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Former UFC champ Tanner dead at 37

By Jeff Cain, Ken Pishna, and Tom Hamlin/ 28 minutes ago

Former Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight champion Evan Tanner was found dead near Palo Verde, Calif. Monday. He was 37.

Tanner had trekked into the desert on a journey to "cleanse" himself, according to Douglas Vincitorio of Tanner's management team. "He went out to the desert to do a 'cleansing' as he called it. Kind of like 'Survivor Man.'" These short trips were not new to Tanner, said Vincitorio. It is something that he has done numerous times over the years.
"What we were told is that (Sheriff's officials who found Tanner) believe his motorcycle had run out of gas, so he went to walk out in like 115- to 118-degree heat," said Vincitorio. "He was miles away from his camp. That's where the helicopter found him. Right now, they just think that he succumbed to the heat."


Tanner had apparently told friends before he left that if they hadn't heard from him in a couple of days, they should contact officials, which is what happened. When he stopped responding to text messages, friends waited a couple of days and then notified officials at the Imperial County Sherrif's Department on Friday.
A search ensued and Tanner's body was found on Monday.
On Aug. 10, Tanner wrote a blog on Spike TV's website, proclaiming his desire to start an adventure in the desert east of his new home in Oceanside, Calif. An avid outdoorsman and wandering spirit, he wanted to escape civilization for a while.
"I'm not just going out into the desert, I'm going out into the desert to hunt for lost treasure," he wrote. "I'm going on a pilgrimage of sorts, a journey to solitude, to do some thinking, and to pay my respects to the great mysteries."
On Aug. 16, Tanner wrote about collecting supplies for his journey, and wrote about the dangers he might face.
"I plan on going so deep into the desert, that any failure of my equipment, could cost me my life," he said. "I've been doing a great deal of research and study. I want to know all I can about where I'm going, and I want to make sure I have the best equipment."
Of course, this led followers of his blog to fear for his safety, as they often did when Tanner reported his frequent by-the-seat-of-his-pants adventures. In a blog dated Aug. 27, Tanner tried to calm his audience.
"This isn't a version of 'Into the Wild,'" he wrote. "I'm not going out into the desert with a pair of shorts and a bowie knife, to try to live off the land. I'm going fully geared up, and I'm planning on having some fun."
But he also affirmed that things could go wrong if his equipment wasn't up to snuff.
"I do plan on going back pretty far, so I did mention in one of my posts that I wanted to make sure to have good quality gear," he said. "Any failure of gear out in the desert could cause a problem."
On Sept. 2, Tanner wrote his final blog entry, documenting a training session at a facility in Oceanside.
The Amarillo, Texas native was a high school wrestling stand out who won the state championships his junior and senior years despite only getting into the sport as a sophomore. He entered mixed martial arts in 1997 encouraged by friends.
Tanner rose to the top of the mixed martial arts world by winning the UFC middleweight title over David Terrell at UFC 51: "Super Saturday" Feb. 5, 2005. He lost the title later in the year to Rich Franklin. Tanner, who had a career MMA record of 32-8 last competed in the UFC on June 21 losing to Kendall Grove by split decision.
"He will obviously be sorely missed," said Vincitorio. Adding, "I think that Evan would want to be remembered as a very complex man with many layers, not just a fighter."
Tanner was surely a unique personality. He's eclectic spirit and competitive nature will be sorely missed in the MMA community.

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MMA will never have another Evan Tanner.

To chronicle his compelling life, turned to some of the people who knew him best, including those who grew up with him and watched him wrestle in high school before he began his fight career inside a rowdy rodeo coliseum in Amarillo, Texas.

A Self-Taught Texan

Deana Epperson grew up across the street from Tanner in Amarillo and kept in touch with him throughout the years: He was a good kid. He really didn't mess with anybody. He didn't even wrestle -- he pole-vaulted in junior high. He didn't even start wrestling until our sophomore year in high school, and we were a big school. We were 5A. By our junior and senior year, he was a back-to-back state champion in wrestling. Texas is no joke with wrestling and for him to have never wrestled till 10th grade and then been a state champion in 11th and 12th grade -- that's just incredible.

He was such a renaissance man on the most basic level. He didn't really like to admit this to people, but Evan had a photographic memory, and that's how the big legend of Evan Tanner was true. He was a big wrestler in high school and he got the Gracie jiu-jitsu videos, and whatever he would watch somebody do, he could instantly put that into his repertoire. He was genetically gifted, he was amazingly smart, and he remembered everything he read and saw. That really explains how a guy who never really went to a dojo till he was 21 was able to do what he did.

He was the first one I ever saw grab wrists to reign down elbows. And later on I saw Tito Ortiz in the corner with one of his fighters yelling, "Tanner elbows! Tanner elbows!" That's when you know you're the s---, is when someone is referencing you when they're cornering someone else.

Jason Leigh met Tanner after a USWF event and was friends with him for the decade that followed: If Evan didn't know how to do something, he would get a book and read it and do it. I watched him basically re-plumb his house. I asked where he learned to do it, and he pointed to a book on the table -- "How to Plumb Your House."

Paul Buentello, a veteran heavyweight who fought Tanner in 1997: I came up right behind him in high school. He never passed himself off as the baddest dude in the school. He was so quiet you didn't even know he was there. You would always see him on the other side of the schoolyard. He was always bundled up, whether it was winter or in the dead of summer. He always wore a beanie and a sweater. He was always cutting weight. He liked to be alone, do his own thing. Every time he wrestled, he pretty much had the place full.

Kit Cope, a UFC veteran: I remember when I first met him up at the gym to start training. I was holding the pads for him, and it was the most awkward thing. The timing was off, and we couldn't jive at first because he was completely unorthodox. And I mean completely unorthodox, like he was throwing punches from the wrong angles, with the wrong speed, with the wrong tells, with the wrong hip movements and everything.

I finally asked him where he learned his muay Thai, and then he tells me this story -- and I don't know if everybody knows this or if I was the only person who didn't know this -- but he lived in a cabin up in the boonies. And I mean he was in the boonies where he ran everything off of a generator. He self-taught himself how to fight in his one-room cabin with a VCR and some tapes and some books. Seriously! And that guy literally made it all the way into the UFC and won the title!

He was completely self-taught until he got into the UFC (and) started training with Team Quest. I knew that's why everything looked different because he, well, made everything up. His entire fighting style he made up taking scraps from books and VHS tapes. The end result was that (his style) was the most awkward thing. Like when he would throw his jab, it would have four different kinks, but it would end up in the right spot. Even funnier, the first few times we did light sparring, I got hit with everything. Literally everything because I had never seen it thrown like that before.

Scott Holmes, a radio host and contributor, watched Tanner's April 1997 MMA debut in Amarillo, and followed him through the ranks of the USWF and into the UFC: These were very, very raucous crowds in Amarillo. Lots of beer drinking. It was on a rodeo dirt floor. A mat constructed on a dirt floor, and there were more fights in the crowd than there was on the card. This was one of those no air-conditioning (arenas) set up for livestock to be traded around. You got chairs on a dirt floor, and quite often guys would get into fights as they walked to the ring. Back then you didn't back down … you went into the crowd. It was that kind of a venue. The majority of the people in the audience, 95 percent, had no idea what they were coming to see.

I ran into another friend of mine who was an all-state wrestler and just asked him casually who he thought would win. He said Evan Tanner. When I heard the name -- he was legendary, from a rival high school, a wrestling badass -- we knew who Evan was. Evan looked every part a fighter, and he took apart everybody.
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