The Peaceful Warrior
Dedicated to the memory of Evan Tanner 1971-2008
By Rick Caudle
On September 8th, 2008, 37 year old Evan Tanner succumbed to the Palo Verde desert heat during an attempt to achieve a spiritual cleansing. He had taken numerous trips in the past, sometimes fasting for days at a time. Friends had warned him that it could be dangerous this time, but in true Tanner fashion, he was prepared to deal with whatever life brought his way. It would indeed become his last and most difficult Vision Quest.
This chapter in the Tanner Saga, began ten years ago. While traveling through his hometown of Amarillo, Evan stumbled upon a Shootfighting event and being in “adventure-mode”, he was drawn like a moth to a flame. He couldn’t resist the opportunity for a challenge and the chance to collect more stories.
Evan often proclaimed he wasn’t a fighter. That he was in fact, an adventurer, and only fought to make money to fund his expeditions. It was hard to believe, but until he joined Team Quest, he was completely self-taught, bringing himself to a world class level by watching videos and reading books.
Living in a cabin in the woods with only a generator for electricity, Tanner burned the midnight oil, creating his own style of unorthodox combat. He was an intelligent man with a photographic memory, which helped him through many endeavors. He could learn anything from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to plumbing, if he could get his hands on the right training material. Besides possessing a brilliant mind he was also extremely well organized, and even made an effort to stay in touch with the fans by writing on his personal blog.
During his career, Tanner bolstered wins over top name fighters like Robbie Lawler, Elvis Sinovic, Heath Herring, and Phil Baroni, and shared the Cage with superstars such as Rich Franklin, Tito Ortiz, and Kendall Grove.
UFC Veteran, Paul Buentello, who went to the same high school in Texas as Evan, remembered him being the quiet loner with incredible athleticism. Even though he was Texas State Wrestling Champion in both his Junior and Senior years, Evan never acted like a bully. Buentello was also defeated by Tanner via Rear Naked Choke in 1997.
Known as a wandering soul, the former UFC Middleweight Champion seemed to march to the beat of a different drum. Although he was well liked in the industry, there were times when it was hard to be around him, being one to always do things his way. Even those closest to him often felt pushed away by his self-exile.
In the winter of 2002, he decided his current training situation had peaked and he needed to find a new scene. After all, he had done very well for someone who trained without a teacher. The Texas native headed to the great North West and joined the pioneers of MMA at Team Quest in Gresham, Oregon. Living in a camper and showering at the gym for six months, he finally settled in for a few years.
Silver Medal Olympic Wrestler and MMA standout Matt Lindland had this to say:
“I was very saddened by his death, but knowing Evan, I wasn’t shocked because he was always a risk-taker. Everything he did, he did to the extreme. He had a great work ethic and when he had a fight coming up, no one trained harder than Evan. But, when he wasn’t competing, we barely saw him at the gym. I wish he would have been more team-oriented, but that was just his lifestyle. He was well liked and respected by everyone”. Tanner would stay with Team Quest until shortly after he won the Middleweight Title by knocking out David Terrell in the first round at UFC 51.
When he trained, he trained like a madman, but in between fights he often battled his nastiest opponent, alcohol. Sometimes missing out on the usual camaraderie of the gym scene, Evan tended to be more of a lone wolf. A personable and likable guy, who dreamed of having children someday, he would always remain a free spirit. Unfortunately, that was one dream that never came to fruition.
Though he had many friends, few ever got close enough to really get to know him. Those he let into his inner circle tried to help him with his demons on many occasions, but Tanner wouldn’t listen. He told more than one person that he wanted to experience what it would be like to be an alcoholic, cross the line, and then bring himself back out to sobriety. To him, it was just another adventure.
Just prior to his passing, he had come to a point in his life where he was very happy. He had a nice house on the beach in Oceanside, California which he thoroughly enjoyed. With the support and love of his tight-knit MMA pals, he was on his way to furthering his career. Though none of us will ever know exactly what he was searching for, he always said he considered the beauty of nature to be his greatest treasure.
John Hayner, CEO of Driving Force Sports and Evan’s manager stated, “As far as I know, Evan hadn’t had a drink in over a year. He had many great things going on in his life. He had everything to live for. He had plans for the future that he was really excited about. I can assure everyone, Evan didn’t do this on purpose. He just didn’t have experience in this environment. I believe he got in over his head and made a big mistake”.
Hayner and Evan had been optimistically building Team Tanner, funding the project from online T-shirt sales. The traveling seeker had finally found a home and he himself, was the inspiration that launched this campaign of blind faith.
Sometimes he wouldn’t take the best care of himself and John would call him asking, “Have you eaten today?”. Most people didn’t know it, but Evan had a blood sugar problem that would have accelerated the dehydration process. So when he ran out of water and gas for his motorcycle, things would have spiraled out of control quickly. With temperatures over 110 degrees, the Southern California desert was unforgiving, and destiny made it one challenge he just couldn’t win.
It is totally fitting that Evan would exit this world, doing something he loved to do; explore. Perhaps for all warriors, death is the ultimate adventure.
Evan’s true spirit is reflected in these words, which he left as a gift for all of us:
“Believe in yourself. Believe in your own potential for greatness. Believe that you can change the world. It is something that is within each of us. Believe in the Power of One”.
Travel on, Peaceful Warrior. Travel on.