I recently conducted an email-based interview with former UFC middleweight champion, Evan Tanner. Tanner has not fought since April of 2006 and will make his comeback against the talented, Yushin Okami at UFC 82. He managed to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few of my questions.
Sam Cupitt: Thanks for the interview Evan, how has it been going?
Evan Tanner: It’s been going great. Just been training, and working on some big projects.
Sam Cupitt: As everyone has probably heard, you will be fighting Yushin Okami on the UFC 82 card next month. Your last fight was back in 2006, and in between then and now you’ve gone on a bit of a roller coaster ride, which has been documented on your personal website. You probably don’t want to rehash all of it but was their a single point in time when you decided you just wanted to start fighting again?
Evan Tanner: Yeah, I’ve got the big fight with Okami coming up soon. I’m looking forward to that. I took a little break from the fighting, but I definitely didn’t quit, or retire. I’ve been in the game, fighting consistently for over ten years. I just wanted to take a little break. I went on some adventures, and took some time to take care of some things in my personal life, and now I’m ready to go again.
Sam Cupitt: You weren’t training much during that time, was it difficult getting back into training and fighting shape after your time away?
Evan Tanner: Yeah, that was the longest I’ve been away from training since I started fighting, so it took a little while. I was so out of shape when I first started back, that a few rounds on the bag was about all that I could handle. I just stayed consistent, and now I’m finally back in fight shape.
Sam Cupitt: In preparation for the Okami fight you have trained at Hard Knocks Muay Thai and also up in Salt Lake City with Josh Burkman a fair bit. How has that been for your preparation?
Evan Tanner: The change up has been really good for the training. It’s helped keep things fresh. I’ve been getting some great striking work with my coach Renzo at Hard Knocks Muay Thai in Vegas, and I’ve been getting some great sparring and ground work in with Josh Burkman, Cort, Steve, Ben, and the rest of the guys at Absolute MMA in Salt Lake City. I’ve been spending every other week in SLC, so I’ve gotten all the bases covered. I’m ready to go.
Sam Cupitt: On a side note, did you watch Burkman’s fight with Swick and if so how did you see that fight?
Evan Tanner: Well, I think Swick got the decision, but he definitely didn’t win the fight. Josh was clearly the aggressor and was the one pushing the action. I think it was closer to a draw than anything.
Sam Cupitt: Getting onto the fight itself, what kind of Evan Tanner should the fans expect to see on March 1st?
Evan Tanner: I’m a little older and wiser now. I’ve been working on a lot of new techniques and new approaches. Even though I didn’t get a lot of physical training during the time off, I was doing a great deal of visualization. We’ll see how it all works when I step in the octagon on March 1st.
Sam Cupitt: Your opponent, Okami, is a very technical fighter, what do you think of him as an opponent and what tools do you think he brings into this fight?
Evan Tanner: I think Okami is a really solid fighter. Very athletic and strong, with good basic technique, great positioning, and really good stamina. That makes a very dangerous opponent.
Sam Cupitt: You probably don’t want to give away any of your strategy or what not but how do you think this fight will play out. Do you have any predictions on the outcome?
Evan Tanner: I don’t know. I don’t know how the fight will go and I don’t know who will win, and to me that’s the beauty of it. That’s why I like to compete, why I’m stepping in the Octagon, because I don’t know. It’s just a matter of preparing the best you can, and then just stepping in there to see what happens. It wouldn’t be any fun if I already knew the answers.
Sam Cupitt: Okami is fairly established in the UFC’s middleweight division with many thinking he could be in line for a title shot with a victory. Where do you think a victory for yourself places you in the division?
Evan Tanner: Okami has been in there paying his dues. If he wins he’s probably earned his shot. I’ve been sitting out for a while. I’ve got some work to do to get back in title contention. Winning this fight would definitely be a big step.
Sam Cupitt: Along with your fight on UFC 82 there is also the very interesting middleweight championship bout between Anderson Silva and your old training partner Dan Henderson. Do you have any predictions or insight on that fight? You have probably felt Henderson’s wrestling clinch first hand, how would you think that would compare to Silva’s thai clinch?
Evan Tanner: Dan Henderson is an animal, but so is Anderson. I think Dan’s style is tailor made for Anderson though. I’m going with Dan on this one.
Sam Cupitt: Moving away from fighting, you’ve recently set up Team Tanner, which is basically you being sponsored by the fans rather than any commercial entity. Can you tell us what the response to that has been like and how the idea came about?
Evan Tanner: As we’ve talked about, I sat out from fighting for a while. In that time I’ve watched the sport explode into mainstream acceptance, and I’ve watched it become very commercialized, too commercialized in my opinion, but that’s just the nature of the game. There are so many companies involved now that really had nothing to do with helping build the sport and bringing it to the forefront. I didn’t like the idea of getting back into the game, selling out the highest bidder for sponsorship, for placement of logos on my t-shirts and shorts, for products I don’t even use, from companies that had no part in the building of the sport. It’s the fans that really make this sport possible and I wanted to do something that would pay tribute to them. I decided to turn my back on the corporate money and start Team Tanner which would involve the fans directly. Through Team Tanner, fans can sponsor a fighter directly. When I step out into the ring, I won’t be stepping out covered in logos, with my cornermen carrying banners with more logos, dropping names in interviews. I’ll be walking out with no logos, just the Team Tanner shirt, giving recognition to the team and everyone who’s a part of it.
Sam Cupitt: Finally Evan, do you have a message to your fans or anything you want to say in closing?
Evan Tanner: I just want to thank everyone for the support, and I want to give a special thanks to everyone that’s joined the Team. You guys are what it’s all about. It’s goig to be a great 2008.
Sam Cupitt: Thanks again for the interview. Best of luck with the fight and rest of your career and I hope to catch up with you again at a later time.
Evan Tanner: My pleasure. Thanks a lot, Sam.