Evan Tanner had what is probably the most unorthodox start in all of MMA. He had no experience at being a professional “anything” – boxer, kickboxer etc. He even only had limited high school and college wrestling experience. Basically, he started competing in MMA because his friends convinced him that he’d be good at it. Apparently, their assessment of his skills was correct, as Tanner started his career by winning a one-night tournament by the now-defunct Unified Shoot Wrestling Federation in which he even defeated future UFC heavyweight contender, Paul Buentello.
After this initial success in the sport, Tanner decided he needed to learn some grappling and submission techniques. Again, taking the lesser traveled route, Tanner self-taught himself grappling by watching instructional videos by the Gracies. Tanner continued to compete in local shows until being invited to Japan to compete in Pancrase’s 1998 Neo-Blood tournament, which he ended up winning. After getting wins at two more Pancrase shows throughout 1998, Tanner made his UFC debut at UFC 18 on January 8, 1999, winning his fight via rear naked choke.
Evan Tanner always had a somewhat awkward style that was hard for his opponents to figure out. His movements weren’t very “crisp”. He was always changing stances. He also never threw many strikes, just some punches or an occasional leg kick. He was good at defending against strikes and closing the distance, though, and when he got someone in a clinch, he always took full advantage of it, unleashing elbows and vicious knee strikes. Once the fight hit the ground, Tanner was even more dangerous with his unorthodox arm-bars and brutal ground and pound. Out of Tanner’s 40 official fights, only 4 made it to a decision. He was always an exciting fighter and showed incredible heart in his wins and losses.
Tanner made a solid UFC career for himself with a long string of victories, initially only losing to Tito Ortiz and Rich Franklin, his biggest victories being against future champion Robbie Lawler and his dismantlement of the much-hyped David Terrell to capture the vacant UFC Middleweight Title. After losing his title in a second losing effort against Rich Franklin, Tanner continued to compete in the UFC, his final fight occurring on The Ultimate Fighter 7 Finale on June 21, 2008.
Sometime after this fight, Evan Tanner let it be known that he was planning on going on a “desert adventure” which attracted the attention of a lot of people. Just before setting out for the desert, Tanner addressed everyone’s concerns in a social media post…
“It seems some MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) websites 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'”.
During his desert excursion, Tanner’s friends lost touch with him and, as the temperatures rose to 118 degrees that day, they began to worry and reported him missing. His body was discovered by a Marine helicopter on September 8, 2008. Tanner apparently had sufficient supplies at camp but had decided to travel to a spring to refill empty water bottles. When he got to the spring, he discovered it was empty. At this point, he attempted to travel back to his camp where he had plenty of drinkable water. On his way back, he decided to stop and rest and he succumbed to heat exhaustion. Truly, a sad ending to a great career. Evan Tanner is a fighter who should never be forgotten and who deserves a spot in the UFC Hall Of Fame, as far as I’m concerned.
*Adam Zimmerman (a/k/a The Grappling Gamer) is also a staff writer and contributor to Canadian Bulldog’s World (www.canadianbulldogsworld.com)