Tanner marched to his own drummer

You had to meet Evan Tanner only once to like him. You had to spend only 10 minutes with him to feel like he was your friend.

He was the kind of guy who loved books, trying new things and meeting new people. The world was too small for the former Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight titleholder, who was always on the lookout for another adventure.

Sadly, though, it was Tanner’s most recent escapade that led to his untimely death at 37. His body was discovered around noon Monday in a rugged mountainous area near San Diego, where he had gone camping.

Friends, who had known he ventured alone, alerted authorities on Friday when they had not heard from him. Temperatures had reached 114 degrees on Sunday in the area where Tanner’s body was discovered.

Eerily, Tanner seems to have foreshadowed his own death in a blog post he made on Spike TV’s website. Tanner loved to write and became somewhat of a celebrity in the last several years, more for his blogging than for his fighting.

In an Aug. 16 post, Tanner was writing about preparations for his camping trip. He wrote, “I plan on going so deep into the desert that any failure of my equipment could cost me my life.”

That is apparently what happened, though authorities in Imperial County have not released a cause of death.

Tanner’s death is as mysterious as the life he lived. The Amarillo, Texas native became a fighter on a whim when he saw a mixed martial arts fight in his hometown and was intrigued. Typically Tanner, he had to try it himself.

It turned out the two-time former Texas state high school wrestling champion was so gifted at this new and fledgling sport that he would go on to become a world champion. A middleweight, he had a 32-8 MMA record and had victories over quality fighters such as Heath Herring, Paul Buentello, Robbie Lawler, David Terrell and Phil Baroni. His career peaked with the first-round TKO win over Terrell at UFC 51 in 2005, which landed him the UFC middleweight crown.

The trappings of fame, though, weren’t what drew Tanner to the sport. He was a man who felt he needed to try everything at least once, to experience all the world had to offer.

He lived humbly, moving from place to place and treating life as a game meant to be played. He had little furniture in his apartment in Las Vegas, where he lived for much of 2008 before moving to Oceanside, Calif.

A minimalist, Tanner often would sleep on the floor amid a stack of his books, which he loved dearly.

He loved nature and being a part of it. In his final blog entry, he railed about overcrowding and marveled at all there is in the universe that man still does not fully understand.

“Today, I ran to the store to pick up a few things, and with the lonesome, quiet desert thoughts on my mind, I couldn’t help but be struck with their brutally stark contrast to my current surroundings, the amazing congestion in which we exist day to day,” he wrote. “The landscape as far as I could see, crowded, choked, with me and the rest of the species, an almost writhing mass of organisms, fighting over space and resources … on the highways, in the parking lots, on the sidewalks, and in the aisle of the stores.

“And to think, there are still places in the world where man has not been, where he has left no footprints, where the mysteries stand secure, untouched by human eyes. I want to go to these places, the quiet, timeless, ageless places, and sit, letting silence and solitude be my teachers.”

Tanner died doing what he loved, exploring his world in his own way.

We should all be so lucky.

Evan Tanner will be missed, but anyone who knew him well will always have a part of him with them.

Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Sep 9, 2008