Evan Tanner Documentary "Once I Was a Champion" Premieres on PPV Tonight

Matthew RothFeatured ColumnistDecember 28, 2012

When I was just starting my career in MMA journalism, I ran a site called Head Kick Legend over on the SBNation network. Through perseverance I was able to make some connections in a short amount of time that really made me think that this could be something I could actually pursue. 

One of those connections was with Gerard Roxburgh, the director of the Evan Tanner documentary "Once I Was a Champion." 

I was always a Tanner fan. As I wrote earlier this morning, I've been drawn to those imperfect individuals that are forced to work through their own personal demons. Tanner was the first fighter that really grabbed my attention.

A fellow West Texan, Tanner was one of the first complete fighters in the sport. What made him unique wasn't that he was a great fighter—which he was—but that he wanted to connect with fans on a more personal level.

His career had many peaks and valleys as he struggled to overcome a litany of issues including alcoholism. He walked away from the sport in 2006, with the goal of setting up a home for at-risk youth, using MMA as a way to help build self-confidence and self-control.

When he returned to the Octagon in 2008, he was a damaged man. Years of drinking had taken its toll on his body. He dropped two straight fights to Yushin Okami and Kendall Grove, which would be the final bout of his fight career. 

He took to the California desert in late August of that year. It would be the last time that the world heard from Tanner. His motorcycle ran out of gas and he died of dehydration while searching for water. 

Which brings us back to Roxburgh. 

"Once I Was a Champion" focuses on the life and death of Tanner. With many speculating on his actual reasoning for going into the desert alone, it brings a bit of closure to Tanner's demise. 

As far as MMA documentaries go, it's one of the best ever made. Roxburgh was able to get a one-on-one interview with Dana White to discuss Tanner's UFC career. 

It debuts on pay-per-view this evening at 9 pm ET.