Earlier this week we got the news that Matt Hughes has decided to hang up his gloves.
This was good news for a lot of fight fans that hated seeing an MMA legend getting knocked out by stronger, younger opponents, but it also put a small bit of spotlight on other legends of the sport that refuse to walk away.
Guys like Wanderlei Silva, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Hughes have been subtly pushed towards retirement in recent years, but they’ve all continued fighting under the UFC banner and have been fighting for paychecks that are worth their while.
The same can’t be said for Jens Pulver, who after being released by Zuffa back in 2010 has been fighting in smaller promotions around the world for smaller rewards.
It’ s been tough to watch Pulver’s stretch of fights on the regional scene over the last few years. “Lil’ Evil” is a guy that many fans of the sport grew up watching, and seeing him bounce from weight class to weight class just to earn a paycheck doesn’t sit right in the minds of most fans.
Adding to the retirement talk is the horrid stretch that Pulver endured during his time in the WEC before his release.
Pulver was the first truly established star to join the WEC roster, having been a coach on The Ultimate Fighter just months before signing with the promotion, and predictably, they immediately threw him in the cage with some of the best talent the promotion had to offer.
The problem was that Pulver couldn’t quite hang with the cream of the crop anymore.
He passed his first test with flying colors, submitting Cub Swanson in just 35 seconds, but soon after he lost a featherweight title fight against Urijah Faber that started the worst slump in Pulver’s career. Although he hung in tough for five full rounds against Faber, Lil’ Evil wasn’t the fighter he once was and it showed in his next few WEC bouts. Pulver lost his next five fights, and all of them ended inside the first round.
After that, most fans wrote Pulver off and assumed he would quietly walk away from the sport. You can’t blame them. The end of Pulver’s WEC run was hard to swallow and it seemed unlikely that he would ever become anything other than a name for smaller promotions to make money off of for the rest of his career.
However, Pulver was far from done.
Lil’ Evil has gone 5-3 over the last two years, and after signing a contract with the upstart Asian promotion ONE FC, the window of opportunity for Pulver to retire on top has slightly opened.
Last Saturday at ONE FC: Rise of Kings, Pulver earned a technical decision win over Zhao Ya Fei to move onto the semifinals of the tournament to crown the inaugural ONE FC bantamweight champion.
Sure, he got the decision win after the fight had to be stopped early due to an illegal groin strike from Fei, but regardless, he’s moving on in the tournament and has a chance to make some noise.
Two of Pulver’s fellow semifinalists have been named, and to be honest, it doesn’t look impossible for Lil’ Evil to win this thing.
Masakatsu Ueda, the more experienced of the two men, has had a decent MMA career, but he hasn’t beaten a credible opponent in over three years and that was over a very young and inexperienced Eduardo Dantas.
The other fighter in the semifinal round is Filipino fighter Kevin Belingon, who won his first fight under the ONE FC banner this weekend after losing his first two bouts for the promotion. Belingon has yet to face an even somewhat notable fighter, let alone beat one, so once again the competition isn’t exactly world class.
This is Pulver’s last chance at glory, and it is probably the best shot he’s had at making a true statement in years. Regardless of the competition, becoming a champion in the premier organization in Asia is something to at least hang your hat on.
Pulver has a legit shot at one last moment in the spotlight if he is able win this tournament, and there wouldn’t be a better ending for Lil’ Evil than retiring after one last title reign.
Photo: Jens Pulver (Martin Hocson/Sherdog)