I found out today from someone at work that Evan Tanner is dead. Not the most famous, nor the most accomplished, mixed martial artist, Tanner was nevertheless a fighter I held close to my heart. One of the middle guard (so after the period where anything went, and before the present day of ‘MMA’ gyms; in an age where skill and well-roundedness had emerged but were not yet trampled by the homogeneity that has come with history and experience), he was one of those fighters – along with Randy Couture, Matt Serra and Murilo Bustamante – who actually got me interested in watching men fight in cages for money.
Some may argue whether that in itself was a good thing, but it was and I loved Tanner not just for his tenacity, desire to compete and general ruggedness, but also for the simple fact that he was one of the few fighters who would wear long hair. He actually reminded me of Mark Lanegan in appearance, was initially self-taught and ended up having one of the most effective triangle chokes in the business. An old school warrior, he was all about testing himself, which is why he entered his first ever fighting tournament in the dark days of smoky halls and one-night tourneys. This attitude led to him getting trounced once or twice (Rich Franklin and Yushin Okami spring immediately to mind), but the victories were many and impressive.
Sadly it seemed to be his very desire to test himself that proved to be his undoing. His last few years were spent as a would-be ronin, wandering the land in search of inspiration (and a drink or two). He spent a long time in the wilderness, as MMA was peaking, and didn’t fight for nearly two years. He often talked about it – and many other topics – on the MySpace blog he regularly updated. While he was rusty, and ageing, it was great to see him back in the heat of battle.
So I found out today he’d been lost travelling in the desert, and I can’t even imagine how frightening it must have been for those close to him when those regular update texts petered out. Tanner was a true warrior in an age of rooster-chested big mouths. He was a character in a sport sorely lacking in such individuals. He was all about testing the boundary of his physical and mental structure; seeing quite what he was capable of, and where the perimeter of his endurance lay. Tragically, aged thirty-seven, he crossed that boundary.