Eight years ago, Jens Pulver was coming off a majority decision victory over B.J Penn at UFC 35, sitting atop a lightweight division very much going through growing pains. It would end up being the highest precipice “Lil Evil” would ever see, leaving the organization in a contract dispute, relinquishing the UFC Bantamweight/Lightweight Championship after the memorable second defense.
Now he's 22-13-1, loser of five straight, and seven of his last eight. At 35 years of age, many have a hard time understanding what about Jens Pulver's game has slipped so far, so fast.
While many will simply chalk it off to age and wear catching up to him, I think the issue is far more qualitative.
When looking across the current landscape of MMA we can begin to a see skill sets becoming widespread. When we look at what defines a great fighter today we look for skills across all of the many facets of the game.
When Jens Pulver was laying his claim to the 155lb division, the UFC was still fleshing out a brand new division. As such, Jens Pulver's game was tailor made to give one dimensional fighters fits.
He's a good offensive grappler, with a careening missile of a left hand on the feet. He was the rare fighter to have a multi-dimensional game, and multiple ways of closing the show.
However, he did have his holes, he's not a good defensive grappler, it's never been difficult to pass his guard, or sweep him into bad positions. He's also never had an especially durable chin or any semblance of head movement.
His striking is dangerous but it's also incredibly predictable, straight right hand, left hook for the KO.
While he's always had multiple ways to win fights, he's also had a multitude of ways to lose fights. While this wasn't an incredibly big problem in 2002, today it's a different story.
The sport has evolved, while he's still largely the same fighter he's always been, and hasn't noticeably improved at any point in his career. It's tough to say to a guy as genuinely likable as Jens has been, the sport has passed you by.
Whatever is next for “Lil Evil” either behind a mic, or in the gym, the lessons the next generation should take away from his story are black and white. Seek to develop the things your deficient at or prepare for a short career.
It's as simple as that.