It's been two years since the body of Evan Tanner was found in a California desert and I didn't want to let the day pass without remembering the man.
Brian Mayes has an excellent piece at Head Kick Legend:
But how will history remember Evan Tanner? We already know certain fighters places in history. Fighters like Fedor, Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre will be remembered as dominant champions. Randy Couture will be remembered as a man who won belts in multiple weight divisions at an age when most fighters had long since retired. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira will be remembered for snatching victory from the jaws of defeat time and again. But where does Evan Tanner fit into the historical discussion? Sadly, MMA fans remember fighters for their accomplishments in the cage and little else. They don't remember fighters for what kind of person they were outside of the cage. 20 years from now, the children of today's MMA fans will come across Evan Tanner's MMA record and most likely dismiss it out of hand. And honestly, there's nothing about it that really stands out. He was a really good fighter who beat some other good fighters of his era, and he put on some wonderful fights in that time.
But there is so much more to Evan Tanner than that, and I'm afraid that's what history will miss. How do you explain to someone 20 years from now what a unique and special person Evan Tanner was? If you weren't around to read Evan's blogs, to go through his day to day life with him, it's hard to really understand. Just look at how people can't grasp what certain fights meant when they took place, simply because they weren't following the sport when they happened. I know lots of people who think Randy Couture vs. Tim Sylvia is just a boring 5 round fight, because they're watching it 3 years later. They weren't around for the lead up to that fight, where everyone was convinced that Randy Couture was going to be taken out of the cage on a stretcher. Watching Randy beat up Tim Sylvia at the time was absolutely thrilling to watch. In much the same way, if I tell you how wonderful Evan Tanner was, and all you do is go check out his fight record, you really aren't getting the whole story.
I also wanted to be sure everyone reads this Men's Journal piece on Evan and his death by Matthew Teague:
Throughout his life Tanner had faced challenges - he called them "adventures," others called them demons - and triumphed in remarkable ways. He lived with extraordinary purpose, rising from the dust of Amarillo, Texas, into the glow of Las Vegas, and along the way he helped build an empire called the Ultimate Fighting Championship. But he differed from his peers in significant ways; he studied philosophy, for one, and he felt he had a message to share with the world, something bigger than himself, bigger than men fighting for sport.
As he grew his physical prowess became undeniable. He excelled at pole vaulting, cycling, football, snowboarding, surfing, and even bowled a good game. He ran home from school each day, five miles. Midway through high school he took up wrestling, and in his junior and senior years he won back-to-back state championships. He appeared out of nowhere, the finest wrestler in the state of Texas.
In 1997 he passed back through his hometown, Amarillo, to do some work climbing telephone poles, and he attended a fight of the sort that would eventually be called mixed martial arts. Tanner didn't particularly care for fighting as entertainment. But he did love the sense of battle. What could be more existential than two men grappling in a cage?
People in town still remembered Tanner for his wrestling as a kid, and a fight promoter approached him about climbing into the ring again. He gave it a try - and swiftly dispatched every hard-swinging hoodlum in sight. He fought three times in one night, winning a hometown tournament.
Encouraged, Tanner bought a videotape about grappling that featured the famous Gracie family of Brazilian jujitsu masters. He lived alone in a cabin in a Texas wasteland at the time, so remote that he powered his VCR with a generator. People laughed - what sort of rube teaches himself to fight by mail order? - but Tanner absorbed the leverage, the pressure, the physics of it all, just by seeing it done. Then he proceeded to lay waste to anyone who stepped up to meet him, working his way in one year from Amarillo to Japan, where he manhandled the Japanese in something called the Neo Blood Tournament.
He only needed one thing as a fighter: better opponents.
Tanner had one particular idea that he wanted to convey to the world, which he called "the power of one." It's the notion of small kindnesses, or as he later explained: "Your words and actions resonate out eternally, in a sense. It reaches one person, then two people, then four, and it expands out exponentially."
Here's my eulogy of Tanner.
In the full entry are a few video clips from the upcoming Evan Tanner documentary Once I Was a Champion.
Here's Rich Franklin talking about Tanner:
Here's Big John McCarthy: