At the age of 37, Evan Tanner passed away late last week due to extreme heat exposure in the Southeastern part of California. A month prior to his death, Tanner blogged online about his upcoming trip to the desert.
“I plan on going so deep into the desert, that any failure of my equipment could cost me my life. I’ve been doing a great deal of research and study. I want to know all I can about where I’m going, and I want to make sure I have the best equipment.”
He talked about the trip as he did with any of his other adventurous journeys in life — with the same kind of curiousness, excitement, and throw-caution-to-the-wind spirit that personified who he was as a person and as an MMA fighter.
In a profession full of larger-than-life characters, Evan Tanner stood out amongst everyone else because he didn’t want to be part of the traditional crowd. He was his own man and drifted from Amarillo, Texas to Gresham, Oregon to Oceanside, California. What made Tanner such a fascinating personality in the MMA world was his ability to emotionally connect with the fans. He was a flawed person who didn’t try to sugercoat or hide his problems in life behind a veneer of marketing & spin. You felt like you knew Evan Tanner, even if you had never met him in person.
“He would write with painful honesty and admirable vision about every aspect of his journey through this life, and when I would read his words I would always get food for thought,” said UFC commentator Joe Rogan. “His blog was a porthole into the window of his soul, and reading his brave, uncensored thoughts gave me an invigorated sense of purpose to do the same. Evan’s take on life was like that of a character in an adventure novel, and his thirst for experience was actually what lead him into fighting in the first place.”
One minute, Evan was writing about turning his house in Oregon into a place for fighters to stay at and the next minute he was writing about losing his boat. You never quite knew what to expect as far as what he was going to do next in life, but you knew that it was going to be some new challenge and you half-jokingly hoped he wouldn’t get hurt in the process.
“Evan meant a lot of things to a lot of people,” remarked fighter Ian Dawe. “To some he was a drifter, a poet, a warrior. To others he was a world champion and source of inspiration, he was my best friend. More importantly, Evan was his own man. He knew his path, and he walked it, as he will continue to walk in our hearts.”
The last year of Evan Tanner’s life proved to be both triumphant and demoralizing. He was trying to conquer the demons in his life (gambling & alcholism) and after a long hiatus from fighting in MMA competition, Tanner was set to make a come back in UFC. Just making it back to the top promotion in the world of MMA was an accomplishment in and of itself. However, Evan struggled to stay competitive in the 185-pound division. He was pitted against Yushin Okami (Evan lost) and soon found himself in the equivalent of a ‘loser leaves town’ match against Kendall Grove on Spike TV. Tanner lost the fight — it wasn’t even close. At that point, Evan’s career in UFC as a competitive fighter was over.
Looking back at Tanner’s career in UFC, it was clear that whenever he stepped into the cage, you knew that he was going to bring everything he had to the table. There are fighters who talk the talk and those who walk the walk. Evan Tanner did both throughout his professional fighting career. His win over David Terrell to capture the UFC Middleweight title was a thing of beauty, and his brutal slugfest with Rich Franklin was the stuff champions are made of. Because most of Evan’s UFC fights took place in the company’s pre-Spike TV era, not a lot of UFC’s newer fans got a chance to watch Evan at his peak. However, the diehard MMA fans who followed the sport for years knew what Evan Tanner stood for and what he was all about as both a competitor and athlete.
“It’s pretty easy to elaborate on why Tanner was and will remain my favorite fighter,” said MMA on Tap writer John Chandler in an article published online yesterday. “Just about every single one of his fights were exciting. They had you on the edge of your seat. What Tanner lacked in skill, he made up for in heart. There were many a night where Tanner had to overcome the brink of defeat in order to squeak out a win. It was extremely entertaining watching him do so for years. It also seems that was the way that Tanner lived life.”
There’s always a tendency in the sports world for fans to over-romanticize their favorite icon or hero when they die. History is usually re-written in some form or another to try to airbrush the faults and failures of a person when their time has passed on earth. While the reaction to Tanner’s death has been emotional and sincere in the MMA business amongst insiders, fighters, promoters, agents, and fans, it has also been thankfully accurate and not over-the-top.
“Evan Tanner was a drunk and an alcoholic. Many of the pseudo-obituaries on other pages have decided to ignore this fact, but I’m including it because I think it’s probably one of the most defining characteristics of his personality,” exclaimed MMA writer Ryan Harkness. “For the two years he spent away from the UFC he drank himself nearly to death. Then he came to the point where a decision had to be made, and he chose life. He chose a day to stop drinking, and he did it: he stopped drinking. He worked towards returning to the UFC and he did it. He returned to the UFC. Even through his losses I found inspiration, because Evan had gone as far down the path of self-destruction as one can, and had made it back to tell the tale. Those who ignore that facet of Evan’s existence for reasons of political correctness are in the wrong. We don’t care about Evan Tanner in spite of his shortcomings. We cared about him because of his shortcomings.”
I’m not sure what Evan Tanner would think about the outpouring of emotion from fans about his death, but I suspect that he would be heartened by the support and would encourage those same fans to support others in need of assistance in life. You can use many words to describe the life and times of Evan Tanner, but boring sure isn’t one of them.
BIOFILE: Remembering Evan Tanner
Status: Former UFC Middleweight contender.
Ht: 6-0 Wt:200
Born On: Feb 11, 1971 In: Amarillo, Texas
Childhood Heroes: “I liked the Terminator, and Bugs Bunny was always cool [smiles].”
Hobbies/Interests: “I’d say surfing is my favorite, but I don’t get to do that too often. I like snowboarding, hiking, bicycling, reading, and riding my Harley.”
Nicknames: “‘Machine’ back when I wrestled in high school, because I was in pretty good shape. They also called me ‘Ivan Drago’ after the Russian fighter in Rocky IV.”
Favorite Movies: “That’s an easy one…Braveheart, Gladiator, Dances with Wolves, Legends of the Fall. Some of my favorites.”
Musical Tastes: “You know, I pretty much like everything – rock, country, classical, blues, hip-hop, and whatever else. It’s all good.”
Favorite TV Shows: “I don’t really watch too much regular TV. I like The 70’s show. The History Channel is my favorite though.”
Early Fighting Memory: “Let’s see, probably the earliest fight memory that stands out would be the first night I fought. I signed up for an eight-man heavyweight tournament in the USWF in Amarillo, Texas back in 1997. I had to fight three times that night, and ended up winning the tournament. That was a rush.”
Favorite Meal: “Hmmmm…pizza is always great. My favorites would have to be Thai food, then Mexican.”
Favorite Breakfast Cereal: “Cocoa Pebbles are the best.”
Favorite Ice Cream Flavor: “Cookies and cream.”
First Job: “Ha ha, I had my own paper route when I was eight-years old – Amarillo Globe News.”
First Car: “My first vehicle was a motorcycle. It was an old 1980 Yamaha Maxim with a big Windjammer fairing of the front.”
Pre-Fight Feeling/Mindset: “That’s kind of a hard one to answer. A lot of things go through my head. I know right before I step in the ring, I’m pumped and excited. I feel some butterflies. I’m thinking that I’m here to take care of business”.
Funny Fighting Memory: “I fought the school bully in 7th grade. Don’t remember his name. We had gotten into it at school and decided to meet at the skating rink that weekend to settle it. It was a small town we lived in at the time. The skating rink was the only hangout for the kids in town on Saturday night. It was especially crowded that night. I guess our fight was the biggest thing going on in town. So this guy shows up, and we decide we’re going fight in the field across the street. The parking lot of the skating rink wasn’t paved. It had been raining so the parking lot and the field were nothing but mud. We walk out the door and the skating rink emptied out behind us. Most people didn’t even bother taking their skates off. Some got only one skate off. They didn’t want to miss a thing. (Who won?) I wouldn’t say the fight was very interesting. Neither one of us knew what we were doing. I just have this memory of all these people wearing roller skates, stumbling, and hobbling across a muddy parking lot and into a muddy farm field, and standing there in their skates watching two guys duke it out in the mud. About a hundred pairs of skates were ruined that night. The skating rink owners were pissed off. All of the parents were pissed off. And for some reason they all blamed it on me. After that, I was known as a troublemaker. I was the scourge of the town.”
Greatest Moment of Career: “I would like to think my greatest moment hasn’t happened yet. (So far?) I would say the moment that meant the most to me was winning the Texas State Championship in wrestling my junior year of high school. It was the first time I set a big goal for myself and accomplished it.”
Most Painful Moment: “I don’t really think I have an answer for that one.”
Worst Injury: “I’ve been very fortunate in that sense. Hurt my knee skiing my senior year of high school. I missed most of the wrestling season. That’s probably the worst injury I’ve had.”
Favorite Vacation Spot: “I’ve been to a lot of cool places. I don’t think I have a favorite. What I like best is riding the motorcycle across country, watching the scenery roll by.”
Favorite Fighters To Watch: “I would definitely say my teammates – Randy Couture, Dan Henderson, Matt Lindland and all the rest of the fighters at Team Quest. I spend a lot of time training with these guys. They help you prepare for your fights, and you help them get ready for theirs. It’s easy to get excited about watching them compete.”
Favorite Fight(s): Randy and Tito. Matt’s fights are always fun to watch…I liked how Matt totally controlled Baroni in both of their fights. Dan has had some great fights in Pride. I really liked Dan’s fights against Shungo Oyama and Murilo Bustamante, those were great KOs.”
People Qualities Most Admired: “I would say courage, discipline, honesty, kindness, and compassion.”