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MMA HALL OF FAME Nominee » Evan Tanner

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Evan Tanner • Class of 2007 • Debuted 12 April 1997 vs. Paul Buentello.
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"Everything’s been about the journey, I never really set out with goals for fighting; it’s been about the adventure along the way. When you’re on your death bed, it’s those stories, those little adventures that are going to be the things that you remember. It’s not so much getting there, but how you got there.”
-Evan Tanner

by Dan Baker

Equally known for his humanitarian side and his battles with his own personal demons, Evan Tanner was one of the most beloved and controversial fighters in our sport's history. Born February 11th, 1971, the native of Amarillo, TX was an early wrestling phenom, taking the Texas State wrestling championships his Junior and Senior year of high school.

After graduating from Caprock High School in 1989, Tanner tried college, but was restless, and eager for a more real-world education. He began traveling and working odd jobs around the country.  After a while he once again tried college but stepped away this time to try a mixed martial arts tournament. He ended up winning the Unified Shoot Wrestling Federation 4 event, defeating later UFC HW contender Paul Buentello.

After this tournament he was inspired to learn more about grappling, and so purchased the Gracie BJJ videos and began studying these at home. This led him on to greater success locally, at USWF and at Pancrase in Japan.  Soon he was invited to the UFC, where he debuted against Darell Gholar, winning by Rear Naked Choke in the first round.

After a few successful title defenses in the USWF and a few wins in the UFC, Evan Tanner was given a shot at the Light Heavyweight title against UFC MW champ and Hall of Famer, Tito Ortiz.  He lost that bout but was encouraged to become a more disciplined fighter. Tanner joined Team Quest in Oregon and scored a few more wins before his first of two fateful encounters with
up and comer Rich Franklin.

After losing to Franklin, Tanner decided to drop to the middleweight division, where his size would give him an advantage. He enjoyed early success at middleweight, defeating Phil Baroni twice and Robbie Lawler.  The UFC middleweight belt was vacant however, and the number one contender was Team Quest member co-founder Matt Lindland. 

Tanner and Lindland did not want to fight so David Terrel from the Gracie camp stepped up in a huge upset, kayoed Lindland. Tanner took the next fight against Terrel. After weathering an early BJJ barage, Tanner managed to shake Terrel, dump him in the corner of the cage, and pummel him with elbows and punches until the referee called a victory by TKO.

Now the new champion at 185, Tanner was faced with his old nemesis, Rich Franklin who'd also dropped down to 185.  After a hard-fought battle, ringside doctors stopped a bloody and battered Tanner from continuing in the 4th round, making Rich Franklin the new UFC middleweight champion.

After some time off and a shaky return to the UFC, losing two in a row to Yushin Okami and Kendall Grove, Evan Tanner felt that his years of alcohol abuse had finally taken a toll on his body, not allowing him to compete at the highest levels of MMA anymore.  He decided to go out into the Mojave desert in Southern California to do some camping, shooting and enjoy some alone time.

Tanner's motorcycle broke down, and the former champion died of dehydration on Sept. 5th, 2008 at just 37 year old.

Evan Tanner was a truth seeker, an adventurer, a philosopher, a warrior, a dreamer, and a man with a deep soul. His philosophy on fighting and life still resonates within the MMA community; may it always.

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