Update: Former UFC Champ Tanner Dead at 37

By Loretta Hunt Sep 9, 2008
The body of former UFC middleweight champion Evan Tanner (Pictures) was found Monday in the Palo Verde mountain area.

Tanner, 37, was an apparent victim of heat exposure.

He had embarked on a camping trip on his motorcycle Sept. 3 into the desert-like region north of Brawley, Calif., approximately two and a half hours east of San Diego.

The native of Amarillo, Texas, was found approximately two miles from his campsite, said his manager John Hayner, of Driving Force Sports, who had known the fighter for four years. Hayner said Tanner went camping to undergo a spiritual and physical cleansing, which was not uncommon for the fighter.

Lt. George Moreno of the Imperial Valley Sheriff’s Dept. said his office was contacted last Friday by friends in Oceanside, Calif., where Tanner had moved about six months ago. Tanner’s friends told Moreno the fighter had contacted them via text messaging to say he was out of water and gas and needed assistance. A ground search and air surveillance began Friday to locate the fighter, said Moreno.

Tanner’s campsite was located Sunday by aerial search. His body was discovered Monday at 12 p.m. PST by a helicopter search conducted by the U.S. Marine base out of Yuma, Ariz. Moreno estimated Tanner was approximately 45-50 miles from the nearest town.

Tanner’s body was identified a couple of hours after coroners arrived on the scene, said Moreno.

“He had his I.D. on him,” Lt. Moreno told Sherdog.com.

Tanner’s older brother, Jeff, is expected to collect the fighter’s effects Tuesday afternoon. Tanner’s mother is also en route to Imperial Valley, said Hayner.

An autopsy is scheduled for Tuesday. Moreno said circumstances like this were rare but not unheard of in the area.

“If anybody is going to go camping, it’s usually in the winter, not during this extreme weather,” he said. “Right now, temperatures are in the 110-degree index every day.”

Tanner had last been connected to the Compound Mixed Martial Arts & Fitness gym in Oceanside, Calif. Co-owner Claudia Ortega said she and her husband had reached out to Tanner a year ago after he had visited the facility. When Tanner moved back to the area, he visited the gym on a few occasions to train.

Ortega said Tanner told her he planned to “take a couple of trips,” then settle at the gym.

“He wanted to make it his home,” said Ortega. “”We really wanted to see him succeed in any way he could.”

Tanner’s battle with alcohol abuse was well known in the sport, but Hayner said he’d believed Tanner had stayed sober for about a year in an attempt to make a comeback.

“Evan did not kill himself,” said Hayner. “Evan did not go out in the hopes of doing a one-way ticket. He brought two guns out with him for target practice. They were not found with his body. In no way shape or form did he kill himself. He got in over his head, and exposure to the elements killed him.”

Tanner was a self-made mixed martial arts standout. A two-time state championship wrestler in high school, he made his professional debut on a whim with the Unified Shoot Wrestling Federation in 1997 and defeated three opponents in one night -- including eventual UFC title challenger Paul Buentello (Pictures) -- in one night to win a heavyweight tournament. He would later defend the title against Pride Fighting Championships and UFC veteran Heath Herring (Pictures), among others.

He enjoyed his greatest success in the UFC. Tanner won 10 of his first 12 fights with the promotion, losing only to Tito Ortiz (Pictures) and Rich Franklin (Pictures). His UFC run was highlighted by his upset victory over David Terrell (Pictures) at UFC 51 in February 2005, as he stopped the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt on strikes to capture the middleweight championship. Tanner relinquished the 185-pound crown in his rematch with Franklin at UFC 53 four months later, as he absorbed a brutal beating after knocking down the popular Ohioan with a right hand in the first round.

Tanner, the first American to win the Pancrase Neo-Blood tournament in Japan, lost four of his last five fights. He made his final appearance inside the Octagon at “The Ultimate Fighter 7” Finale in June, as he dropped a split decision to Kendall Grove (Pictures) in Las Vegas.

Tanner had recently started his own blog in association with SpikeTV.com.

“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,” wrote Tanner. “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. 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.”

Brian Knapp contributed to this report.
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