“I won’t live by rules that make no sense to me.”
September 5th, I try to remember this day every year, well for the last seven years anyway. Unfortunately more often than not I only remember to check the date after it’s passed. September 5th isn’t a day that shall live in infamy, it isn’t a day we should all hold in our heavy hearts, but it is a day I kick myself for not remembering before it has passed. It’s the day the world lost Evan Tanner. If that name doesn’t ring a bell then I suggest that you stop reading and look him up. I’ll wait.
He wasn’t one of the greatest, even though he was a champion, and he didn’t change the face of MMA in any real way. He did, however, do some things that deserve recognition, and some that resonate deeply with me. He was many things to many people, and to me he was something close to a hero and even though my only interaction with him was through the filter of the internet and one lone letter, in some weird way, I considered him a friend. You see, Evan walked a path all his own, and one that has many parallels to my own. Born and raised in Texas, started fighting on the strength of what amounted to little more than self-training, constant rambler, Sprawl shorts. I’ll spare you the famous quote listing the accomplishments of his life, both high and low, but as a man who seems to completely uproot every few years, reading it sends a jolt of unnamed emotion through me.
“College dropout, adventurer, seeker, traveler, ditch digger, dishwasher, cable tech, concrete worker, steel worker, salad prep, busboy, ski resort security, ski resort rental shop technician. I’ve worked in a slaughterhouse. I’ve been a landscaper. I’ve done drywall, tile, countertops, wood flooring, roofing. I have been a plumber, worked as a bottle collector at a bar, a bouncer, a doorman, a head of a security team. I have been a basket room clerk, a carpenter, a framer building beach houses, a truss builder. I’ve lived on a farm. I’ve lived in the city. I’ve earned money mowing lawns, selling on ebay, and fighting. A teacher, a trainer, and a coach sometimes. There was a time when I was younger that I didn’t know any better than to be a liar, a cheater, and a thief. I have since learned to despise those things. I have had great friendships. I have had great loves. I have been a lover, I have been a son, a brother, and a friend. And I was once a world champion.”
– Evan Tanner
Evan was the type of man to drop everything seemingly on a whim, to follow his dream, to follow his heart, and sometimes to explore self-destruction. In a move shockingly close to my dreams, Evan moved to the coast of California and bought a sailboat that he intended to repair himself, even though he had no knowledge or experience (it sank). In 2007 he flew from Las Vegas to Fort Worth to help build a playground for a school in need. As far as I know, no one asked or invited him. He dropped all of his corporate sponsors and instead only accepted personal donations from fans, Team Tanner “Sponsored by YOU”
I won’t paint a rose-tinted portrait of the man though. His abuse of alcohol fueled his already erratic behavior. His freedom and transgressions cost him money and cost him friends. He bounced from team to team and often from couch to couch, leaving behind him a swath of strengthened relationships and burnt bridges. The term “manic” doesn’t quite have the strength to capture his life. But however you described his life, Evan lived it. He lived it to the fullest. Evan described it as such: “Everything’s been about the journey… When you’re on your death bed, it’s those stories, those little adventures that are going to be the things that you remember. It’s not so much getting there, but how you got there.”
His death is eight years behind me, but it’s still a funny thing. I’m not saddened by his passing. Even when I give it thought I can’t quite pin a name on the fleeting pulse that passes from between my eyes to my heart. Evan was a man whose life rested in that grey area between cautionary tale and folk hero. For me anyway. Equal parts “If only” and “But why?”, and I relish both. So today I am going to take some time to examine the trajectory of life. Not using Evan as a beacon, and certainly not using him as a guide, but acknowledging a fellow wanderer, dusty from the road and weary from the weight of the world and himself, but who can still crack a smile at the possibilities ahead. I still believe.