UFC Fight Night in Belem, Brazil. The home crowd will be firmly on Machida's side, but Anders is quite used to hostile territory, having played multiple seasons of SEC football as a starting linebacker at Alabama.

"We played LSU in 2008, triple overtime," Anders recalls. "Verbal communication was impossible. I like that. That's how fans are supposed to act in their home stadium."

This is a major opportunity for Anders, who will be headlining an event in just his third UFC appearance.

Anders, 30, is used to MMA's fast track. After an unsuccessful run at playing professional football in the NFL and Canadian Football League, he switched his career focus. He was already in his 20s when he started training, but has picked things up quickly. And with a background that includes a BCS championship in 2009 -- a game against Texas where he had seven tackles and a forced fumble -- he's been a marketable athlete for MMA promotions.

Unlike most prospects, Anders committed to a lengthy amateur career -- in an attempt to suffer through the sport's learning curves without it affecting his professional record.

That strategy appears to have paid off, as Anders is potentially a handful of wins away from breaking into UFC title contention, less than three years into his career.

"It's not surreal being in this situation," Anders said. "I've never once thought a fight was happening too early in my career. Every fight is an opportunity to move up the food chain, so to speak. It's not like, 'Oh my God, I'm fighting Lyoto Machida.'"

Not only has Anders embraced these early opportunities, he's specifically asked for them. He asked to headline this event against Machida, and he already has a name in-mind to call out on Saturday, should the fight go his way.

"I know David Branch was set to fight in Orlando on February 24th, and his opponent [Yoel Romero] was moved to another event," Anders said. "After this fight, if I'm healthy, I would like to be his opposition. If he's willing and able, I'd like to fight him."