Once I Was a Champion (2011) – Review

3 Stars

Once I Was a Champion is a defining look at the enigmatic life and equally mysterious death of MMA star Evan Tanner. Tracing the roots of this talented collegiate wrestler into his first forays on the mixed martial arts circuit. Tanner was a philosophical introvert, a man of great intellect and the body of a Adonis. Unfortunately like most notable athletes or any fallible human for that matter, Tanner suffered from bouts of great depression punctuated with long stretches of alcohol abuse.

Essentially this is a talking heads documentary produced with a reasonable amount of access into Tanner’s life. His circle of friends, ex-girlfriends and former training partners show up and deliver stories and anecdotes that highlight a life of highs and crushing lows. The most intriguing interview piece comes from the always loquacious Channel Sonnen who suggests that Tanner was in essence a selfish loner that arrogantly claimed he was intellectually superior to those in the world of sports.

As a film, the biggest shortcoming is the lack of access to footage of Evan Tanner in his UFC fights. This has become common in the world of MMA docs, look to The Striking Truth as another example. However this is most curious here, due to the participation of UFC president and figure head Dana White in numerous interview segments. I’m not sure if it is a money issue or that the UFC organization holds its replay rights to only its Fox affiliates, but that omission here is devastating.

As broken down into ten minute increments that chronicle the life of Evan Tanner, the film does a good job portraying the always struggling athlete. I do think it should have dug deeper into the mysteries of the circumstances surround his death of dehydration in the desert on that afternoon in September 2008. Was it a suicide mission? Or just an adventure went awry? Whatever the case may be there is no denying that Evan Tanner is a vastly compelling study in extremism. Luckily this documentary is equally as compelling.

Director: Gerard Roxburgh
Stars: Evan Tanner, Randy Couture, Rich Franklin

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