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Bloomington’s Kasey Tanner on Cusp of Accomplishing UFC Dreams

Written by on October 4, 2023

Image courtesy of Dana White’s Contender Series

BLOOMINGTON, Ill – The BloNo twin cities are  known for a lot of things. The low-profile city is known for its two universities, the State Farm Insurance headquarters, and more. When it comes to sports, Bloomington and Normal have yearly competitive and exciting collegiate and high school competition.

However, outside of the college level, this area hasn’t produced much. In rare instances, we’ve seen Illinois State produce athletes like James Robinson and Owen Miller. Yet, it’s even more slim to see someone born and raised in Bloomington make it to the big leagues.

This is where Kasey Tanner has the chance to change the perspective of Bloomington sports. He is an MMA fighter who currently holds a record of 6-1. His most recent fight took place on Dana White’s Contender Series. This is a show where fighters not signed in the UFC go head to head for a chance to make it into the UFC. Tanner competed on the sixth episode this season where he went up against Brazilian Bantamweight Jean Matsumoto.

Despite not coming out victorious in that fight, Tanner helped put on one of the best fights that has ever been seen on DWCS. The fight was so competitive, Dana White himself walked into the octagon to shake both fighter’s hands. This is something that has only happened twice in the show’s seven seasons. Along with that tremendous moment, Dana gave Tanner bonus money you would normally see only if you won the fight.

Throughout the history of the show, we’ve seen multiple fighters who’ve come up short get opportunities in the UFC. Most of these chances have come up on short notice when the original fighter had to pull out of the fight due to an injury. Tanner and the UFC Matchmakers believe he’s done enough for that opportunity.

“The big boss [White] was impressed,” Tanner said. “We spoke afterwards with the matchmakers and they’re thinking about bringing me in. That, or I’m gonna win another fight outside the UFC. But the UFC matchmakers are saying I’m ready to go. So hopefully soon if they don’t bring me in in the next month or so, I think I’ll probably take a fight in November. Probably a local fight in Phoenix, Arizona. Then we will ride to the show from there.”

When rewarding Tanner’s opponent with a contract, Dana praised Tanner’s never-quit mentality. This is something the 31-year-old has possessed while training with one of the best fighters of all time- Henry Cejudo.

Cejudo is a former olympic gold medalist, bantamweight champion, and flyweight champion. He is one of four fighters in UFC history to hold championships in two different weight classes. Tanner has spent a lot of time training with Cejudo, especially in Cejudo’s training camp for his fight against Aljamain Sterling. While training with Triple C, Tanner learned two things from him- be ready to sacrifice, and always have an elite mentality.

“It’s what [Cejudo] is all about,” Tanner said. “He’s got a mentality that most guys don’t have and that’s what’s made him a world champion. The sport that we’re in is a big time mental game. If you want to be the best you really have to give up a lot to get there. You’ll enjoy victory once you get it but in the meantime you have to sacrifice a lot and just stay consistent.”

Before moving to Arizona 12 years ago to train with the likes of Cejudo, Tanner was fighting and training in Bloomington. There is one gym and trainer who got him on the right path when he first got into MMA.

“I started training in town,” Tanner said. “There’s a small gym called AMMA and it had a couple owners that it traded off to. A big guy who helped me out was Dave Rogers. He’s a local guy with very good muay thai. He really kick started me and set me on the right path. I haven’t talked to him in a while. I really appreciate Dave and the guy is just a legend. I’ll always give him props.”

Along with Rogers, one of, if not the biggest MMA influence in Tanner’s life is his father. Billy Tanner is a black belt in karate and that is something that has always influenced Tanner.

“My dad has always been a big martial artist his whole life,” Tanner said. “He’s the karate guy himself and then he ended up getting into jiu jitsu. There’s a couple jiu jitsu clubs in town that he still trains at.”

Despite not living in Bloomington anymore, the midwesterner has not forgotten his roots. Tanner visits Bloomington a couple of times throughout the year. He comes down to visit family members such as his father. Along with spending time with his family, he likes to hunt and fish whenever he is back at home in the summertime.

“My parents still live in town and I come back a couple times a year,” Tanner said. “The people of Bloomington are good; a little more laid-back. I like to hunt and fish. That’s what I grew up doing. I miss going outdoors and doing that kind of stuff. It’s nice to come home and see people and I enjoyed the weather every time. The weather in the summer is good but not so much in winter. It gets a little toasty out here in the summertime. That’s why I like to visit in summertime and in the fall.”

Tanner will forever love the Bloomington area. That is what made his move to Arizona so difficult. The 31-year-old admitted that leaving his family was a tough decision. However, Tanner knew he wanted to be in the UFC and that was a move he had no choice but to make. This thought process is what made Tanner decide to pull the trigger.

“If you want to grow and you have a goal in mind, there’s nothing nobody can tell you to stop you,” Tanner said. “You gotta believe in yourself and just go for it. That’s what I did. It is tough leaving everybody but it’s just part of the process. It’s a tough sport and if you want to be at the top and you want to do big things you gotta do it.”

Now Tanner is starting to accomplish those big things he dreamed of. This is a dream he’s been manifesting ever since he was 17. In June of 2015, Tanner tweeted, “Stay focused on your goals! Believing in yourself is more than half the battle.” The 23-year-old always had belief in himself. Now he is seeing hard work starting to pay off. When asked about that tweet, Tanner stated he wishes he was farther along in his career. Despite that, this has only motivated him to work harder.

“I’m a proud man,” Tanner said. It’s been a longer road than I thought. I’ve had injuries and I’ve had life stuff going on. I thought I’d be even further along by now but it is what it is. I’m still here grinding, doing my thing and most importantly getting better in all aspects of life; as a person outside and inside the cage. I’m still growing; so I’m happy.”

It has been an insane journey for Tanner up to this point in his career. He is still more motivated than ever.

Like Tanner and his come up, there are kids in Bloomington that want to make it just as big as Tanner has. Tanner has admitted previously that it has been no easy road to get to where he is in his career. However, if you want to make it to the UFC, you have to work your tail off. This is not a career Tanner would recommend. But, he believes you need to work and then work some more if you want to make it big.

“It’s a tough road,” Tanner said. “I wouldn’t advise it. If you’re going to do it, it’s about just being consistent. It’s about showing up to practice every day and putting the miles in. Putting in the road work when no one’s watching. You’re putting that work in and that’s what shows when you get out there and compete. I think that’s the key to being successful in anything. Just showing up is half the battle and you’re gonna weed out most of the competition just by showing out every day.”

The city of Bloomington is rooting for Tanner. He has the chance to pave the road of a street that was never touched before. The city of Bloomington has seen few of its athletes go pro. However, they’ve never seen someone make it to the UFC. White has clear interest in Tanner after his barbaric fight against Matsumoto. If Tanner gets his opportunity, it would not only be a historic moment for him- it would be a historic moment for the city of Bloomington.