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9/22/08 2:07 AM
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cp31
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Tanner’s rich life led to his ultimate bout

By kerry eggers

The Portland Tribune, Sep 18, 2008

When he died in the searing Southern California desert heat Sept. 8, Evan Tanner left a few questions unanswered.

The former Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight titleholder – who lived in Portland from 2001-05 while competing for Team Quest Fight Club – was a paradox.

He made his living trying to beat the bejesus out of anyone courageous enough to step into a ring with him.

But Tanner had another side. He loved movies and literature. Under “favorites” on his Myspace page, he listed dozens of films and even more books, including “Siddhartha,” “Dr. Zhivago,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “All Quiet on the Western Front” and “Out of Africa,” along with the works of Walt Whitman, Walter Scott and Charles Dickens.

“Evan was a dynamic Renaissance man,” says John Hayner, who served as Tanner’s manager at the time of his death at age 37. “He hated to be labeled. He often would say, ‘I’m not a fighter. I’m an artist, a writer, a poet.’ He was anything but just a fighter, but he was mostly an adventurer.”

Tanner’s final adventure came in the mountain area near Palo Verde, Calif., with temperatures hitting 114 degrees.

Was it suicide? Those who knew him best say they don’t believe it was.

“I don’t think he had a death wish,” says Randy Couture, the Team Quest co-founder who became the UFC’s only five-time champion. “But he was a little out there, and he liked to push the envelope.”

•••

Tanner grew up in Amarillo, Tex., a high school state champion wrestler with wanderlust in his heart. He was supposed to wrestle at Oklahoma State but got mononucleosis and dropped out of school. He wound up moving coast to coast, working odd jobs — laying TV cable for a while — to make ends meet.

He landed back in Amarillo for a while, was introduced to ultimate fighting and then, at age 26, to Danita Drown, six years younger.

“Evan was very extreme,” says Drown, now Danita Rigert, 31, married with an 18-month-old son and living in Gresham. “He did everything crazy and free and wild. It was different from my lifestyle, but at the same time, we had a lot in common.”

After dating for three months, Tanner moved in with Rigert. They lived in Amarillo for a year before Tanner moved to Portland to train at Team Quest with such notables as Couture and Matt Lindland. Rigert soon followed, and they lived together in Portland for four years.

Before Rigert hit town, Tanner camped out at Couture’s house for a few weeks.

“I probably knew Evan as well as anybody got to know him,” says Couture, now a Las Vegas resident who is coming out of retirement to fight Brock Lesnar in UFC 91 in November. “He was a unique individual who stayed to himself and never opened up or connected with a lot of people. It’s almost metaphorical that he passed the way he passed — in the desert, by himself.”

Tanner and Lindland had met a year earlier at UFC 29 in Japan, Lindland’s debut fight. Lindland shared a locker with Tanner’s opponent and, after sizing the two up, thought, “this guy (Tanner) is going to get killed. Then Evan went out and destroyed the guy.”

They kept in touch and grew closer when Tanner moved to Portland.

“Even was very pleasant, but he was definitely an odd individual,” says Lindland, a 2000 Olympic silver medalist wrestler who fought for the UFC middleweight title. “The thing that struck me the most about him was this: He came out here to be a part of the team and learn from us and be coached by us, but when it came to anything outside of the training room, the guy refused anybody’s help. It was always, ‘I got this handled.’

“He had our support, but he was kind of the black sheep. He wanted to be this lone wolf, this outsider.”

“Evan was a hard case,” says former Team Quest training partner Ryan Schultz. “He was going to do things his way. But I loved the guy.”

For a while, Tanner lived in a trailer behind the Team Quest camp.

“One morning, Evan came in and couldn’t open his eyes,” Couture recalls. “They were like fire red. He said, ‘I had no access to water and couldn’t take my contacts out, so I left them in for a few days.’

“Finally, he had to peel the contacts off ... and peeled a bunch of cells off his cornea in the process. It was like gravel in the eyes. We got him some eyedrops, and he was fine in a couple of days.”

Stories. There are many stories about Tanner’s thirst for adventure.

“Once, he bought a sailboat but didn’t know how to sail,” Lindland says with a chuckle. “Fortunately, he wrecked it in the harbor before he got it out to sea.”

Rigert’s father owned a Harley-Davidson shop in Amarillo.

“I had a motorcycle, and Evan decided to ride it to Texas to trade it in for a new one,” she says.

In the dead of winter.

“He drove through snow and ice,” Rigert says. “It was freezing cold, but he made it.”

Tanner told Rigert of the time when, on a trek through the Grand Canyon, he saw a sign that warned, “Do not attempt to hike down this trail and back in one day.”

“So he did it, with only one bottle of water, and almost died of dehydration,” she says. “He doesn’t know how he made it.”

•••

Schultz met Tanner when Schultz joined Team Quest in 2003.

“Evan was one of the best fighters of all-time,” says Schultz, a former International Fight League lightweight champion who recently signed a five-event deal to fight in Japan. “He was one of the hardest-working guys in the sport. He was a great training partner and a warrior through and through.

“He was also an intellectual — at times, almost too smart for his own good. He overthought a lot of stuff. Evan was a very deep person. He was spiritual in the sense of trying to figure out why we’re here on earth.”

Couture saw the intellectual side of Tanner, too.

“Evan was very bright,” Couture says. “Everything he learned in (mixed martial arts) before he came to us, he learned out of a book.

“He was a member of this crazy ‘Classic Book Club.’ He was getting all these leatherbound gold-rimmed books like ‘Moby Dick.’ He sat around and read them. A very interesting guy, a nice guy to be around. But he had his demons.”

Those demons came primarily from drinking.

“The monkey he couldn’t get off his back,” Schultz says, “was alcohol.”

•••
9/22/08 2:08 AM
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cp31
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cont.

"Evan was an alcoholic," Rigert says. "We had a lot of differences because of that problem. And I wanted a family. He wasn't quite ready for that."

Rigert left Tanner in 2005 and returned to Amarillo.

"It was hard for both of us," Rigert says. "We were best friends. But it was better that way."

Tanner's comrades at Team Quest were trying to help him.

"At our gym, the guys are one big family," says Lindland, an Eagle Creek resident who is the Republican candidate for state representative from District 52 in this November's election. "When you train and bleed and sweat together, you develop a certain bond. You can say certain things to guys. You can be brutally honest. There were a lot of us who said to Evan, 'Hey, you got a problem, bro. Do something about it.' "

Lindland says he first knew the problem was serious when he got a call from Rigert, wondering where Tanner was.

"Turns out he was hanging out at the beach on the Sandy River and wouldn't come home," Lindland says. "The next day, after he sobered up, I was like, 'We might have a problem here.' "

Schultz didn't like what he was seeing in his friend.

"Once, I went to his house after he'd been drinking quite a few days straight," Schultz says. "We had a physical altercation, me trying to get him to snap out of it.

"At times, he would snap out of it. Imagine how good he'd have been (as a fighter) if he'd been sober. He would destroy his body with alcohol, and then he'd train back and be a physical specimen again. He'd clean up and put in four or five workouts a day to catch up when he was doing the wrong things.

"I looked up to Evan for a long time after I got here," Schultz says somberly, "but you realized after awhile that alcohol was a demon for him."

"It always amazed me," Lindland observes, "that Evan could put down the drinking long enough to get in peak shape to perform. Then he'd go out and celebrate, and beat himself up because he was mad at himself for getting drunk. It was a vicious cycle. He was able to do those things and still be a champion."

Tanner won the middleweight title at UFC 51, then lost it in UFC 53, both in early 2005. By October, Rigert was gone, and Schultz had ended their friendship.

"I couldn't watch Evan do what he was doing to himself with alcohol," Schultz says. "I said, 'Look, I'm not going to be your drinking buddy.' We went our own ways."

Everything quickly came to a head.

"Typically, guys don't quit drinking on their own," Lindland says. "Well, Evan did everything on his own. I thought for a while he was going to handle it on his own. But after four years of dealing with it, it was like, 'Stop drinking and get things together.'

"We gave him an ultimatum -- get help or you're going to leave. Our attitude was, 'We've had enough; your drinking is affecting everybody else.' That's when he decided to leave."

•••

Tanner went south, living first in Las Vegas, then in Oceanside, Calif., though he still had a house in Troutdale. He fought only occasionally -- once in 2006 and twice in 2008.

"He lost them both," Lindland says of the recent bouts. "Lost to guys I thought he would just crush. He didn't look so hot."

By that time, the passion may have been gone.

"The way Evan funded his adventures was fighting," says Hayner, a San Clemente, Calif., resident who worked with Tanner the past two years. "He did that, really, for 10 years. He would plan adventures for months and months, fight, then take four or five months off to go do adventures, so that he would have stories to tell his children."

Hayner says Tanner had been renting an apartment on the beach in Oceanside and had gotten his personal life together.

"His alcohol problem was a thing of the past," Hayner says. "He hadn't been drinking in well over a year. He didn't go through any specific treatment. His treatment was being in nature, going on hikes, things like that. Living across the street from the ocean, that was his treatment."

Tanner amused himself, and kept in touch with fans, through a blog he did with SpikeTV. He made several trips to the desert, where he could be at one with himself and nature and experience a spiritual "cleansing."

After learning of a friend's recent treasure-hunting expedition in the the mountain area near Palo Verde, he wrote in late August about becoming motivated by "my insatiable appetite for adventure and exploration. I began to imagine what might be found in the deep reaches of this untracked desert. It became an obsessions of sorts. 'Treasure' doesn't necessarily refer to something material. ... I want to go to these places, the quiet, timeless, ageless places and sit, letting silence and solitude be my teachers."

In preparing for the trip, he added, "being a minimalist by nature, wanting to carry only the essentials, and being extremely particular, it has been difficult to find just the right equipment. I plan on going so deep into the desert that any failure of my equipment could cost me my life."

A couple of weeks later, Tanner's body was found. He had text-messaged a friend that his motorcyle had run out of gas, and that he was walking back to his camp a couple of miles away to get gas and water. He never made it.

•••

Suicide?

"It's hard to say with Evan," Schultz says. "I don't think it was. I'm told he was waiting for the right (expedition) gear, to do it correctly. I don't think he went out with the intentions to not come back."

But what about the ominous post on his blog about potential death?

"A lot of people question that statement," Rigert says. "He knew the risks of going into a desert at 100-plus degrees. It was a challenge. But that's how he always lived. If people say you're crazy for doing something, it made him want to do it even more.

"I don't think he had any intentions of dying in the desert. I knew him well enough to say, that was not his plan."

Hayner is even more certain.

"In no way, shape or form" was it suicide, he says. "I was at his house on Monday when UPS showed up with a new helmet he ordered online. He absolutely planned on coming home. He died looking for water, looking for the spring. The spring was right there, but ..."

Rigert was shocked -- but not altogether surprised -- when she learned of her ex's demise.

"I was kind of mad," she says. She pauses, then continues, her voice choking with emotion.

"It's hard. Someone you spent a lot of your life with is very special to you. You always cherish that. I know how stubborn he was. I just wish help could have gotten to him somehow.

"I'll always love him," says Rigert, who moved from Amarillo to Gresham last December. "He was a great guy. I can't say anything bad about him, and I'm thankful for that."

Tanner's life will be remembered during a ceremony at Sportfight 24 in the Rose Garden on Sept. 19. Lindland and Schultz will be there. The questions about Tanner's ultimate fate will be, too.

http://www.theoutlookonline.com/sports/print_story.php?story_id=122168269890058500
9/22/08 2:19 AM
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Immaculata
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Wow.


Very, very informative.



It almost seems like he had a death wish.



U can't help people who don't want to listen and are "hard headed".



It's just sad because we all know how talented he was and how his experiences and knowledge could have been passed on.



RIP, Evan Tanner. I hope Heaven is the adventure you were looking for.
9/22/08 3:45 AM
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KnuckleBumps
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ttt
9/22/08 4:06 AM
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MMArijuana
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Thanks.
9/22/08 4:08 AM
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CindyO
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 ttt
9/22/08 4:30 AM
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Stone Rolled
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Sounds like someone everyone wants to know, including myself. Man, everyone's life is different. Someone's life is completely polar opposite of most people, in his perspective. I can relate. Just a stranger in everyone's world, like an alien.
9/22/08 4:43 AM
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PR
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He did def have a self-destructive urge. You could see it coming. IIRC lots of people were talking about his "death-wish" on that gigantic thread about his half-sunk boat.
9/22/08 4:50 AM
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PTM2020
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9/22/08 8:15 AM
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oldstuff
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Edited: 09/22/08 8:41 AM
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Evan was extreme but not suicidal and had not drank in a year. You take the chance and you make it or you don't......you are willing to die but it doesn't mean you want to.

Again, I spoke with him for a long time the night before he went missing. He was in the middle of the desert and he spoke of what he was going to do when he got back into town after his camping trip. There was no wish to die in any of the conversation. He was upset that people thought he was "going into the wild". He just took chances that most people wouldn't take.......

If Evan went out there to die or if he even wanted to die, he would have blogged about it or wrote it in his journals and he didn't. That pretty much says it all.
9/22/08 8:29 AM
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Chris Messiah
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he lived his life to what some could argue it's full potential......will be missed
9/22/08 8:42 AM
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Kirik
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 Thanks for posting that.
9/22/08 9:21 AM
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archer0545
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 Nice posting!  TTT
9/22/08 9:31 AM
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vegard
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mt
9/22/08 10:39 AM
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RearNakedJoke
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best post ive read on here in a while.... thanks
9/22/08 10:42 AM
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Heddy
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ttt

9/22/08 10:45 AM
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Rand McPherson
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that's a good read. thanx for posting.
9/22/08 10:48 AM
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2JupitersTooMany
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That was a fantastic article
9/22/08 1:11 PM
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Not Monty
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Edited: 09/22/08 1:12 PM
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Thanks. That was a good read.

I disagree with "death wish" too. He just had that inclination to push into dangerous areas in order to feel alive (and find the consequences if he was right or wrong on his own). I mean, its no different, no less stupid to me, than when guys jump out of planes or go deep sea diving, etc. Some people just find it exhilarating to go out on that edge where one infinitesimal wrong thing means the end of your life.
9/22/08 1:42 PM
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molonlabedoc
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Well done

Lots of folks who don’t understand a man like Even will want to label him as reckless and such. Somewhere down the road we all have to come to terms with our mortality. Most of us hide behind religion or the materials we gather for instant gratification.

I think Even was living in the moment and for a guy who's job has been fighting, that moment had to be extreme in order to be worth while. From the sounds of things, he liked to stare death in the face, anyone who has fought even in the street knows that feeling of empowerment.

If some want to call it a death wish, I agree with them, but its not a negative when the living being done up to his demise was on his own terms.

That’s a life wish.
9/22/08 2:08 PM
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DarrenJG
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Good article. Thanks for posting.

It's just hard to reconcile the alcohol issues with the rest of his life. He seemed like a pretty self aware guy, and he seemed to appreciate things and live in the moment. He also seemed very particular and a control freak. Hard to understand him turning to alcohol in such an out of control and extreme degree.
9/22/08 2:18 PM
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Ausgepicht
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What a great read. Thanks.
9/22/08 2:19 PM
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StretchPlum
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Edited: 09/22/08 2:21 PM
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A lot of alcoholics, and especially those who are manic depressives, have grandiose thoughts of themselves and are extreme risk takers when in the manic phase. Whether that fits him or not I don't know.
9/22/08 3:14 PM
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OriginalTUFer
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ttt
9/22/08 3:41 PM
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FERA BRABA
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Thanks for sharing that post. Strange as it may seem, reading that actually gave me a little solice.

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