Tanner Pays Dues to Rake in Profits

Paying Dues

By Josh Gross Jun 3, 2005
In a climate where it seems like the fewer fights you have the more apt you are to get a UFC title shot, Evan Tanner is a diamond lost among cubic zirconias.

Tanner’s dues-paid eight-year career, which features UFC bouts dovetailed with dimly-lit fights in Amarillo, Texas and overseas battles against some of Japan’s toughest young mixed martial artists, hit a high note in February when he stopped Dave Terrell to earn his 10th UFC victory and first belt.

While fighters like Terrell — whose five wins in six fights were enough to net him a shot at the belt — climbed up the championship ladder at WiFi speed, Tanner did not.

“There’s a tendency in this sport for every guy — doesn’t matter what level, whether it’s grassroots or the big show — everybody thinks they’re the big star and deserve more,” Tanner told Sherdog.com.

That’s why, despite clamoring by the public and many in the media, there was little objection from the 34-year-old Tanner when he learned that instead of headlining Saturday night’s UFC 53 in Atlantic City, his first middleweight defense would be a co-feature preceding the much-less intriguing Andrei Arlovski-Justin Eilers interim heavyweight title bout.

“If it gets to the point where I’ve got the hype and I’m drawing the crowd, then maybe I’ll deserve to be part of a main event,” he humbly said. “But right now I’m still paying my dues. I’m going to keep fighting and hopefully keep paying the bills. If my day comes, it’ll come.”

In spite of what he said, Tanner (33-4-0) doesn’t need any more in-ring sacrifices. If anything, it’s the price of his personality — low-key, often disengaging — that’s pushed him to the back of the room when faced with the high-wattage attitudes of many of today’s fighters.

“Outgoing?” Tanner pondered. “I’m not really overly outgoing. I’m not trying to get in the limelight or attract too much attention to myself. I want to do what I’m doing. I kind of want to be left alone in a way. That might sound kind of odd, but there’s so many people trying to get in your business.”

Playing the role of challenger tomorrow night is Rich Franklin (19-1-0), one of only two fighters (Tito Ortiz is the other) to defeat Tanner in the UFC.

For the fighters and fans of the sport, Saturday’s bout carries with it the anticipation of a rematch; the intrigue of two veterans squaring off in the Octagon; and the tease of something much larger — the winner, it’s been whispered, will earn a slot as one of two coaches on the second season of the successful Ultimate Fighter reality series.

“That would be amazing,” said Tanner, now willing, it seems, to shed his wallflower persona. “I would definitely like to be able to take advantage of that opportunity; tremendous amount of exposure. In that position you’d be able to get a little bit out there of what you believe in. I don’t know. It’s an exciting idea.”

More than two years removed from his devastating first-round 32-second loss to Ortiz, Tanner stepped into the Octagon on a warm spring night in Miami to face Franklin, who was making his UFC debut.

One hundred-sixty seconds after the opening bell, Tanner was stunned again, victim to Franklin’s vicious striking game and, he would say later, an early stoppage by referee Larry Landless.

Since then, Tanner rattled off four victories in a row, each in his new weight class. It’s been a productive change for a man who insisted that while others cut down from 220, he often weighed 10 pounds less than the light heavyweight limit.

“I could get away with that when the sport was young and the guys coming in weren’t the most highly skilled guys and most genetically gifted guys,” he said. “But when Zuffa took over and as the sport evolved, you don’t want to give up that much weight. They’re going to be equal with you in skill and they’re going to be genetic specimens. All else being equal, the bigger man is going to win. So it was natural.”

“After the Rich Franklin fight I realized, Hey, what am I doing?" Tanner continued. “That was a wake-up call. That’s just too much weight to move around, not smart.”

Franklin, too, moved down, though he seesawed back-and-forth between 185 and 205 as recently as April. Last October, Franklin tried his hand at middleweight for the first time and defeated the scrappy Jorge Rivera.

It took three rounds to put away the Bostonian, and as a result some insiders suggest the move down to middleweight is a mistake — that Franklin is at his best when he fights at 205.

Tanner is in that camp.

“Really, not talking trash or anything,” the champ said, “I think it’s a big mistake for him to come down to 185. At 205 he looks really crisp, he looks sharp, he looks explosive and powerful. The only fight I’ve seen him at 185, it looked like he had a hard time making weight. He looked a little drawn. He looked kind of thin. I think he’s much more effective at 205. He wants to come down to my weight, 185.”

“I’m strong at 185,” he continued. “This is my natural weight. Yeah, he’s definitely welcome to come on down and try to take the belt.”
<h2>Fight Finder</h2>