Posted 09/15/2013 by Marlene Taborda in Untethered MMA

The Final Days of Evan Tanner as Told by Evan Tanner

By Mike Fagan, September 10th, 2013

Thursday marked the five-year anniversary of Evan Tanner’s death. It went largely unreported in MMA circles, which surprised me. Tanner, a former UFC champion, was a throwback to the days of self-training in garages, and his death was the result of a failed adventure into Southern California desert.

Tanner blogged for leading up to his final expedition. That blog has been lost, but the records, including the entries leading up to his trip, have been saved by the Internet Way Back Machine.


The following is a timeline of the events leading up to Tanner’s death in his own words.

December 10, 2007: Tanner, having last fought in April 2006, speaks to MMA Junkie about his return to the Octagon.

“I guess I was ready to get a fight again. And, however you want to say it, they were ready to get some new blood in there — well, some old blood back in there — and spice up the middleweight division. It worked out well for the both of us. They needed some 185-pounders that were ready to go.”


The UFC later schedules Tanner to fight Yushin Okami at UFC 82.

March 1, 2008: New blood defeats new old blood as Okami stops Tanner with a knee midway through the second round. Shortly after the fight, Tanner writes about his alcohol addiction on the now-shuttered (quotes via MMA Junkie):

“I had just stepped out of the Octagon where I had stood face to face with one of the top fighters in the world, but it was there, in the dressing room behind the scenes after the fight that night, that I waged my greatest battle,” Tanner wrote. “It would have been so easy to have picked up the bottle again in that moment, to have made the decision to go back to it.

“That moment, in the silence of the dressing room, faced with crushing disappointment, numbing embarrassment, and that heavy sadness, I faced the old demons. I felt so low, as if everything had been lost. I wanted to drink. I faced those old demons again, and I beat them down. I won the battle, and I won the war.”

Weeks later, Tanner and UFC matchmaker Joe Silva work out a summer return. Silva schedules him against Kendall Grove at the Ultimate Fighter 7 Finale.


June 21, 2008: Tanner drops  a split decision to Grove in what ultimately becomes the final fight of his career. He speaks with following the fight:

“Maybe I’m just getting old. … I’m pretty down about the fight. I’m just not feeling healthy. It might have been those two years. I might have pushed the limits too much. I haven’t been feeling right in training, haven’t been feeling right in fights. Feeling off. Flat. Can’t move. Maybe it’s mental.”

“Maybe my day is done.”


June 30, 2008: Tanner decides to move to Oceanside, California:

“I had spent a considerable amount of time in Vegas over the years, and had been living there since last October. It’s a souless, heartless place. It had never been my kind of city, but it was the place where I had chosen to settle for a time, to make some life changes. I was centered in what I was doing, and had been unconcerned with the chaos surrounding me. For sometime though, I’ve been contemplating making a move to California, by the beach, so I could take up surfing again. I had considered Huntington Beach, and San Clemente, among others. As I sat in Oceanside the last couple of days, it hit me that the answer was right in front of me. Why not settle here? I have good friends here, and it is within easy driving distance of many great MMA gyms in LA and San Diego.”


July 17, 2008: “The truck is loaded, and I’m ready to go. Leaving for Oceanside tomorrow morning. My friend Brent offered to haul everything out for me in his Tahoe, but he’s got a heavy week of training coming up, and I didn’t want to trouble him. He has a really big fight coming up in King of the Cage in October.

“I had fun with the beard for a while, but I decided it was time for a change.”


August 8, 2008: “Just bought a new motorcycle. Going to be starting a new adventure soon.”


August 10, 2008: Tanner lays out his plan:

“As I said in the previous entry, I’ve decided to get an adventure motorcyle to ride far out into the desert to search for gold. ha ha I’m serious, and I’m not.

“I could just say I’m getting a motorcycle and I’m going do some off-roading in the desert. But why not make it more romantic, more mysterious, why not make it more of an adventure. I’m not just going out into the desert, I’m going out into the desert to hunt for lost treasure. Who knows, I could get lucky and find some gold, but I don’t really expect to. I couldn’t really say how much gold hunting I’ll actually do. The important part I feel, what I’m going to enjoy the most, is just getting far out, away from civilization, into the quiet of the desert, and standing under the cobalt blue night sky filled with countless stars. I want to stand under that sky again, a sky that most in this lifetime will never have the chance to see. It is a sky that can only be seen far out in the wilds, far away from the noise, and the drowning lights of the city. It is crisp and clean, pure and shimmering. It is a pilgrimage that each of us should take at least once in our lives, a pilgrimage to worship beneath god’s sky.

“So I say I’m going out into the desert to hunt for treasure, but I really say that just for fun. I’m going on a pigrimage of sorts, a journey to solitude, to do some thinking, and to pay my respects to the great mysteries.”

Tanner includes a picture of his new dirtbike.


August 16, 2008: “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. 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.

“One more week. I think one more week, and I’ll be ready to go.”


August 27, 2008: “I’ve been sitting around this apartment, bored to tears, waiting on the last of the gear I need for the desert adventure to come in the mail. I’ve really been looking forward to getting out there. I’ve been writing about it a little bit here. 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. 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”. I’m not going out into the desert with a pair of shorts and a bowie knife, to try to live off the land. I’m going fully geared up, and I’m planning on having some fun.

“I do plan on going back pretty far, so I did mention in one of my posts that I wanted to make sure to have good quality gear. Any failure of gear out in the desert could cause a problem.

“So here I am waiting on this gear I ordered. Despite the surfing, and all the other things there are to do around here, I’ve been really anxious to go camping, and I’ve gotten really bored waiting.

“I got a call this afternoon from the UFC public relations department. Turns out they need someone last minute to make an appearance out in Milwaukee at the Harley Davidson 105th Anniversary. Perfect. Gives me something to do. I’m a biker anyway.”


September 2, 2008: Tanner’s final blog entry:

“Dropped into the Compound MMA here in Oceanside for a workout. The owners, Claudia and Frank, and the manager Bill have always been very friendly and very supportive. I probably didn’t come across too well the last time I was in. I just want to let them know I’m sorry about that. Like everyone else, I kind of lose sight of things sometimes. I would like to sincerely thank them, and I really appreciate everything.”


September 4, 2008: Tanner sends two text messages.

Text 1: “At Clapp Springs almost out of water will try and hike back to camp 5 miles south & east of Flap Top Mtns after sundown.”

Text 2: “If you don’t hear from me by 8 am call for help.”


Unsent text, unknown timestamp: “I need help.”


Mike Fagan is a weekly contributor to MMA Owl. He also hosts Untethered MMA every Thursday at 7 p.m. ET at, also available as a podcast via iTunes.




Marlene Taborda