From Common Competitor to Middleweight Monarch

By Mike Sloan Feb 14, 2005
It has been almost two years since most within the mixed martial arts world wrote Evan Tanner off. When he was brutally picked apart and knocked out by Rich Franklin he had to truly search to find himself. Had Tanner been victorious that night a title shot may have arrived sooner. But after suffering a terrible stoppage loss in less than three minutes, Tanner’s career almost spiraled out of control.

Thankfully, for his well being, Tanner is a level-headed guy, not one to succumb to depression after a heartbreaking loss. Four fights removed from his previous loss, which came at the hands of Tito Ortiz for the UFC light heavyweight title, he was poised to make some serious noise at 185 pounds. The loss to Franklin derailed Tanner … momentarily.

Tanner soaked up everything he could from the loss in Miami and morphed into an even better rounded fighter. He kept his head together after Phil Baroni nearly decapitated him, eventually scoring the controversial stoppage moments later at UFC 45. He validated the win over Baroni with a one-sided drubbing in their highly anticipated rematch at UFC 48, and followed that by submitting Pat Miletich fighter Robbie Lawler at UFC 50.

The win over the dangerous Lawler set the stage for his middleweight title showdown against David Terrell last week and once again, Tanner made the most of his opportunity. While Tanner has openly expressed that he never really expected his fighting career to flourish or win a major title, those in the know always felt that Tanner had longed for another title shot.

It had been almost four years and eight fights since he challenged for Ortiz’ strap and finally, Tanner received another chance.

Terrell marched out of the gates at the sound of the horn and tried to duplicate what transpired in his UFC debut. In said battle, he quickly scored a dramatic knockout over former Tanner teammate Matt Lindland in just 24 seconds, the earliest a Lindland fight had ever ended. But this time, Tanner had other plans and kept his hands high, nullifying pretty much everything Terrell launched his way.

Not everything was rosy for Tanner in his victory over Terrell, though. Tanner found himself entrapped within a fairly deep guillotine choke and almost was submitted in the opening round. But, being the savvy veteran he is, Tanner was able to weather the storm, free himself and eventually wear down the expended Terrell. Tanner wound up scoring a stunning first round TKO.

“David came out strong like I thought he would,” said Tanner to after the victory. “I didn’t really want to engage him when he was strong. I just wanted him to wear himself out. He did, but he had me a little nervous with the guillotine choke.”

Patience, of course, usually comes with being a steady veteran of the game and knowing when to expend energy is critical. Had Tanner been some greenhorn rookie, Terrell may have been the one walking away with the title.

“I’ve been in this a long time,” he said. “I’ve fought in the UFC quite a bit. I knew he’d be feeling the pressure to come out and look good. I kept working on my ground skills and submissions. He's a tough kid.”

Tanner wasn’t the only one excited about his victory, a win that allowed him to walk away with the vacant UFC middleweight crown. UFC president Dana White was jovial at the post-fight press conference, almost unable to control his happiness for one of the sport’s true good guys.

“No matter how many times he fights, no matter how many fights he’s been in and no matter who he faces, he’s the underdog,” a beaming White stated. “Evan’s awesome. He’s always the underdog, he’s always underestimated and finally he got his due. He is now the middleweight champion of the world.”

Tanner, who has a tendency to alter his hairdo with virtually every passing contest, is content on being the champion and is not looking to call anybody out. Never a trash talker or a finger pointer, Tanner is appreciative just to be fighting for a living and now being labeled as the champion.

As for Terrell, White explained that David was down in the dumps following his loss. With what White revealed, however, it’s doubtful that Terrell will not return to the UFC. In fact, he appears to be what White and company covets in new faces of the Octagon.

“It was only his second fight in the UFC,” White said. “He is exactly the kind of fighter we look for: he’s exciting and he brought the action to Evan.”

While recent rumors persist that Tanner could be locking horns with Franklin again at UFC 53, the main focus—it seems—in the world of MMA is a possible match up between Tanner and Lindland.

Tanner has recently parted ways with Team Quest, a dominant squad that used to center around Randy Couture, Dan Henderson, Lindland and Tanner.

“I thought Evan looked really good,” Lindland said. “He had a good game plan and he executed it perfectly.”

When comparing Lindland’s fight against Terrell and then witnessing how Tanner dispatched of him, Lindland wasn’t impressed—he expected it.

“I wasn’t surprised that he took David out quickly at all,” he quipped. “That’s how that fight should have gone down. I figured David would have come out real strong. That’s all we’ve ever seen of him. We’ve never seen him go into the later rounds and we’ve never seen him deal with that kind of pressure. I expected it to go that way and I actually did quite well in the sports book. I would have been surprised if he caught Evan the same way [as he did me]. I think everybody would have been shocked.”

But with Tanner recently bolting the friendly confines of Team Quest, one would expect there to be gallons of bad blood and hostility between the two sides. But according to Tanner and especially Lindland, that is not even close to truth.

“I don’t think Evan has bad blood between anybody at Team Quest,” Lindland said. “Evan and I are friends. We had a beer after the fight and I congratulated him on the victory. So, no, I don’t see anything like [bad blood] going on between us.”

With that said most will ask why Tanner left Team Quest. While Lindland didn’t reveal any intricate details revolving the sponsorship deal, a deal that allegedly caused the split between Tanner and Team Quest, he matter-of-factly elaborated that personal reasons caused Tanner to flee.

“I think he wanted to leave and do his own thing,” Lindland said. “We were doing things a bit differently than he wanted to and he wanted to do things his own way. Obviously it worked for him.”

Naturally, nothing is set in stone that says Tanner will defend his title against Lindland, as “The Law” first has to get past the tough Travis Lutter.

“If I beat Travis, Dana White told me that I will fight Evan for the title,” Lindland stated. “That’s what he said at the press conference, that if I beat Lutter I will fight for the title.”

When asked about a possible match up between him and Lindland, Tanner seemed both pumped and emotional at the same time. “It's hard and it's personal,” he said. “Matt is one of the best competitors in the sport. It's one of the best match ups in the UFC.”

Hopefully that bout becomes a reality, but with the rumors swirling that Tanner will defend against Franklin, a Tanner-Lindland showdown may just take place for the victor to fight for the title.

Anybody who knows the sport, especially after witnessing how easily Franklin dispatched Tanner when they first met, should not pass judgment that Tanner will handily defend his title. But this is the perfect time for Tanner to avenge a crushing loss. Either way you cut it, Tanner-Franklin and Tanner-Lindland are surefire wars and prime examples of how fights should be made.
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