“I am setting a date.”
I am setting a date, and on that day I will stop drinking. That will be the day I begin to be a better man. That will be the day I begin to find the best of me. That will be the day I begin to find the best of what life can be. I want to find the magic. Join me. If you want to make a change in your life, join me. If any of you want to find the best of yourself, join me. If you want to find your own magic, join me. I am going to quit drinking, get back into training, and step into the Octagon again, and when I do, it will be dedicated to all of you who have the courage to believe in the best of what you can be, all of you who have the courage to stand up with me and face your fears and weaknesses. We will stand shoulder to shoulder, an unconquerable army. BELIEVE in what you can do, and it will happen.”
Four years on, you’ll have to scrape the bowels of the internet to find them, but you can seek out Evan Tanners Myspace blog postings. Above is one he made a year before he passed away vowing to quit abusing his body with alcoholism to become a better person and put his career as a cage-fighter back on the right track to step foot in the Octagon.
He fought twice more for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) but whether he put down the bottle, well, that depends who you ask.
Scottish-born film-maker Gerard Roxburgh tells the story of Tanner with such honesty – The former UFC middleweight champion isn’t portrayed as a flawless human being, his struggles and darkest moments are documented and told by the people that knew him best.
Friends, family, opponents and training partners such as Randy Couture, Rich Franklin, Forrest Griffin, Bas Rutten, John McCarthy, Chael Sonnen & Dana White tell their stories of the deceased champion – Some of the stories are emotional, some are hysterical, but all will keep you enthralled.
The beginning of the film is focused mostly on his athletic career, starting as the star athlete of Caprock High School before his habit of being a wanderer kicked in, searching the U.S. for excitement before he wound up back in Amarillo, Texas where he began his career as a fighter.
The 26-year-old was under-sized in the heavyweight field but it didn’t matter, he submitted three opponents that night in 1997, including future UFC alum Paul Buentello before retiring, for a few months at least. The adventure-minded Tanner couldn’t turn down the challenge of fighting for a heavyweight title so he jumped back on the horse to out-work Heath Herring and there was no turning back at that point.
By the time he made it to the UFC a few years later, he was one of the most experienced fighters in the game, having fought overseas in Japan and promoting for, and fighting in the USWF yet in the confines of the Octagon in front of the big lights was where he would have his greatest successes, and begin his spiral downwards.
The pinnacle of his accomplishments in MMA obviously was when he got the ultimate prize for his spoils of war, a UFC championship. A hefty underdog to Cesar Gracie-trained submission wizard David Terrell, the Team Quest fighter survived an early guillotine attempt before taking control and blistering Terrell with punches and elbows from half-guard against the cage before the referee was forced to call a halt to the action.
His reign as king was short lived though, in his first defense he would lose his ten-pounds of championship gold and take a one-sided beating in the process from Rich Franklin, and it seems he was never truly the same again.
During his long hiatus between fighting, the free spirit took to the internet to put together his words, to express his emotions in text format the way he never could in a relationship and to reach out to the fans at a time when few were.
In today’s social media driven society every fighter has a Twitter account and interacts with fans but in 2006 this was new and fans ate it up. Trading comments with followers that he never knew and leaving a digital footprint that many followed at the time, it made Tanner one of the most popular fighters in the industry.
We also explore a love-hate relationship he had with being a fighter. He insists to everyone that he’s not a fighter but nobody believes it for a second – Although there were times that he was driven and motivated to take over the world, yet at other times he didn’t want to do it anymore that this was one of his biggest pitfalls.
It was interesting to see the humanitarian side of the bloodthirsty and violent cage-fighter, building playgrounds for less-fortunate children and converting his house into a training facility for wayward young men wishing to learn of mixed martial arts from a former champion.
Ultimately his ending was as predictable as it was tragic. The troubled fighter hopped onto his motorcycle and rode into the 110-degree heat for a hiking trip he wouldn’t return from on September 3, 2008. Originally it was believed that alcohol was a likely contributor to his death because of his 0.8 blood alcohol reading but later proven that dehydration and heat exposure was his cause of death.
Some consider it a suicide mission, some consider it the brave and headstrong athlete that went exploring under-prepared and was too exhausted to continue after pushing a motorcycle through the scorching heat with limited supplies, but we’ll never know.
This isn’t a homage or a tribute to the fallen UFC middleweight, just a raw and uncut look into the life of a man who waged battles inside and outside of a ring and managed to change the lives of many. For some it might be a tearjerker, for some it might be an enlightening look at a fighter they never knew but a lot of people can learn from watching this documentary.
‘Once I was a champion’ is airing on pay-per-view this month, for more information click here.