Tanner Leaves Legacy to Believe In

Evan Tanner. Photo by Tracy Lee.

When David Singer asked if I would be interested in helping him with an MMA blog he was starting during the summer of 2006, I was elated. Knowing the success that he had with other websites, I figured that we could create quite the avenue for myself and others to voice our opinions on the sport. Once I figured out that getting in contact with fighters for interviews and to create stories was part of the job description, I became pretty nervous.

One of those fighters that helped quell my fears was Evan Tanner. He quickly became my favorite fighter once I started watching the sport years ago and was one of the first fighters I contacted once I started writing. It couldn’t have been a better choice. Easily one of the nicest guys that I’ve ever spoken to, Tanner, who was admittedly a shy guy himself, calmed me down as I stumbled on the phone with him for the first time. It’s something I’ll never forget.

So when a reader sent in an email last night saying that Tanner may have passed away over the weekend during his planned camping trip into a mountain range near his new home of Oceanside, I quickly became pretty upset.

We had stayed in contact on a regular basis for the past couple of years, exchanging emails while attempting to set up interviews and things of that nature. I still don’t think that it’s hit me as of yet. The first professional athlete in which I had legitimate emotional investure in, has passed away. It’s an awkward feeling but it still saddens me.

So many thoughts are still going through my head regarding Evan’s death, so forgive me if I’m all over the place in writing this, but I want to give my thoughts on who was honestly, one of the nicest individuals that I’ve ever come in contact with.

It’s pretty easy to elaborate on why Tanner was and will remain my favorite fighter. 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.

He went through so many ups and downs and even publicly shared his experiences with anyone that was interested for the past couple of years. He was an adventurer, a free spirit, one who loved the mysteries of life and the philosophical intricacies concerning it. He also battled personal demons throughout most of his adult life with a reoccurring problem with alcohol, which he seemed to have kicked in the months before his death.

The one constant in all of that was that Tanner never gave up. He never quit and he kept on going, no matter what the circumstances.

In his fights against Phil Baroni and David Terrell, he literally came within seconds of going unconscious only to overcome and win. He may been bloodied and battered against Rich Franklin and David Loiseau, but you’d be damned if Tanner didn’t keep going until he wasn’t permitted to anymore.

The same can be said with his life. Health problems, a sunken ship, a broken-off engagement, personal demons - none of those things put Tanner down for the count. If life is measured by how are tough and resilient you are, then Evan Tanner is without a doubt, at the top of that list.

Fighting-wise, he’ll always be remembered as one of the sport’s pioneers and surely, one of the best to ever put the gloves on. He is a former UFC middleweight champion and at one point, was considered the best fighter in the world in his weight class. They are honors that no one can ever take away from him.

But the funny thing is, he never even set out to become either of those things. Fighting was just another adventure, another story that Evan wanted to add to his collection. Tanner is often considered one of the most underrated or possibly over-achieving fighters of all-time, and for good reason.

We’re talking about a guy that taught himself grappling off of instructional video tape. Seriously. He admitted that he never trained year-round, only in the month or two after signing to fight. Yet he still accomplished all that he did. Pretty scary to think about in my opinion.

As a person, you couldn’t find a more kind, more gentle human being. Although he had his flaws, he used them to teach others about the mistakes one shouldn’t make. He had a huge heart that was frequently on display throughout his life. What other fighter was willing to open up their home for random people that he had never met before just so they could have a place to live and the type of training to help them become relevant in the sport of MMA?

Tanner was all about inspiration. The books he read were often those of man conquering something bigger than he. So when he returned to the UFC earlier this year after spending two years self-admittedly “wasting away” on a boat in Oceanside and in the homes of friends, Tanner wanted to act as a potential inspiration to others, as a way to hopefully give back to those that supported him for years, looking past his almost odd behavior at certain points to do so.

Evan once told me that he lived life on a whim, and that he wouldn’t have it any other way. Name a job, hobby, or place and the chances are that Tanner has already done it or been there. He loved adventure. He loved experiencing new things, even if they set him back in life.

While it may have been Evan’s passion to push things to the limit that ultimately led to his untimely death, something tells me that he probably wouldn’t have had it any other way. Tanner wanted his life to be filled with stories, just like the slew of books he listed for fans to possibly read and enjoy on his websites over the years.

So while I fight to keep myself composed while writing this, I want Evan to be assured that he got those stories that he wanted. His life could easily be made a movie someday and I’m sure that he’d get a kick out of it. Who knows, anything is possible. Like he always said, you just have to believe.

If his goal was to inspire others, whether through words or actions, you can count me as one of the many. He did it his way and that’s all that counted. The MMA community has truly lost of it’s most beloved and I’m sure he’ll be honored as such.

Rest in peace my friend and thank you for everything.


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