Fans of mixed martial arts, or MMA, cage fights are mourning the loss of one of the sport’s most complex fighters as news of the death of Evan Tanner began to surface early last week. Tanner, an Oceanside resident, became a titleholder for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC, through the most unlikely of ways. But the unusual road that Tanner took leading to his championship fight encompasses exactly what he was all about.
Tanner, who was a native of Amarillo, Texas, began his unlikely path to UFC fame late in high school. He began wrestling in his sophomore year and in Evan Tanner fashion, quickly rose to the top and was state champion back to back his junior and senior years. Like in most high schools, and especially in Texas, wrestling is highly competitive and to be able to become the state champion the year immediately following his debut in the sport speaks volumes about his voracity and acumen. But as many of his friends have said in messages posted on blogs and message boards online, this was typical of this very unique individual.
Tanner eloquently explained his beginnings as a professional fighter on his MySpace page:
“The story of my fighting began 10 years ago. On my travels, I passed though my hometown of Amarillo, Texas. There was a promoter there putting on shootfighting shows. I was out adventuring at the time, collecting stories that I would be able to tell my future children and grandchildren. I thought being in a shootfighting event would be a really interesting story, and it would be one more adventure under my belt. I didn’t really have anything to prove, I was on a peaceful path. I just wanted the adventure and the story. I signed up for the next show. I planned on fighting just once. I had no desire to continue beyond that. Fighting was definitely no dream of mine.
I didn’t know anything about fighting, so I bought some Gracie Jiu-Jitsu technique videos and began learning. My friend and I would sit there in the living room in front of the TV studying techniques. Then we would push the coffee table and the couch to the side and spar. That is how I first began to learn how to fight.
I signed up for the heavyweight tournament that was being held at the next show. Although I only weighed about 190 pounds, I thought what better challenge than to fight the biggest, meanest, toughest guys in the area. I fought three times that first night. I won the tournament. I was satisfied. I was done. That was enough. I had the adventure, and I had my story. I was ready to go back to the path of peace, and move on to other adventures. That would have been the end of my fighting, but one day I got a call from the promoter. I was offered a shot at the heavyweight title belt. It was another chance at an interesting story I couldn’t pass up.”
Tanner would go on to fight 42 professional bouts, adding new adventures to his life story each and every time. It was his desire for adventure and his hunger for new experience that ultimately led to his untimely passing. Tanner had planned his trip into the desert of the Palo Verde mountain area for a long time and even wrote about it on his Spike TV blog. He planned on riding his dirt bike “so deep into the desert, that any failure of my equipment could cost me my life,” he said in his blog. Sadly, it is believed that failure of his equipment led to exactly that. His bike had run out of gas and he attempted to walk on foot in an area where temperatures for the day rose higher than 110 degrees. His body was found several miles from his camp and the preliminary autopsy reports suggest he succumbed to heat exhaustion; a sad and tragic end to a miraculous and beautiful life. He didn’t go into the desert on a foolish journey unprepared for the harsh conditions that lay ahead, fate simply turned on him and it took his life.
“Evan was a dear friend to us and an important part of the DFS family,” Driving Force Sports owner John Hayner said.
“He was so much more than a fighter. He was an individual we appreciated and cared a lot about. He marched to a drum only he could hear, and he was happy with that — so were we and so were his fans. He worked so hard to get fans more involved in the industry and be a part of his team. He was the kind of guy who kept on trying every day to improve … not just in fighting but in his life as a whole,” Hayner said.
A life like his will be greatly missed in and out of the MMA community.
RIP Evan Tanner, 1971-2008.
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