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 CagePotato.com. 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.