On February 11th of this year, Evan Tanner should’ve been celebrating his 51st birthday. Perhaps he would’ve enjoyed it with some sporting activity, as all who followed him knew how much he loved to live on the edge. One of the OGs of the UFC, Tanner shot to prominence by losing.
A highlight knockout loss to Tito Ortiz for the UFC light heavyweight championship did not deter Tanner. The wrestler and Pancrase veteran would improve upon his then 23-3 record with four straight wins. Looking to make it five, Tanner ran into a roadblock named Rich Franklin. The UFC legend made quick work of Tanner with a first round TKO. However, like all things in Tanner’s life, failure was not final. Using his loss as motivation, Tanner sprung towards UFC immortality.
Many people don’t remember but back in the early 2000’s, Phil Baroni was a hot commodity inside the Octagon. A young stud with a brash attitude propelled by a KO victory over former UFC champion Dave Menne, Baroni was looking to avenge a loss in his previous fight as he took on Tanner. Early in the fight, it was all Baroni.
He peppered Tanner with consistent shots until the referee called time for a cut on Tanner. The doctor allowed to fight to resume and Tanner was able to recover due to the time-out and began to win the fight. Evan Tanner eventually found himself in full mount landing damaging elbows on Baroni. Baroni hurt but conscious was asked by the ref if he wanted to stop for which he said yes.
The fight was then called to a halt, however Baroni insisted that he heard the ref ask him if he wanted to continue. A debacle which led Baroni to hit a ref (he was subsequently handed a four month suspension). The two would rematch and Tanner would walk away once again victorious with a decision, setting up a middleweight title eliminator against ‘Ruthless’ Robbie Lawler.
In the title fight, Tanner would make quick work of David Terrell to capture the vacant UFC middleweight championship. With that, Tanner who at that point was in his 35th professional fight was now king of the division. His name forever etched in the record books as the third middleweight champion in the organization’s history.
New Challenge as Champion
He would then face Rich Franklin again but this time, they were fighting in Tanner’s first and only title defense. In a back and forth battle which saw Tanner win the opening round by slip Franklin’s jab and land a clean right hand on Franklin’s chin. Franklin scrambled on the ground and would recover as the bell sounded, ending the first round. Unfortunately for Tanner, that would be the only success on the night.
Franklin dominated the rest of the fight where he would win by doctor’s stoppage after a gash opened up over Tanner’s left eye. Tanner did not go down easy though. Refusing to be finished and throwing shots of his own, Tanner made what seemed to be the end of his title reign feel like a champion losing to a champion, not some belt holder getting exposed. He gave all he could but Franklin was the better man that night.
The Forgotten Evan Tanner
Tanner would finish his career at 32-8 before tragically passing away in 2008 at the age of 37. Tanner, the unexpected champion, wasn’t meant to have his name be known to the world. He didn’t wrestle in college, he worked a variety of jobs, his first MMA lesson came from a VHS tape. There was no amateur career or major network deal in MMA. The UFC was just a place for which you could make ends meet by fighting. Tanner suffered many setbacks on his road, but seemed to get better because of it.
In a division dominated currently by Israel Adesanya and historically known for Anderson Silva‘s historic title reign, Tanner’s name and legacy gets lost in the mix. The new generation may not ever hear the name Evan Tanner but they should be grateful. For his excellent fights, for his passion, for his respect and for his heart. The story of the middleweight division can not be told without Mr. Tanner and for that, I thank you Evan.
Featured image credit to Embed from Getty Images