He was, as director Gerard Roxburgh’s film makes clear over and over, a man of ironies. He’d preach kindness for fellow man, but beat crap out of other people for a living. He became a world champion in his field, yet wanted to become a monk. He found the roundly derided ice-skating movie “The Cutting Edge” to be brilliant, but liked to kick back with a leather-bound edition of “Moby-Dick.” He was a smart guy who made some stupid decisions.
You don’t have to know Tanner’s name, much less even care about the sport of MMA, to enjoy “Champion,” because complicated men and woman make for compelling material, especially those taken before their time. As we learn, Tanner may have sped that process along, downing tequila “like it was Gatorade,” making the inevitable all the more tragic.
“Once I Was a Champion” is currently making the festival rounds. Look out for it. Even non-sports fans like me can appreciate its enigmatic subject and tragic story well-told. —Rod Lott