Sunday, March 11, 2007

Evan Tanner: A Man With Vision

Not too many guys can say they've been a UFC World Champion. This in it self is a lifetime accomplishment for many mixed martial artists, but for Evan Tanner, there is much more to life than fighting. His motivation comes from outside the ring, where life happens on his own terms.

Evan broke onto the MMA scene in 1997 (by accident, which you will find out later), and within a couple years found himself competing in the biggest organization in the world, the UFC. After a successful run as a light-heavyweight, Evan made the decision to drop down a weight class and compete with the middleweights in 2003. The result: a definitive world championship, establishing himself as the top middleweight fighter in the world.

It's been almost a year since Evan stepped into the cage after losing his belt, but the time has been spent resourcefully. Evan has a new vision now; one that involves fighting, but on a completely different level. As you will find out in my interview with the accomplished wrestler, Evan Tanner is not your ordinary MMA fighter.

RS: You've been away from the game for a while, Evan. What have you been up to in the past year?

Evan: I spent most of this past year on the road. I had some things going on in my personal life, so I took time off from everything. Stayed out on the road, did a lot of traveling, took some motorcycle trips and cross-country trips in my Land Cruiser. Pretty much spent the year bouncing around the western United States. Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Huntington Beach, Hollywood, Atlantic City; those are some of the places I spent a little time at.

RS: So you traveled around a bit and got away from fighting, and you've come back and thought up something interesting here: open up a foundation for guys to come in and learn how to fight.

Evan: Well, I've got this big house in Oregon, and me being a single guy, I really don't need all these rooms. And I was just thinking of a way to use this house for something good and also do something that is going to motivate me and keep me going and interested. It's easy to get distracted and become unmotivated between fights. I thought this would be a productive way to keep me focused, as well as help out alot of disadvantaged athletes and fighters. I thought it would be a good way to give something back.

RS: What kind of set up would the house be?

tanner3.jpgEvan: The house is big. I can fit a lot of guys in here, maybe 12 to 15. I want the foundation's focus to be the disadvantaged, and the "at risk". Disadvantaged can mean different things; it can refer to those who are financially disadvantaged. It can also refer to those who are disadvantaged due to a lack of facilities and proper coaches and trainers. The other focus will be those who are at risk. That can mean those who have substance abuse issues, or those who, because of lack of other opportunities, are at risk of becoming involved with drugs and crime. The house would provide structure and discipline, and opportunity. It would help the guys develop self-respect and respect for others. It would engender a sense of belonging, a sense of brotherhood or family. It would be a good start towards helping them be a better man.

RS: So will the guys in the house essentially be a fight team that represents the house in competition?

Evan: Well, the guys in the house aren't necessarily required to fight competitively. The MMA training is just something that will be used to provide focus. I do plan on starting a competition team that will be a separate project from the foundation. The guys in the house will be encouraged to try out for the team, but it is not required. All fighters will be welcome to come out and try out for the team. But the focus of the house is going to be more aimed at the guys who are disadvantaged and at risk. The guys in the house and the guys on the competition team will train together, and I will be leading those practices.

RS: That's certainly a new approach to helping out the disadvantaged: instilling discipline into them through MMA training.

Evan: Well I was sitting in this big empty house one night, trying to think of a way I could use it to do something good, something with meaning, and the idea of a foundation/fight house came to me. It was a really rough idea at first, but I was so excited about the idea that I just kind of threw it out there in one of my blogs on Myspace (, and it just blew up from there. I can't believe the response it's gotten. There have been so many people interested in helping out, offering their time and services. I see really good things coming out of it.

RS: How do you intend to fund this? Getting some sponsors or doing it all on your own?

Evan: I decided against getting outside sources because you have outside tanner4.jpgobligations and forces interfering with your creative control...with my creative control and my vision of what I want this to be. If I go nonprofit, those pressures will come from the government, and if I use sponsorship, those pressures will come from the companies. I've come up with a way to make the foundation a completely independent, self-sufficient enterprise. More on that later.

RS: Is that something you object to nowadays, the sensationalism that comes with MMA going mainstream?

Evan: No, I don't object to it at all. You know, I've played the game for a while, trying to get the sponsors and trying to make a dime from every angle you can. A little logo here for a couple hundred bucks, a little logo know, there's something about it all that makes me really uncomfortable. It takes away from the purity of the art. So the guys in the house... I want it to be about us, about our journey to become better people. It's not about fame and glory and all that, it's about us.

RS: That's alot different from how alot of other organizaers would run this sort of thing, because it seems that more often that not a person would look to make a profit out of this kind of stuff, and maybe even a reality television show to capture the experience. You seem to be going the other way.

Evan: Like I said, I've played the game. I've been out in Vegas, and out in Hollywood and L.A. and all that... the trying to be Mr. Bigshot, dressing fancy, dropping all the right names and all that kind of stuff. I just don't like that. I don't want this to be about that. I see more, and I see martial arts as alot more than that.

RS: Now, you weren't planning to be a fighter when you first came out. You actually stumbled onto MMA by accident.

Evan: Yeah, that's a misconception, especially one that a lot of the newer fans hold. The last year I took off, and because of that I've received alot of criticism from those who seem to think that I eat, drink, and breathe fighting, from those that assume I've dreamed my whole life of becoming a fighter, and I dreamed as a little kid of winning the world championship. Fighting just kind of found me. I can't necessarily say I ever really wanted to fight. I dropped out of college, took off traveling around the country. The things I wanted to learn weren't taught in college; I wanted to travel around the world and learn about it. I set out adventuring and gathering stories. On these adventures, fighting found me.

I was driving cross-country one time from Hartford, CT to California. I stopped in my hometown of Amarillo on the way, to say hello to some friends. I found out they were doing fighting events in the rodeo arena at the fairgrounds there. I checked out one of the shows, and it was great. I saw a lot of guys I knew from high school fighting. There were about four thousand screaming fans in attendance. The energy was intense. I heard they were going to have a heavyweight tournament the next show in two months, so I ended up signing up for it. I bought some Gracie technique videos and started learning how to do submissions. I was just doing it for the story, but I ended up winning the tournament. So then I had a good story, and I was done. But I got invited back to fight for the belt, and it was another chance at a good story that I couldn't pass up. I ended up winning the belt and I've been fighting ever since.

I have never trained year-round. Fighting and winning championships was never a dream otanner5.jpgf mine; I just happen to be good at fighting. I do really enjoy the competition, but I have many of other interests, and winning fights has allowed me to make enough money to travel and pursue those other interests.

RS: When do you expect the foundation to be open? I noticed you've already accepted one fighter into the house.

Evan: Yeah, he gets here on the 23rd. As far as the rest of the house, I'm really not sure at this point, I'm still getting everything together. Like I said, the idea just came to me one night and I put it out there. I'm slowly working the details out. I'm just kind of letting things flow right now, letting the foundation shape itself. I'm expecting to have it up and running within the next few months.

RS: Getting back toward the Octagon, you used to train with Randy Couture and Team Quest; what did you think of Randy's comeback this last weekend?

Evan: I didn't get to see the fight, but my criticism (and I don't mean that negatively) of Randy's game in previous fights that he lost, is specifically that he didn't evolve. He got stuck in a plateau for a while, and his technique and style were the same thing each time he stepped in the ring. A fighter can't do that at this level. Most fights are recorded at the higher levels enabling opponents to study your fighting and develop a game plan. Randy made the mistake of not changing his style and not adding new tricks to his game for a while.

This last fight, from what I understand, was that his movement was completely different. His head movement, foot movement. From what I understand, he brought a completely new game. And that's great, I heard it was a very impressive performance. It's good to know that he's changing his game.

RS: What are your thoughts on the Middleweight division right now, and more specifically the new MW Champ, Anderson Silva?

Evan: You know, people always as me questions like that. I can't really answer them. I can't really say I'm a fan of the sport. I like to compete, but I don't watch much fighting or keep up with the latest news. Unless I'm fighting I'm usually somewhere else altogether, working on some outside project, reading a book, or out on some adventure somewhere.

RS: Well obviously you have alot of other stuff on your plate as well.

Evan: I spent almost all of last year on the road. I had a lot of personal issues I was dealing with. Right now I'm completely focused on getting this foundation up and running. I'll worry about me later.

Thoughts on Anderson Silva, though- nobody fights him right. Nobody knows how to fight him. They all come in with the completely wrong approach. I know the exact way to beat Anderson; I know the right kind of movement, and the way to beat him.

RS: So you're confident that if you make a comeback, you would have a good shot at the title?

Evan: (laughs) For sure. I've never trained year-round, and I think I'm infamous for the amount of drinking I've done. Those two things have had a serious effect on what I've been able to do in the ring.

Starting this foundation is a huge step, I've put the beer down and I'm going to be training full-time, year-round for the first time in my career. The sky's the limit. Who knows what I can do? If I could win a world championship training 2 or 3 months a year, what could I do if I'm training full-time? If I want the belt, I'll take it. I don't mean that arrogantly, I'm just confident.

RS: Well alot of us are looking forward to your return to the cage, and best of luck with your foundation. Is there anything you'd like to mention in closing?

Evan: I want to thank all the fans out there, and if any of you are interested in helping out the foundation or learning about what's going on, please visit my Myspace ( or my website ( Also, I'd like to thank the guys at Sprawl Fight Shorts ( It's been great working with them, and they'll always have my support.


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