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David

The Legend of Evan Tanner

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Not sure how many forum regulars were fans back in 2008 when Tanner died, but I'd been a keen follower of not just Evan Tanner the fighter, but Evan Tanner the man. 

He had a lot of demons for sure, but he was different from the "just bleed" types of that era. A dude who liked to think about things a little more than the average cage fighter.

Anyway, I saw a new video that MMA film-maker Bobby Razak put up on YouTube about Tanner, and figured I'd add it here along with some others that will help clue people in as to who Tanner really was.

If you're unfamiliar with the guy, I'd watch these in order. This is probably the real good dude type that @Carbomb would have liked had he seen him in his prime.

 

 

 

 

 

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I saw a little clip of that Razak thing the other day and meant to watch it so cheers for the reminder. Tanner seemed a top bloke. So sad how it ended. I remember reading the news he’d died on Meltzer’s site and I couldn’t believe it. So out of the blue and the way it happened was even more sad/weird.

That loss to Tito was a fucking headbutt as well! 

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1 minute ago, wandshogun09 said:

I saw a little clip of that Razak thing the other day and meant to watch it so cheers for the reminder. Tanner seemed a top bloke. So sad how it ended. I remember reading the news he’d died on Meltzer’s site and I couldn’t believe it. So out of the blue and the way it happened was even more sad/weird.

That loss to Tito was a fucking headbutt as well! 

One thing that became clear when he did pass was who exactly were the cunts in MMA at the time. The likes of Chael Sonnen and Matt Hughes immediately spring to mind if I recall correctly.

Those two in particular just didn't understand that not everyone thinks the same way they do. Then there was the claims of suicide, which were ridiculous. I think Razak wanted to dispel those rumours once and for all.

Edited by David

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I watched the "Once I Was A Champion," documentary years ago. 

Sonnen's comments on it were very insensitive (iirc). 

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Thanks for the links, David. I'll get round to watching them soon, hopefully. So backlogged at the moment, it's ridiculous.

To clarify, I'll always root for the good guys, but I've also come to accept that, when it comes to MMA fighters, it's probably a good idea not to delve too deeply into what's behind the fighter. Ultimately, you're right in that we don't tune into MMA for the politics or the values; I'm just so sick of seeing shitty people on top. Even during good times, that is still a truism, but right now, it's a lot to take.

Still doesn't affect my judging criteria for GOAT. It sticks in my craw to admit that Jones or Nurmagomedov will most likely will have definitively and unquestionably knocked GSP off the top spot by the ends of their respective careers, but I do admit it. 

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Great post David.

I was a big Evan Tanner fan back in the day. I never really learned much about Tanner away from the cage until close to his death though, he was posting regular updates online and made me realise that he was a different kind of cat. He was the complete opposite of what you'd expect a cage fighter to be.

His first fight with Phil Baroni remains one of my fondest memories from that era. When he put Baroni in the thai clinch and started firing knees to the body i probably spilled my beer, tremendous. Tanner always seemed like the underdog and he was up against it.

Im fairly certain its been said that Tanner barely trained too, he was just a raw, natural athlete who did things his own way. Every now and then Tanner's old bare knuckle footage gets shared about on social media, guy was nasty. I need to watch the documentary again though, been a long time.

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I used to like that you never knew what he was going to look like one fight to the next. He’d go from the Bart Gunn look like in that picture above to long hair in his next fight to cornrows to a fucking topknot. My favourite was when he rocked up with a full caveman beard for the Kendall Grove fight.

2-BF7-D7-B3-B0-BD-45-A7-AE9-F-2-F956-A8-

He’d be so great to have around now in the days of a thousand podcasts. Imagine the stories he could have told, MMA and otherwise. The man seemed to live his whole life like one long adventure. Sadly not long enough. 

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11 hours ago, Egg Shen said:

I'm fairly certain its been said that Tanner barely trained too,

I know he changed camps a lot in the final few years of his career. 

Before that, he trained at Team Quest for years. I'm actually a bit surprised he lasted as long as he did there. As a gentle soul who liked to do his own thing, he must have been out of place at that camp when you consider who else trained there.

Couture fell out with almost everyone he did business with. Lindland was meant to be very difficult to be around. And Sonnen was Sonnen - a charming bloke, but someone who could be a complete bellend. 

Edited by jimufctna24

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I remember Chael saying Tanner was well liked at Team Quest but that he was a really quiet guy who just did his own thing and kept to himself. But also that he was ‘nobody’s fool’ and wouldn’t take any shit if other fighters came to the gym and tried to take liberties in sparring. Apparently that’s how the thing with Baroni started, from a sparring session that got heated. 

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My main memory of Evan Tanner is from when he completely derailed the David Terrell hype train.  I'll admit that I bought completely into the hype for Terrell being the next big thing, especially after he knocked out Matt Lindland, but Tanner wasn't fussed in the slightest and just broke him.

21 hours ago, Egg Shen said:

Im fairly certain its been said that Tanner barely trained too, he was just a raw, natural athlete who did things his own way.

This is how I remember it too. I may be wrong but I believe that when he started fighting he trained himself in his garage by watching instructional videos.

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12 minutes ago, Lasty said:

I may be wrong but I believe that when he started fighting he trained himself in his garage by watching instructional videos.

Correct:

Quote

Tanner entered the sport in 1997 of his own desire (with a little influence from close friends), having never trained extensively with any MMA camp. He studied Gracie jiu-jitsu videos and learned the art of the submission at home, in his garage. His competitive drive and pure will to win, however, enabled him to reach heights that now seem borderline preposterous. - https://bleacherreport.com/articles/1471973-watch-evan-tanner-documentary-once-i-was-a-champion-now

 

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its crazy to think im actually older now than Tanner was when he died. In my head he's still a wise, haggard old vet.

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Just now, Egg Shen said:

its crazy to think im actually older now than Tanner was when he died. In my head he's still a wise, haggard old vet.

Now you're the haggard old vet.

Not sure about the wise part, mind you 😉

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Meltzer's obituary of him from when he passed.

Quote

Evan Tanner, an enigma of an individual who until the past year, never fully embraced that he was a fighter, became the first modern era UFC champion to pass away at a young age.

Tanner was found dead in the Palo Verde mountain area in Southern California by the Imperial County Sheriff’s Department on 9/8 at the age of 37. He was found a few miles away from his camp site, on foot, with no water, during a heat wave with temperatures hovering between 110 and 114 degrees. The preliminary coroner’s report lists the death as being believed to be due to heat exposure.

Tanner, who battled depression his entire life, told friends he was going to the desert to cleanse himself, which was not out of character for him.

On 8/16, he wrote on his web site, “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.”

Later, when hearing about the reaction to that statement and people fearing for his life, Tanner posted on the Spike TV web site, “It seems some MMA web sites have reported on the story, posting up that I might die out in the desert, or that it might be my greatest opponent yet, etc. Come on guys. It’s really common down in Southern California to go out to the off road recreation areas in the desert about an hour away from LA and San Diego. So my plan is to go out to the desert, do some camping, ride the motorcycle, and shoot some guns. Sounds like a lot of fun to me. A lot of people do it. This isn’t a version of `Into the Wild.’ I’m not going out in the desert with a pair of shorts and a Bowie knife, to try to live off the land. I’m going fully geared up and I’m planning on having fun.”

Tanner is believed to have left for the portion of the desert near Brawley, CA, about a two-and-a-half drive east of San Diego on 9/2.

According to George Moreno of the Imperial County Sheriff’s Department, Tanner had texted a friend on 9/4 saying he had run out of gas and water while riding his motorcycle. In the message, he said that if you don’t hear from me tomorrow morning, contact authorities for help. When the friend didn’t hear from him the next morning, he contacted the San Diego police, who notified the Imperial County Sheriff’s Department immediately and a search began that morning.

The department’s search and rescue unit, with an air squadron began searching the area. It took them three days to find his camp site, on 9/7, which was about 50 miles away from the nearest town. The search concentrated on the area and Marine Corps helicopters from the base in Yuma, AZ, spotted a body at Noon the next day, about two miles away from the camp site.

Tanner’s motorcycle, which was out of gas, was recovered a few miles away from his body. Moreno noted that there was plenty of water and gas at his camp site.

Moreno said there was no indication of the death being a suicide. He noted the investigation into the death was still ongoing and that the circumstances were very strange. He said that at times people have gotten lost in the area in the winter, but because of the heat and people avoiding the area, something like this is unusual in the summer.

Tanner, who held the UFC middleweight championship in 2005, was unique in the MMA world. He was a self-taught fighter who saw fighting solely as a way to make a few bucks from time-to-time and never fully dedicated himself to it.

He was an admitted alcoholic who was not shy about saying how he squandered his prime years and when he finally got serious about fighting in late 2007. But he was also very open and personable, with a sense of adventure like he was always seeking something but could never fully figure out what it was. In the last year, he recognized that all the abuse he did to his body may have made it impossible to fully reach what his athletic potential could have been, as he recognized he was getting older and time was running out on his fighting career.

“Fighting never was my dream,” he said. “I was never fully committed to the sport and I always had other things going on.”

Born February 11, 1971, in Amarillo, Tanner largely raised himself growing up. He didn’t wrestle until his sophomore year in high school. During the summer between his sophomore and junior year, he studied books on wrestling technique and picked up what he learned so fast that he was state champion as a junior and a senior, and became something of a local legend in Amarillo. He had Division I offers. But he ended up not taking them and after briefly attending a small college, got mononucleosis in his first year and even with no energy, never missed a day of practice until he got so sick he had to drop out of school. He then began a life of drifting from place-to-place, and working odd jobs.

He did nothing athletic for years, but was back in Amarillo visiting friends in early 1997 when some of his high school teammates signed up for the first show of the Unified Shoot Wrestling Federation (USWF). The USWF was a promotion put together by Steve Nelson, an Amarillo-based pro wrestler and MMA fighter who had an idea of combining the two genres in his home city, which had a great pro wrestling heritage until cable television changed wrestling in the late 70s. Like Pancrase, Nelson used the rules fans in the area were familiar with from pro wrestling, billed the matches as both pro wrestling and being real, which with a few exceptions, they really were. This included rope breaks on submissions, and no closed fist punches, as Texas at the time didn’t allow MMA. He used local former high school athletes and guys who trained at martial arts dojos, billing those who weren’t born in Amarillo as from the city they were born in, making them the heels. Tanner quickly became the company’s top babyface except for Nelson himself, who actually brought in James Maritato (Nunzio) as James Stone as his original opponent in a match where Nelson was made world middleweight champion to kick off the promotion. They drew crowds in excess of 4,000 for the first two years, but it burned out after Nelson’s return grudge match with Ralph Gracie.

Nelson, the son of pro wrestler Gordon Nelson, a famous Canadian shooter, and Maria “Fifi” Laverne, a women’s wrestling star, competed on an international level of a sambo champion, as well as did pro wrestling for UWFI in Japan and lost to Ralph Gracie on the first Extreme Fighting Championship show, the first PPV competitor to UFC.

Tanner had no interest in doing it. But since he was a better wrestler in high school than his buddies who were doing it, they talked him into it. With basically no training, he submitted Mike Kennedy, Gary Nabors and Paul Buentello in an open weight division tournament, the longest of the three taking 2:21. He had no interest in ever doing it again, but Nelson, looking at making another local star, tried to talk him into returning.

“I got talked into trying it by some friends, but it wasn’t my thing,” Tanner told us a few months ago. “After the first time, I never figured on fighting again. Then they offered me a shot at the title. I thought it would make a good story to tell to my kids. If I won, I’d get a photo of me with a world title belt. Then I won the title. Then they kept asking me back to defend it.”

Tanner used his wrestling and his submission knowledge was based on studying “Gracie in Action” videotapes. He had a unique ability to watch something on tape and be able to implement it in practice without any hands-on coaching, which was enough to win almost all his matches until the quality of fighters got better in recent years.

Nelson created a world heavyweight championship match with Tanner vs. Heath Herring and Tanner agreed, thinking it would be his last match. He said he thought it would be cool to get photos and tell his grandchildren some day that he had been a world champion at something. He won that match and continued to fight, compiling a 12-1 record until he was brought to Japan where he became the first foreigner to win the Pancrase Neo Blood tournament with wins over Ikuhisa Minowa, Kousei Kubota and Justin McCulley.

He dropped out of fighting for the first time in early 1999, at which point he had already reached UFC level and had compiled a 22-2 record, including submission wins over full-time fighter Ryushi Yanagisawa in Japan and U.S. national calibre wrestler Darryl Gholar in his UFC debut. With no Muay Thai background, he specialized in getting opponents in a Muay Thai clinch and delivering elbows. His style in UFC was based on the clinch and taking opponents down and delivering wicked elbows, as his boxing skills were not at top level, which hurt him later in his career when he fought twice against Rich Franklin, who was able to keep from being taken down or trapped in a clinch, and would wear him out with superior kickboxing.

At about this time, he trained in Norman, OK, with USA stars, along with Frank Trigg. It was said that he was the most impressive athlete and at one point, since he still had four years of college eligibility left, there was talk of recruiting him for the University of Oklahoma wrestling team and giving him a college scholarship. At the time, he was at least considering it, and even talked about wanting to become a doctor, but it somehow fell through. Like everywhere, he only stayed in Norman for a brief period, and left for Portland, OR, where he was based during the heyday of his UFC career as part of Team Quest.

Tanner returned in mid-2000, and was brought back to UFC at the end of the year to build for a match with Tito Ortiz for the light heavyweight title. Tanner was small for the division, weighing around 190 pounds without cutting weight, but had fought most of his career in open weight matches, and was noted for being very strong for his size, He possessed a heavily muscular physique even though he didn’t train year-around and drank heavily.

But against the top level of competition, his lack of dedication and focused training worked against him. He headlined the first UFC show under the new Zuffa ownership on February 23, 2001, in Atlantic City, where Ortiz, who was probably close to 220 pounds when going into the cage and looked much bigger, picked him up slammed him down hard, driving his head into Tanner’s jaw on impact, and knocking Tanner cold in 32 seconds in a light heavyweight title match.

Tanner’s life over the next few years consisted of drifting from place-to-place, and working odd jobs in new cities every few months. A couple of times a year he’d get fights, and spend two months or so before the fights training. His rep for being a heavy drinker was no secret in the fight world, and it was noted with his physical gifts that he had potential to be a champion if he would ever dedicate himself to the sport.

The interesting thing is Tanner claimed he hated drinking. He didn’t like the taste, doing it or its repercussions. He said when he was a teenager, it was just something he told himself he had to do, whether it was a form of self abuse, or to prove to himself that he could out-party anyone, which for a time he gained a reputation for, but it was something he couldn’t quite explain. He just explained that like the drifting and the often menial jobs for someone who had a very intelligent and well read side of him, the heavy drinking and its affects were part of the life story he envisioned himself taking, almost like he was going to be a character in a movie he was writing with his own life.

Tanner’s gimmick of sorts, was that every time you saw him, he looked completely different. His hair was different, sometimes long, sometimes short, pony tail, braided, permed, buzzed, big beard, no beard.

He won four in a row after the Ortiz loss before losing his first fight to Franklin on April 25, 2003 at a time when both fought at light heavyweight and Franklin was significantly bigger. Tanner tried to clinch and throw knees, but Franklin would escape from the clinches. He caught Tanner with a right uppercut and three overhand rights, and Tanner staggered and the match was stopped. The crowd in Miami booed the stoppage heavily, but it was early in the education process and was not a bad stoppage.

The loss led to Tanner cutting a few pounds for the first time and moving to middleweight, where he scored three wins in a row.

His first two were against Phil Baroni, who in his testament to be a pro wrestling fan, described his fighting style in their first meeting as “Brooklyn Brawling.” That November 21, 2003, was an early stoppage. Baroni came out strong in the stand-up, opening cuts on Tanner’s eye, forehead and nose and Tanner looked on the verge of being knocked out for the first two minutes, until suddenly Baroni gassed. Tanner took him down, got the mount, and started throwing vicious elbows. Ref Larry Landless asked Baroni if he wanted to quit, but Baroni thought he was being asked if he wanted to continue, and screamed out, “Yes,” and the match was stopped. There were 18 seconds left in the first round, and Tanner may very well have finished him before the round ended, but it was stopped early. Baroni went crazy, and threw two punches at Landless, neither of which connected, before Dana White calmed Baroni down. Landless did publicly apologize for the miscommunication and a rematch was held on June 19, 2004. But Baroni completely lacked aggressiveness, did little and was dominated standing for three rounds.

Tanner then earned his spot in a match for the vacant middleweight title after champion Murilo Bustamante left after a money dispute, by beating Robbie Lawler via submission from a triangle from the bottom in 2:22 on October 22, 2004.

The high point of his fighting career came on February 5, 2005, on a Super Bowl weekend show in Las Vegas when he was picked to face David Terrell for the vacant middleweight title. When Joe Silva offered him the fight, he had decided the next morning he was going to call Silva and turn it down. But he was backed out of it.

In the first round of the fight, he got on top of Terrell and began destroying him with elbows. At the 4:35 mark, the fight was stopped. He was the UFC middleweight champion.

In doing so, Tanner came one step away from being one of the first superstars of the sport made by television. The original plan for season two of the Ultimate Fighter was to have middleweight champion Tanner and welterweight champion Matt Hughes as coaches, which would lead to Hughes moving up to middleweight to face Tanner for the title as a PPV main event on November 19, 2005, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

But just before the season was going to start taping, he had a title defense against Franklin, who followed Tanner in cutting to middleweight.

On June 4, 2005, in Atlantic City, Franklin ended Tanner’s short title reign when the match was called on blood at 3:25 of the fourth round.

Tanner was unable to get Franklin in a clinch, or take him down, and Franklin was able to pick the slower Tanner apart standing. Tanner had one golden opportunity when he decked Franklin in the second round and went for submission after submission before time in the round ran out. Franklin, because of his weight cut, was starting to tire. Tanner, sensing it, decided to stand with Franklin and wait for him to gas, but Franklin, as tired as he was, was still a better striker and started turning Tanner’s face into hamburger meat. Franklin opened one cut after another and Tanner’s face was getting disfigured from all the swelling, looking like an American Takayama. In the third round, Tanner’s eyes were looking like hell and he was surviving simply on guts, because he couldn’t mount any offense. By the fourth round, Franklin’s hands were battered because he had hit Tanner with so many shots that every punch hurt him and he couldn’t punch any longer with full power. But Tanner wasn’t blocking much of anything. Franklin would connect but his hands hurt so much he couldn’t put the power in the punches to finish. Tanner wasn’t about to quit, nor did the punches have the power to put him down. But the cuts were getting worse. Franklin started throwing hard knees and Tanner by this point had three big cuts over his left eye, looking like an open triangle which started affecting his vision. He was brought to the doctor, who stopped the fight. Tanner needed 17 stitches to close the cuts while both of Franklin’s fists and one of his feet were in tremendous pain and swelling badly by the time the fight was over.

There was still talk of making Tanner a coach for season two, because Franklin and Hughes were friends at the time, and had trained together, and wouldn’t agree to fight each other. The decision came down to wanting to build a PPV fight–Tanner vs. Hughes with no title at stake; or build the welterweight and middleweight championships for the long run. The decision seems obvious now, but it wasn’t at the time. Long-term it was more important to give Franklin, the more marketable and more stable of the two, the rocket to stardom, including giving Franklin a main event on the first live MMA show in history against Ken Shamrock.

After beating Justin Levens on April 15, 2006, Tanner quit UFC and the fight world and went back to drifting and drinking until in late 2007, he hit rock bottom, as he had done many times. But this time he said was the worst. He said when he got there, saw that he was 36 years old, weak, burned out and completely out of shape. In the movie he was scripting of his life, he had a new adventure. It was to be a fighter.

“I did a lot of damage in my two years (actually closer to 18 months) off,” he said. “Last October, I decided to completely focus on being a fighter.”

Instead of living in small towns and working as a bouncer, or building homes, washing dishes, working in a bakery or digging ditches, he moved to Las Vegas to concentrate on becoming the best fighter he could be. He lived in a small apartment with little furniture, often sleeping on the floor, but his place was filled with books everywhere as he continued being a voracious reader. He claimed he had been completely sober since October, but said it took months of training to get to where he felt right because of all the damage he had done in his time off.

He concentrated his training on being the best wrestler he could be. He felt wrestling, along with working knees from the clinch, were his strength. In watching how the game had changed, and being bitter when those in charge claimed things were different noting that there were plenty of great athletes in the sport a decade ago, he felt too many people in MMA try to be something that they aren’t. And that gets them into trouble.

But the game had changed where that kind of strategy, thinking that his best wrestling with overcome his deficiencies in kickboxing was no longer effective in his case.

His first match back on his new contract was on 3/1, when he faced Yushin Okami in a match where if he won, he’d be right in the thick of things to regain the middleweight title. But he felt, in hindsight, that match was too quick and he wasn’t nearly ready for someone at that level. His stamina hadn’t returned fully from all the years of abuse, nor was his speed and strength fully back. And he wasn’t sure if it ever would be fully back. He was knocked out by a knee in the second round.

In his next fight, which turned out to be his last, he lost a decision to Kendall Grove on 6/21 in the main event of UFC’s most recent live television card on Spike, in a match where both men were told before the fight by UFC matchmaker Silva that it was a loser leaves town match. He finished his career with a 34-8 overall record.

Since that fight, as he prepared for his journey into the desert, Tanner moved once again, leaving Las Vegas for Oceanside, CA, where he was going to settle down across from the ocean and teach at the Compound Mixed Martial Arts & Fitness Gym. At least until it came time to move on.

 

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