Thursday, June 14, 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen...Evan Tanner!

That's what I'm talking about!

Evan "No Nickname" Tanner - whether braided, bearded, or bald - is one of my guys. Always will be. Talks of him fighting on the UFC 76 card in September has brought me a pleasure I haven't known since I discovered Ben & Jerry's cinnamon bun ice cream.

For the benefit of those who may not know, here's the scoop on one of MMA's most beloved stars.

It was the late 90's and Tanner out for adventure, "collecting stories that I would be able to tell to my future children and grand children," he says. He was passing through of Amarillo, Texas, his hometown, when he decided that being in a local shoot fighting event "would be a really interesting story," he explains.

Tanner signed up for the next local fight card, intending his fight career to begin and end that very night. Long story short, he won the local heavyweight tournament and was invited to fight for a title.

Having learned the finer points of MMA under his own tutelage for the most part, Tanner was more than battle-tested by the time he debuted in the octagon at UFC 29 in 2000, having seen action against the likes of Paul Buentello, Heath Herring (twice), Ikuhisa Minowa, Justin McCully, and Travis Fulton.

After beating Elvis Sinosic, Shannon Rich, Phil Baroni (twice) and Robbie Lawler, the only man between Tanner and the middleweight championship was a very dangerous and a much younger Davis Terrell, who had been highly touted for his Gracie jiu-jitsu prowess and for having knocked out the legendary Matt Lindland in the first round. (Note: I hadn't seen Lindland dropped like that, and I don't think I have since.) Terrell was for real.

Early on against Tanner at UFC 51 (Feb. 5, 2005), things looked good for Terrell, who had secured what looked like a night-ending guillotine on Tanner. Somehow, Tanner popped his head out, found himself on top of a fatigued Terrell, and peppered him with what seemed like a never-ending barrage of punches and elbows. With just 25 seconds left in the first round, the referee rightfully stopped the fight. Evan Tanner was the new middleweight king.

In his first title defense four months later, Tanner took on Rich "Ace" Franklin, who'd beaten Tanner decisively back in 2003. In their rematch, Franklin picked up right where their first fight left off, earning a vicious TKO win and the middleweight belt. Four months later at Ultimate Fight Night 2, Tanner fell farther down the 185-pound food chain after suffering a highlight reel whooping from the very tough, very Canadian David Loiseau.

Tanner returned to the octagon in April, 2006 at UFC 59, where he choked out Justin Levens in the first round. After that, Evan stepped away from the UFC and MMA altogether.

In December, 2006, Tanner set up an MMA foundation for disadvantaged young men and remodeled his home for the prospective foundation members. For a variety of reasons, the foundation hit a rough patch, and last month, Tanner pulled the plug on the foundation - for now, at least. Tanner poured his heart into helping young fighters at risk, so with this project now defunct, Tanner has redirected his efforts toward the UFC 185-pound division.

Evan Tanner will now fight under the Chute Boxe USA banner in what I hope will be his return journey to the top of the middleweight mountain.

"I think that no matter how peaceful we live, we all have a little anger inside. Maybe that is why I fight. It's not who I am, it's not how I define myself. It's just something I do. I could just as easily be doing anything else, but fighting is what the fates put before me. There must be some ultimate purpose to it." - Evan Tanner

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