by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
There’s no denying the fact that at one point and time, MMA veteran Evan Tanner was one of the top fighters in the world.
After moving down in weight from 205lbs to 185lbs, Evan captured the UFC Middleweight Championship in 2005, becoming only the third man to hold the title. However, two straight losses would derail Tanner’s express ride on top, before he rebounded in April of last year to beat tough youngster Justin Levins at UFC 59.
Now after a year away from the public eye, Evan is ready to return to the sport of MMA, but not in the capacity that you might think.
In his first formal interview in nearly a year, Tanner spoke to MMAWeekly to discuss where he’s been, what he has on the horizon and possibility of a comeback in 2007.
MMAWeekly: First off Evan, what have you been up to since your last fight almost a year ago?
Evan Tanner: I’ve been on the road this past year, doing a lot of traveling. I did some cross-country bike rides, went cross-country in my Land Cruiser, just kind of bounced around and took some time off. I did a lot of visualization on fighting techniques – haven’t been training at all – but I’ve been doing a lot of visualization on some new fighting techniques I’m going to try out.
I’m back here in Oregon and have been here for a couple months now and I’m looking into setting up a foundation for disadvantaged athletes/athletes at risk. You know, using MMA to give some of these young men some direction in their lives, something to focus on, and something to be a part of. Hopefully it will be a motivational atmosphere that will encourage these guys to learn discipline, self-respect, respect for others and hopefully help them find a little direction in their lives.
MMAWeekly: How did the idea for this new foundation come about?
Evan Tanner: I’ve got this big house and it’s just me here now, and it’s too big for one guy. It’s just been basically sitting empty for a year and it just hit me one day that this house is big enough that I could fit a lot of guys in here. The idea of the foundation just came to me one night, and I figured why not just do it out of my house? Set up a fight camp, get a gym set up and use MMA to bring some good to people’s lives and give back to the fight community everything that’s been given to me.
MMAWeekly: What’s the set up for the guys who get brought into the house?
Evan Tanner: It’s going to be really strict. The guys are going to have many obligations to the house. It’s going to be a very tight structure. We’ll train together, eat together, pretty much spend most of our time together and that will instill a sense of unity. Everybody’s going to have chores, things they have to do around the house and once a week we’ll do a full day of community service.
The guys are pretty much going to be given everything as long as they adhere to the rules: free training, free management, free gym access, free food and a place to live. But in return they have to live up to strict behavior standards, not only in the house but out in public. Some of the rules they have to live by include: absolutely no fighting outside of the ring, no fighting in the house or out in public, no alcohol or drugs or anything like that in the house – no drugs at all – and there are certain rules that if they are broken, they are immediately asked to leave.
So they have to live up to strict standards and hopefully it will motivate them to be better and give them direction. Hopefully the atmosphere will help teach discipline – and I need to learn some more discipline myself – so it will help me too. I’m going to live by the same rules as all the guys [are].
MMAWeekly: What kind of people are you going to be looking to bring into this new foundation, what do you mean by disadvantaged or at-risk fighters?
Evan Tanner: The guys that I’m looking for don’t necessarily have to have any experience in MMA or previous training. What I’m looking for, is guys that fall under a few different categories. I’m looking for guys that maybe can use MMA to give them direction, other guys my have a great desire to fight, but where they live there may not be any coaches or training centers, no opportunity for them, so those are examples of what I’d call disadvantaged athletes. It could be a lack of financial resources, a lack of trainers, centers; it could be many, many things.
At-risk fighters, I’m thinking people that maybe have substance abuse problems or have had some in the past. Being a part of this I think will really help someone like that. At-risk could also mean inner-city youths that are at risk of drugs, gangs, anything that could lead them down the wrong path.
I’m really open to anyone that has a sincere desire to try to better themselves, but don’t have the opportunity or atmosphere to do it. I’m open to anybody like that and want to help them achieve something better in their lives.
MMAWeekly: So, just to reiterate, MMA is just the gateway towards bettering the individual and the fighting itself is not the main focus of the foundation?
Evan Tanner: The fighting, MMA, training, that’s just a vehicle. That’s something to keep the mind focused and occupied with. It’s something that’s going to require discipline, and it’s a way to instill these desirable qualities in the guys and that’s going to give them self worth.
If they live up to the standards and they’re training as hard as I want them to train, they’re going to be good at what they do. That’s going to make them feel good about themselves and ultimately I think it’s going to make them a better person for the rest of their lives, to help them deal with everything in their life. It’s not a strict-fight camp so these guys can go out and get glory; the MMA is just the vehicle to get to things far more important in life.
MMAWeekly: Are you going to be handling most of this on your own or are you going to have help with the foundation?
Evan Tanner: It’s not going to be just me working on this. I can handle certain aspects of the house, but I’m going to be limited in the range of things I can do. So there has been a lot of people that have offered their services and expertise in certain areas for free. A lot of people are really excited about this idea, which I’m very fortunate that so many people have come forward expressing interest in this.
I have people who want to help with the garden at the house, attorneys that want to help with the legal issues, tax people that want to help with tax issues, licensed councilors who want to help, EMTs who have offered their services. It’s a really – to use a cliché – heart-warming thing, it’s just amazing having so many people coming out and wanting to help a good thing.
MMAWeekly: How would fighters be able to apply for the foundation, or how would people who’d like to get involved with the foundation house, or like to know more about it, get to do that?
Evan Tanner: I’m not quite ready to accept [fighter] applications quite yet, but hopefully I’ll have that out by the end of the month. For people that want to contact me as potential sponsors or anyone that wants to be involved in the administrative capacities or to know more about the foundation, I can be reached at www.myspace.com/evan_tanner on MySpace.
Right now I’m conducting most of my business on MySpace, but we are in the process of putting up a website for the house, and when that goes up people will be able to find out more about it when that goes up and contact me through there as well.
MMAWeekly: Okay, transitioning away from the foundation itself, when we spoke privately you mentioned something about a formal fight team as well. Tell us about that.
Evan Tanner: Obviously I want to start the foundation first, that’s the most important thing right now, but down the road I would like to start a competition fight team. That will be something separate from the house. The focus of the house isn’t the fighting itself, it’s using fighting to try to mold better men –including myself – but the competition fight team, that’s something that I want to represent the gym that I get set up.
I want the competition team, when they go out and compete, it will help the house as well. Everything’s interconnected really. I’m going to encourage the guys in the house to try out for the competition team, if not, that’s okay, I don’t want to pressure them to tackle that kind of competition. The competition team will be open to guys in the house and fighters from the outside. That’s something I’m really excited about as well, but it’s down the road.
MMAWeekly: Having said that, the question on every fan’s mind is, you have one fight left on your UFC contract, so when is Evan Tanner going to get back in the Octagon?
Evan Tanner: I don’t know about that yet. Right now I’m not thinking about myself. My main focus is getting this foundation set up. But it goes without saying that if I’m going to be working with the guys every day, I’m going to be in training every day, year round, which I’ve never done.
In my history of my career I’ve only trained when I got offered a fight. Then I’d train for two-and-a-half to three months, but I’ve never trained year-round. With this situation, with the way the house and everything is set up, I’m going to be training every day, so as far as me getting in the ring again, who knows? At least I know I’ll be in shape.
So, I’m not sure about that, right now my priority is the foundation, but I enjoy competition, and enjoy fighting. If I fight again, that’s great, I enjoy the competition, if not, I’ve got a lot of other things going on in my life. Fighting is one of the things I enjoy, but I enjoy a lot of other things too.
MMAWeekly: Thanks for your time Evan; it’s great to speak to you again after all this time. Is there anything you’d like to say as we head out?
Evan Tanner: I know I’ve been gone a while, and I want to thank the fans for remembering me, and I want to thank everyone that’s offered to help out with the foundation, I want to thank all of you. I’m really excited about that and I’m thinking that if we all work together we can make some really good things happen for some people.
Right now I just want to get the foundation set up, then the competition team, then I can worry about myself when those two things are taken care of, then I can think about getting back in there and fighting again. Competition is in my blood and if I do get back in there I will be something you’ve never seen before. I’ve been working on my technique, coming up with a new style and it’s going to be good.
MMAWeekly: So maybe we’ll see the famous “pirouette punch” that you used in your second fight with Phil Baroni, again?
Evan Tanner: [Laughs] You never know.