Evan Tanner had no place to live, but he wouldn't necessarily say he was homeless.
He had no job providing steady income, but he wouldn't say he was unemployed.
He had none of the attention or adoration that surrounds a world-class mixed martial artist, but he wouldn't say he was lonely.
Less than a year removed from being the UFC middleweight champion, Tanner choked out Justin Levens at UFC 59 in Anaheim, Calif., a win that seemingly would put him back on the path toward regaining his title.
Tanner, though, didn't much care about another title shot, or even about his next fight.
A man who had always eschewed the conventions of life that bound most 9-to-5 workers, Tanner forgot about his MMA career, packed up a handful of belongings and set off in search of adventure.
He never knew where he was going or what he was going to do. He had broken up with the woman he was dating, and decided to forego the trappings of domesticity.
He sold everything but his motorcycle, his 1978 Toyota SJ40 Land Cruiser, souvenirs from his fighting days and his books. He loaded the SUV, which he calls "a beaten-up old thing" and began driving, destination unknown.
"I had been fighting for 10 years and in the UFC for over nine years," said Tanner, who will return to the grid on Saturday at UFC 82 when he faces Yushin Okami at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. "I felt like I wanted time to myself to see what was out there. The whole point is to throw things out there and see what happens. That's what makes things fun.
"I've never been a guy who likes things to be too planned out. If things are too predictable, I lose interest. I kind of like things to happen at random."
And though he didn't fight for nearly two years, Tanner maintained his popularity and, in my ways, increased it. He blogged about what he called his "adventures," problems in his personal life, his drinking issues and other issues very openly.
Fans who followed his blog posts worried about his safety, though, when he began to describe in detail his drinking escapades.
"When I started writing, I was doing a lot of drinking and I had these crazy adventures, a lot of crazy things," Tanner said. "From the people's perspective, I guess they saw a guy who they thought had it all and went crazy. That wasn't the case. I've always been crazy by regular standards, but people were kind of flipped out by it. So I changed the tone."
In an entry when he was preparing to resume training, Tanner wrote, "I've been a traveler my entire life, constantly on the move, searching for new adventures, seeking knowledge, looking for the truth of things. It has been my way of life. The last two years were a little bit more extreme than usual though. There were so many problems in my personal life, women, drinking, finances, ways of thinking, all which kept me a fraction of my true self in my professional life. I had to burn some things out of my system, I had to catch my breath. Two years on the road."
Those two years took a toll on his body, such that when he got back to the gym, he bore only the faintest resemblance to the fit fighter who had been so successful in the UFC.
On his first day back in training, he had someone take a picture of him in shorts with no shirt. While he hardly looked obese, his body was round and soft, not the straight, hard lines of the bodies of most fighters.
But even in his approach to his training, Tanner has been different. He would train for a fight, but said he never was committed to year-round training. If he has nine months between fights, he'll do nothing for 7 1/2 months before getting to the gym to prepare.
"Some people may look at that and think it's wrong and it's their right to believe what they want to believe," Tanner said. "But this is my life and my body and I have always kind of done things my own way."
He admits he never set out to be a fighter and only got into the business on a lark. He said he gave it a shot because he saw heavyweight Paul Buentello use a spinning back kick to break his opponent's forearm.
"I saw that and thought it would be a neat story to have," Tanner said. "I never really planned to be a fighter."
He became one of the best in the world, though he insists he doesn't want to be defined as a fighter.
And he hasn't changed much in his approach, even with the time off. He has no expectations other than having fun for the bout with Okami.
He heaped praise upon Okami and said he's "strong in the clinch and strong on the ground."
But the unknown is what he likes.
"The beauty of this is that I know I have to go out there and keep him from fighting his fight, but I don't have a clue what's really going to happen," Tanner said. "I think I do better in anything I do when I'm really not sure what's around the next corner. I just kind of go off and explore on my own.
"This fight is like that. I'm going to get in there and figure it out as we go. I don't have a clue if I'll win. I just know it's fun again."
- Yushin Okami
- Evan Tanner