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On This Day in MMA History – September 8, 2008: Evan Tanner Found Dead in Southern California Desert

It really doesn’t seem like it’s been three years since the news of former UFC middleweight champion Evan Tanner‘s sudden and tragic passing while out on a solo camping excursion to the desert west of Palo Verde, California sent shockwaves through the MMA community.

Tanner, who was open about his fights with alcohol abuse and his personal demons is said to have called his manager, John Hayner to let him know that his dirt bike had run out of gas a few miles from his camp and that his trip was going well besides the mishap. When he failed to answer calls from friends the next day, police were dispatched and after a brief aerial search, located Tanner’s camp and his remains a few miles away from his abandoned motorcycle.

Hayner told us at the time that the troubled 37-year-old had turned his life around thanks to a move to Oceanside and the rebirth of his career in the UFC where he recently re-signed. Tanner was hoping that the desert trip, which he planned for months and did hours of research for, would leave him feeling rejuvenated and ready to build on the mistakes he made in his last bout — a hard-fought split-decision loss to Kendall Grove at the TUF 7 finale that June.

“He was in a real positive state of mind, he wasn’t having any drinking problems or any of those types of problems. He was really feeling good about his life,” Hayner told Here was a famous UFC fighter who didn’t have enough food to eat at times. I’d call him just to make sure he had food in his fridge, but he never let it get him down. Starting over was kind of a theme in his life. He hardly ever lived in the same place more than six months,” Hayner said. “He moved out to Vegas and then found it too shallow for him, so he moved out to Oceanside and had a great place, he was learning to surf, and he was really enjoying his day-to-day life.”

In an eerie bit of foreshadowing, Tanner spoke about the fact that he may not return from the trip in one SPIKE TV blog post before rebuking the opinions of reporters and fans who thought his planned expedition was reckless and dangerous in another.

“I’ve been gathering my gear for this adventure for over a month, not a long time by most standards, but far too long for my impatient nature. Being a minimalist by nature, wanting to carry only the essentials, and being extremely particular, it has been a little difficult to find just the right equipment,” he wrote. “I plan on going so deep into the desert, that any failure of my equipment, could cost me my life. 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.”

(Video courtesy of YouTube/onceiwasachampion)

“It seems some MMA websites have reported on the story, posting up that I might die out in the desert, or that it might be my greatest opponent yet, etc. Come on, guys. It’s really common down in Southern California to go out to the off-road recreation areas in the desert about an hour away from LA and San Diego,” Tanner later explained. “So my plan is to go out to the desert, do some camping, ride the motorcycle, and shoot some guns. Sounds like a lot of fun to me. A lot of people do it. This isn’t a version of ‘Into the Wild.’”

Unfortunately it turned out to be exactly that.

RIP Evan Tanner. Believe in the power of one.

If you get the chance to see the Tanner documentary Once I was a Champion, do yourself a favor and check it out.

Cagepotato Comments

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Crap Factory- September 9, 2011 at 4:54 am
Still one of my favorite fighters. Still sorely missed. RIP Evan.
Evan Tanner- September 8, 2011 at 9:14 pm
Evan was a awesome MMA fighter and a world champion, more importantly he was a good person with a kind heart. thats what I'll miss most about him.
El Guapo- September 8, 2011 at 8:37 pm
I believe in the power of one, Fatboy. I also believe in the power of one Potato Nation. We sent Karma to Hawaii, we can get "Once I Was A Champion" to distribution. Or at the very least generate enough buzz till it gets picked up. Make it happen, we got your back.
rangerrexxx- September 8, 2011 at 8:26 pm
Evan Tanner was a WARRIOR!! His victory over David Terrell was one of the greatest fights in the UFC! Sorely missed. RIP.
Todd M- September 8, 2011 at 8:01 pm
@ Bob Villa, Doesn't sound corny at all man, just shows what a genuine human being he really was, awesome story. RIP Tanner
fatbellyfrank- September 8, 2011 at 7:25 pm
Evan definitely embodied the spirit of a warrior, 3 years since we lost a really good guy
RIP Evan, thoughts and best wishes to all family and friends on this anniversary
amsterdamheavy- September 8, 2011 at 6:57 pm
RIP Evan
Bob Villa- September 8, 2011 at 6:51 pm
I live in a small town in Texas, about 45 minutes from Amarillo, where Tanner was from. Back when he was that USWF (I think) champ, they set up a night of fights at a local roping arena. Tanner was there signing autographs. I was about twelve years old at the time, and after waiting a while in line, I handed him my hat to sign. He took it, got down on one knee, and while signing my hat, looked me in the eye and said,"You can be whatever you want in this life, and don't let anybody tell you different."
It might sound kind of corny, but this moment has stuck with me throughout my life. Evan stayed late into the night signing autographs, taking pictures, and just hanging out with everyone. He was a genuine, down to earth guy, and was always one of my favorites. It killed me when he lost to Franklin.
RIP Evan Tanner
silverladder- September 8, 2011 at 6:09 pm
This is the blog I wrote the day the found Evan Tanner's body in the desert:

I vividly remember reading the news online. So weird that three years have passed since then.
the silver hawaiian- September 8, 2011 at 6:03 pm
Penn v Diaz

where u at cp


Fightin FatBoy- September 8, 2011 at 5:10 pm
Its wild to think it's been 3 years already. Seems like not all that long ago we were gathered in the Amarillo Civic Center for his memorial.

Anyone who is a Tanner fan has got to see Once I Was a Champion. Can the Potato Nation help the producers of the documentary and get it into distribution? They are having to play small film festivals to get it seen. This movie needs to be available across the country. Any help out there?
El Guapo- September 8, 2011 at 5:06 pm
Saw "Once I Was A Champion" at the L.A. Film Fest a few months back. Thought it was aiiiight, not much of an indie film type of guy. But it was definitely inspirational. VERY inspiring, actually. I left the theatre feeling like.... something. Hard to say. Guess you gotta watch it to relate.
MMAINMYBLOOD- September 8, 2011 at 5:01 pm
I know this will sound funny but this man was a favorite fighter of mine back in the day when he first started in the ufc.. after he beat herring in Texas and then made it to the ufc and finally fought tito.. I remember when he beat Levens and then got to fight Dave Terrell and destroyed him for the belt.. I was excited... this man and rich Franklin were the last two men to hold that middleweight strap before the spider got it around his waist. He had issues but hey everyone does.. even the internet tough guys that feel the comfort of talking shit with the anonymity of the internet should understand that Evan NEVER had that comfort he was face to face with the best Middle weights and lhw out there. He was honest and open about his issues. So fuck all the haters I hope you all shit yourselves very soon, and RIP Evan.
SquidInk- September 8, 2011 at 3:22 pm
inb4 the haters talking shit