I found out that Evan Tanner had died the day after my eighteenth birthday, a year ago today. And there are some things that are shocking
, that leave the jaw open and the eyes wide. For me, it was the realization that I would never meet Tanner, one of my favorite fighters and by all accounts (and I’ve heard many, now) a profoundly interesting and great human being.
The story of Tanner’s arrival in MMA is one that I like to retell, as it’s a standard for working hard, for pushing through and beating fighters who, realistically, he probably shouldn’t have beaten. As a guy who self-taught himself submissions watching DVD tutorials and built up one of the most respected triangle chokes in the sport, it was shocking to watch him beat down a respected Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu blackbelt like David Terrell, or submit a world class fighter like Robbie Lawler. He did it with good skills and a heart the size of Texas.
His personal narrative is more worthwhile than the platitudes that can be woven around it.
The story of his career was not the retelling of something immaculate, perfect. He was far from the greatest, but what made him beloved were his imperfections. Even in defeat, in losing to Tito Ortiz or Rich Franklin, Tanner came looking for a fight, never ran (never even hesitated). While it’s easy to say that the fans flocked to him because of his hair, to brush off the skills as a gamer that Tanner possessed, that was why the fans loved him, because no matter who was standing across the cage, he was going to come after them, he was going to push the pace and take his licks and keep coming. That’s how Evan always fought.
There are fighters that fans worship and fighters that fans love. “Worship is not love.” Fans worship Fedor. They worship Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre, and so on. We loved Evan Tanner. It is not exaggerated and cannot be understated because, even on the downswing of his career, in the defeats that came towards the end, the fans were still on his side, still wanted him to win, whether the analysts thought he would or not.
I really don’t have as much to say about Evan. This is one of the subjects that still makes it hard for me to speak (and it’s rare that I’m at a loss for words). He was truly a great fighter and is sincerely missed.