Documentary, Sports

Once I Was a Champion (2011)

Comments Off on Once I Was a Champion (2011) 03 March 2013

Studio: Echo Bridge EntertainmentOnce I Was A Champion cover

Theatrical Release: June 18, 2011

DVD Release: April 9, 2013

Director: Gerard Roxburgh

Not Rated

Review by James Klein

The mysterious death of MMA Fighter and former middleweight champion Evan Tanner is still talked about since his passing in 2008. A loner, a walking mystery, a man with demons and skeletons in the closest, Tanner had at one point everything a fighter could want and slowly it all went away. But was it from his own doing? Gerard Roxburgh’s riveting and entertaining documentary interviews many people in Tanner’s life and also shows vintage footage of many of his fights, with interviews of Tanner, even right before his untimely passing.

From going from a high school wrestler to an MMA Fighter to soon being picked by UFC president Dana White to fight in the UFC and the famous octagon, Tanner was a quiet person, a man who seemed to embrace being alone. However, the man would always help future fighters train and always donated to charities and helped out children whenever he could. When told he was a boring fighter who never show boated, Tanner refused to take on the personalities of other fighters. As the film slowly goes through his life, one beings to see Tanner’s slow decline into alcoholism and his dangerous love for adventure and high risk situations, which even as a child he seemed to enjoy.


While the documentary interviews everyone in the UFC from Dana White to Randy Couture to Rich Franklin to Forrest Griffin, what really struck a cord with me was the fact that very little of his family members were interviewed and his ex-fiancé Danita is the only one who sheds some light as to who the man really was: a lost soul with certain demons inside him, one being alcohol. When she explains why and how she left him and their last meeting together, she told him that he had to stop drinking otherwise she was forever gone. Tanner, while in love with her, couldn’t give up the drink and she was gone.

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As Tanner moved along in the UFC, his decline began when he was beaten by Rich Franklin in 2002, where the winner of the fight would have gone on to coach Season 2 of The Ultimate Fighter. Tanner would have been a great coach on the show and I believe if he would have won that fight, I would not be writing about this documentary now. I still remember watching that fight at a friend’s house and being shocked at how bloody and puffy Tanner’s face became. In this documentary, there is even talk about how Tanner felt his bottom teeth slowly being pushed down his throat from being hit so much by Franklin.

But the shocking and most upsetting part in Once I Was a Champion was how Tanner died, alone in the desert, dying of thirst. Why did he go out there with very little supplies? Was it a test or was it a suicide? Even after being sober for a year, his autopsy showed alcohol in his system. How was this possible?

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Even if you aren’t a fan of MMA, you won’t be bored by Once I Was a Champion. The documentary is very well edited and doesn’t just have a bunch of talking heads telling stories about Tanner. We see footage of his fights, footage of him at conventions and outside of the ring, and even the actual reports of his death from various news sources.

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While there is only a few extra minutes of interviews with a few people, the DVD is pretty much bare bones. No matter, this documentary is well worth the price and one I would recommend even if it isn’t filled with special features.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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