It's been two years since former UFC middleweight champion Evan Tanner died in the California desert.
In remembrance, MMAForReal.com staffers and contributors have penned some thoughts about Tanner.
Evan Tanner was one of my first favorite fighters. There was just something likable about him despite all his demons, demons that normally would cause me to not follow a fighter. His "everyman" persona and mentality really stood out to me the most. I basically maintained and checked a MySpace account to follow him. He was an open book, a free spirit. I remember being so excited to see him make his comeback in person against Yushin Okami at UFC 82 in March 2008. I was crushed when he was knocked out because I wanted so badly for him to succeed. "Believe" was something Tanner always promoted. To this day, I believe.
I respect anyone that gets in there and performs for my entertainment. I think the thing that I remember most about Tanner is that he was just an ordinary guy that saw something he thought he could do and went for it..watching DVD's to learn new skills. Think about it, who has that type of discipline to do that consistently enough to become good, much less a champion? There's something to be said for an individual with that type of drive and determination as very few humans are capable of accomplishing something like that...much respect. RIP.
I still remember the first time that I ever saw Evan Tanner compete. It was during his UFC debut against Darrel Gholar back in 1999. I remember thinking that I hadn't seen many fighters make better use of striking from the clinch. Tanner's use of knees, elbows and punches from the clinch was revered during that timeframe. He also proved to be a fighter that was no stranger to finishing his opponent via submission. Evan won that first UFC fight against Gholar by submission (choke) and would go on to compile a UFC record of 11-6 (32-8 overall in MMA), with four of those UFC wins coming via submission. For me, however, it was Tanner's heart and toughness that I will remember most. Evan didn't have the most raw talent in the world, but whatever he lacked in natural talent he made up for in determination. Tanner enjoyed a reputation as a hard worker and those of us that had the opportunity to see this Amarillo, Texas native compete over the years won't forget the passion he showed during his fights. As a fan, when you pay for that ticket or pay-per-view, you appreciate those fighters on the undercard that push themselves and fight with heart. Tanner was one of those guys.
For his time he was an above average fighter that had some truly memorable moments inside the Octagon. He was apart of a massive MMA boom in Texas. Like most MMA fighters during that time, he had a rough life and nothing was easy for him. Unlike most fighters Tanner publicly struggled with addiction and self doubt. People that met Tanner said he changed or shaped their lives.
Finally, let's hear from Lights Out Radio contributor Jay in Mississippi, who had personal interaction with Tanner. This was penned following Tanner's death:
My second MMA show that I went to was a USWF show with Tanner and Adrian Serrano on it. My first girlfriend in college was from the Amarillo area and her father worked at the fairgrounds coliseum there. Her dad was nice enough to get us into the fairgrounds to watch the event. Apparently, the fairgrounds hosted a wrestling show right before the event. The wrestling show ended up going long, so we arrived just to see a six man tag match with blood, tables, and chairs. I mean right as the last guy from the six-man tag went to the back to get himself stitched up, the USWF show started. No break, no pause, no intermission. No nothing. To this day, I have not seen anything more surreal than teens and kids in Stone Cold, nWo, and Bret Hart shirts enjoying hybrid MMA. There was no booing or "stop humping him" chants. An all around enjoyable experience that I won't forget.
After the show, my girlfriend helped her dad and his assistant close down shop at the concession stands while I went to go meet some of the dudes that fought that night. Serrano was sitting with some of the indy wrestlers from earlier that night. The other guys that fought on the USWF card were casually tossing back brews and corn chips. With Serrano being the most established and well known guy other than Evan, I went to go get his autograph. Adrian agreed to sign my program, but he didn't have a pen or marker to sign it with. I didn't either so I asked one of the indie guys if he had anything to write with. I dunno what the guy's problem was, but he slapped the program straight out of my hand. In his mind, I had offended him by not asking for his autograph too. Being nice, Adrian picked up my program and told me to wait there. I had no idea if Adrian was just going to get a pen or he just left me there to fend for myself. As soon as Adrian was out of sight, the guy got in my face about being respectful and the right "conduct" of a stupid mark. I tried every verbal and diplomatic way to get out of the situation only to be backed into one of the bathroom doors. Before the guy could get further with his little tirade, Adrian and Evan walked straight past this fellow and both turned around to get face to face with the guy. They didn't have to say a single word for him to get the message. When he realized he was not going to win, he backed off to go on his merry way.
From that point to now, very few fighters have left that kind of impression on me as a fan of the sport like Tanner did. Just because Tanner is gone doesn't mean that there will not be Evan Tanners all across the world. Those guys are a quintessential part of combat sports that allow MMA to exist. I hate using the word intangible, but it thoroughly applies in this case. You are probably not going to see any of Evan's fights and see one of the greatest of all time nor should you. You should see the true measure of a man and his determination to be a warrior.
I doubt I'll be able to listen to Hendrix's cover of "All Along the Watchtower" without remembering Tanner and his contributions to the sport.
If you have any memories of Tanner, we'd love to hear them in the comments section.