Evan Tanner weighs-in for UFC 51: Super Saturday. Photo property of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
It’s fitting that on a night where the middleweight titles of the UFC and PRIDE will be at the forefront of discussion, a former holder of one of those belts makes his long-awaited and anticipated return.
After taking a hiatus from active competition in order to get away from fighting and deal with some personal needs, it will be nearly two full years since the last time Evan Tanner stepped into the cage when he takes on Yushin Okami tomorrow night at UFC 82: Pride of a Champion.
“I was fighting for such a long time that I was worn out,” Tanner said during a recent interview session. “I just needed to get away from fighting for a little while, do my own thing. Life is so short and there are so many things that you can experience out there. I’ve always been an adventurer; I’ve always been one to be spontaneous. I wanted to experience life on the road again for a little bit.”
One has to assume that Okami is certainly going to provide a tough test in Tanner’s first fight back, especially since he’s been inactive for so long. With ring-rust out of the equation for Tanner, he’s prepared to return to his self-proclaimed home and do what he loves to do: have fun.
“I don’t see ring-rust being a factor in this fight,” Tanner said. “I’m coming back strong. Just because I may have sat on the sidelines for a little while doesn’t mean that I forgot how to fight. Everything for me is fresh. My training is fresh. My technique is fresh. I’m excited to get back in there and have fun again.”
Originally teaching himself submission and grappling techniques using instructional video tape, Tanner rode a roller coaster of ups and downs all the way to becoming the third middleweight champion in UFC history when he defeated David Terrell over three years ago.
“I never really set out to do that the first time,” said Tanner. “I just kept winning fights and next thing you know, I’ve got the middleweight belt. I was just trying to pay the bills.”
The fall from grace was hard for Tanner. After losing his belt in a rematch against Rich Franklin in his next fight, Tanner would lose consecutive bouts for the first time in his career when he fell to David Loiseau just months later.
He got back on track last April when he picked up a submission win over Justin Levens at UFC 59. It was his last fight to date. After taking a hiatus from active competition, it will be nearly two full years since the last time Tanner stepped into the Octagon.
Now 36, it would seem that Tanner is gearing up for one last run…
“I’ve been competing for over ten years,” Tanner said. “I didn’t start out fighting with any kind of plan. I was only going to fight one night in a heavyweight tournament and then I planned to move on to other adventures. It was just something I was going to do once for kicks. I had never done any kind of training until about two months before that fight. So I wouldn’t say I ever took any kind of run at fighting. It was at best, a part time hobby that I enjoyed doing that also happened to pay fairly well.”
“You can say I’m taking a run at it now,” Tanner continued. “I’ve got a lot left in me. I’m training full time, year round for the first time in my career. I’m going for the belt. In terms of how much longer I can keep going? All I can say is I feel great and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.”
The road to the belt leads to one man as of right now. After dispatching of every opponent he has faced so far inside the UFC, current champion Anderson Silva doesn’t look like he’s going to be losing anytime soon, unless he falls to Dan Henderson tomorrow night.
They say styles make fights. Well according to Tanner, he has the exact style that Silva doesn’t want to see.
“I just feel that my style matches up well with his,” said Tanner. “I feel most of his opponents were tailor made for his style. They chose to try to play his game. You can’t do that with Anderson.”
Before Silva even enters the picture, a showdown with Okami awaits. One of the aspects that makes this fight interesting is the fact that Okami will be the first ground and pound-style type of fighter that Tanner has faced since Tito Ortiz in 2001.
Couple that with the fact that the winner of Tanner-Okami may end up becoming the number one contender for the middleweight crown and you have yourself a big-time fight.
“Yushin is a great fighter,” Tanner said. “I think he’s been ranked as one of the top ten fighters in the world for some time now so it should be a good test to see where I’m at. Like I said though, I’m not worried. I’m here to have fun and do something that I enjoy doing. I know Okami is strong, I know he’s good on the ground so it should be fun to see if I can prevent him from imposing his will and his game plan on me”
“If you’re going to fight at the highest level in the world, why fool around?” Tanner asked. “If you’re going to fight you might as well get in there and fight the best, right?”
The road to regaining his title begins tomorrow night for Tanner.
We would like to thank Evan for taking his time to do this interview.
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