It was a different time. There were no reality shows for the sport of mixed martial arts. In fact, it was an era when you would be lucky to convince a local bar to even turn on a UFC event. It was also a time when “Little Evil” was the UFC lightweight champion.

“It was quite funny,” Pulver told The MMA Corner. “I could take that belt, I’d wear it around on my back, like turn it around. Just to try to bring attention to the sport and what we’re doing. People were always, ‘What’s that belt? Where’s that at? Where’s that for?’ Constantly, and they had no idea.

“The funniest thing was I remember calling Hooters one time and saying, ‘Hey, can we get the fight down there? We really want to watch the pay-per-view together and everybody can eat and stuff’ (and they said), ‘No, no, we got basketball on. We’re not putting that on.’ Nowadays, you hear it everywhere, ‘Home of the UFC’ (or) ‘Showing the UFC.’ It’s gotten that big.

“But when I was back there, again it was still a lot of fun because you knew we were pioneering a sport that was blowing up. We believed in the Fertittas and Dana White. They had great belief in us. It was fun. It was fun to be able to be a part of that, to represent it, to help build it and be in it and do it for the little guys, starting at 155 pounds and going from there. It was everything I could do, and I loved it.”

Pulver has witnessed the rise of the sport and watched the evolution of its fighters. It’s not the same game that it was all those years ago, but in Pulver’s eyes it is the increased responsibility that comes with age that prevent legends of the past from keeping up with the newest generation of fighters.

“I was there day-in and day-out, living, learning, loving it. Trying to enjoy every minute of it,” Pulver said. “As you get older, you have other things: Family, kids, bills, all of these other things that can take away from just the simplicity of showing up to classes and being as good as you can.”

Pulver, who is 24-15-1 as a professional fighter, is realistic about his future in the sport. He’s secured his place in history as a UFC champion, has fought under the Pride banner and challenged WEC featherweight champion Urijah Faber for the title in a 2008 fight that took Fight of the Night honors. Despite such a storied career, he knows he can’t just walk into the UFC and get a fight based on his past accomplishments. His thoughts on a future inside the Octagon are much more humble.

“I don’t think,” Pulver said regarding whether he sees himself fighting in the UFC again. “I have to earn it. There’s no if’s, and’s or but’s about it. If I want back, I have to earn that spot, I have to earn that right.”

For now, Pulver’s focus is on the continued education any competitor in this sport must undertake.

“I’m not trying to be a world champ,” he explained. “I’m trying to be a fighter who’s just learning and is someone who can walk away proud of his career, knowing that he tried and learned the best he could and did more than he was supposed to, and go from there.”

(Team Curran/SuckerPunch Entertainment)

Pulver trains with Team Curran, a Chicago-based camp known for its grappling. Considering his tendency to fall victim to submissions, the gym is the perfect place for him to learn and better himself in that realm.

“The pressure that I’ve put on myself is no different than the pressure I need to have,” Pulver said. “I’m in a great grappling school. Jeff (Curran) is very well-known for his grappling. I need to be out there and show people that I am learning. I feel like I picked a great place to start learning on that weaker aspect of me, which is the confidence on the floor. I’m in a great gym now – we got Pat Curran,who is a phenomonal fighter, and Bart Palaszewski and a lot of young guys people haven’t seen and don’t know. It sure is a great place and I’m real lucky and real happy to be here.

“Now it’s up to me. I can’t embarrass my gym. I’d rather be put down than submitted. It’s a do-or-die situation in that aspect.”

Pulver stated in his blog on the Sherdog website that he lacks confidence when the fight hits the mat. After losing via submission several times, he writes that he now panics when the fight heads to the ground. It is something he is trying to work past, but he’s not taking the easy route.

On Aug. 13, he’ll enter the cage in Albuquerque, N.M., at MMA Fight Pit’s inaugural event, “Genesis,” against Coty “Ox” Wheeler. The Jackson’s MMA product has notched 10 wins via submission and holds an overall mark of 14-3. Wheeler will no doubt look to exploit what is widely considered to be Pulver’s biggest weakness. But that’s exactly what “Little Evil” wants.

“People are asking, ‘Why do you keep doing this? Why do you keep fighting?’,” said Pulver, who will step into the cage as a bantamweight for the first time in his career against Wheeler. “The reality is: I’m learning, I’m still learning. When this sport first started, shit, we didn’t even have amateur, we just started fighting. We were right in the middle of that transition period. We’re trying to learn as we go. It caught up to me.

“Those losses just start to wear on you, beat on you a little bit.”

For Pulver, that led to a dwindling faith in his abilities on the mat. His goal is to regain that confidence. Rather than worrying about what it is his opponent is doing, he wants to be able to focus on what it is he is trying to do.

Pulver doesn’t look at Wheeler as an easy opponent, and he knows he’ll have his work cut out for him on Saturday night.

“He’s extremely tough,” Pulver said of Wheeler. “That’s one thing: You got to respect Coty. He gets faster every time. That always makes a guy dangerous. That always makes him someone to be feared.

“I know he likes to go out there and he’s about his game. You have to, like any fight, make them respect you. You have to make them fear what you have as an arsenal, what you have as an offensive and defensive game, so it makes them start to think. That’s going to be the biggest thing out there. I can’t find myself sitting there chasing after him. I have to go out there and make him worry about what I’m doing.”

Pulver also realizes that he has to take that initiative from the opening bell.

“Coty, he’s got a big mental edge as far as his confidence, his success,” explained Pulver. “You got to go out there and make him respect what you have right off the bat or he’s gonna be trying a lot of crazy stuff.”

Not only will Pulver be dealing with Wheeler’s submission skills, he’ll face a crowd in Albuquerque who love their hometown fighters.

“I expect it to be quite loud and extremely hostile,” Pulver said with amusement in his voice. “No, not hostile, but quite loud. That’s a good thing. That’s great for any hometown fighter to have such a big following. That says a lot, says a lot for New Mexico and it says a lot for their role in MMA fighting. It’s unusual, for they do have their favorites, they do have their hometown guys. It’s a great land of fighting down there.”

A win over Wheeler would allow Pulver to rebound from his recent submission loss against Brian Davidson at Titan FC 18. Prior to that loss, Pulver had snapped a six-fight losing streak, spanning three years, with back-to-back wins over Mike Lindquist and Wade Choate in regional Illinois-based promotions. The win over Choate was even more impressive given the fact that Pulver broke his foot in the bout’s opening stanza.

“The wins felt great,” Pulver said. “The loss, that was just kind of there, whatever. I made a mistake, I got beat.

“The biggest thing I learned from that one is my grit, the willingness to bite down and go, ‘Oh, okay, we’re gonna go after this? Let’s go after this and I’m gonna win.’ Not the meanness, but the determination. That’s the one thing I took from that fight that I needed to fix more than anything.”

(Tracy Lee/Combat Lifestyle)

Pulver’s losing streak was the subject of Gregory Bayne’s film, “Jens Pulver: Driven,” which recently received widespread DVD and rental release. The film follows Pulver during one of the most difficult periods in his career.

“They just followed me around,” Pulver explained. “It wasn’t the first camera in my face, and it probably won’t be the last. When we started doing the interviews, Greg did a good job of following me back to those moments and having me remember, bringing out the pain, so to speak.

“I really look at it as a learning lesson, having him around. I love Greg Bayne, I think he did a great job in the movie. I just feel like, man, I was in a lot of limbo. Not a bad place, I was in a great place, but where I was then I was in limbo. I didn’t know if I was done fighting, I didn’t know if I should continue. I was trying to be a businessman, I failed at being a businessman because my attitude is geared for fighting and back-and-forth and the battle continues. I think from all of that, and from the losses and from everything else, I was trying to pick a direction.”

While those might have been difficult times for the former UFC lightweight champion, Pulver hopes that people take away an inspirational message from the film.

“What I want it to show is, the average person, we fall, we get back up, we fall, we get back up, we climb a little bit, we fall, we get back up and climb again,” he said. “You don’t give up. You don’t close your door. You know what? You just keep battling. It doesn’t always have to be inside the cage, you can battle every single day with yourself, just trying to win.”

Win or lose against Wheeler next weekend, the legend is fighting to learn. That’s his ultimate goal. And he believes he’ll know when it’s time to hang up the gloves.

“When it’s not therapeutic, I think that’ll be it,” said Pulver. “Athletics have been all I’ve known and it saved my life, it gave me a college degree, it gave me a high school diploma, it gave my family things to cheer about, (I was) able to wrestle with all of us being together for tournaments, having the media write about it. It’s always therapeutic, it’s always pushing us all forward.

“I’m still that same kid who used the athletics as my therapy. It’s the way I move forward in life. So, when I feel like there aren’t things out there – I have a great family, wonderful wife – I’ve always said that, when I know I gave it a 100%, that I’m ready to move on, then I will.”

While the sport is much different now than in those days when Pulver would use the lightweight title belt to spread the word about the UFC, nobody can deny that regardless of how he fares at MMA Fight Pit or how long he chooses to fight, he’ll always be a legend in the eyes of MMA fans.

About The Author

The MMA Corner Staff

Your home for all things MMA. News, Interviews, Event Coverage, Editorials. If it is MMA related, you will find it on The MMA Corner.