Written By Brad Rysz Photo Courtesy of Fight! Magazine
In February of 2001, MMA legend Jens Pulver defeated Caol Uno to become the UFC’s first ever World Light Heavyweight Champion.
Since then, he’s become an MMA legend, compiling a 21-11 career record. He currently is fighting in the WEC and will battle Josh Grispi at WEC 41 on June 7.
Pulver sat down with MMAMadness to talk about his recent struggles inside the ring, and a bit about how he became the veteran fighter that he is.
Q: How did you get into MMA?
A long time ago. Now…it’s a long, long time ago. I was at Boise State.
It was one of those things where I never amounted to be the greatest wrestler or anything like that. I actually didn’t dial in the whole training bit until the end.
Really, what it came down to was that I wanted to keep training, and I’d always had this thing in the back of my mind: If I could do this sport and there was punching involved, things would be a lot different than just having to wrestle everybody.
And that’s when MMA started coming and Randy Couture started doing his thing, and I started seeing some of these wrestlers given a shot.
I was like, “oh my goodness.”
I always dreamt of being a boxer and always thought that would be a great way to go out there and throw hands. I followed boxing religiously for a long time.
When this came out I was all over it. This is what I got to try. I got to give this a whirl. I know fighting. I know wrestling. To me it was like boxing with training wheels. I knew if I ever ran into a problem, I’d just take the guy out. That’s truly how I got into it.
Q: Early in your career you trained with Miletich Fighting Systems. Pat Miletich and you guys pretty much dominated MMA at that point. You had Matt Hughes, Tim Silvia, yourself, and Robbie Lawler.
What were those years like when you guys were all on top of your game and basically running MMA?
First and foremost, we also had Jeremy Horn. Jeremy Horn was the key to all puzzles.
He was the one. He was well-rounded. He was really the guy who worked on striking, grappling, wrestling, and everything in between.
We were just a bunch of tough guys. We were hungry. We enjoyed competing. A lot of us were former wrestlers.
So, just a really tough room. And that’s really where we excelled in the beginning. We wailed on each other. We made each other so tough that a day off was going to be fighting someone we didn’t know. Somebody we didn’t have to see everyday. Somebody we could really take it out on.
That’s what made us so successful in the beginning. We were just extremely tough. We punched as hard as we could. We kicked as hard as we could. Everything we did, we did about as hard as we could.
That was the key back then. Back then it was all about mental toughness. That was our success. It was a blast. It was so much fun back in the day.
Q: I hear you are a big video game player. What game are you playing right now?
I’ve always been a big fan, playing Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, games like that.
I was never too big into consoles like Xbox or Playstation. I love the keyboard and the mouse, playing on the PC. They are always changing their graphics. Every time you buy a computer, it’s outdated after six months so they never stop pressing the bar.
Of course, World of Warcraft came out, and I was playing that for a long time. I’ve always been into Dungeons and Dragons. A lot of people tried to attribute some of my tougher losses to World of Warcraft, but that isn’t the truth.
I stopped playing after the sport got busy, and I got back into the UFC doing The Ultimate Fighter, and things of that nature.
Most people put on the television when they are done training; I’d rather lock myself in a virtual world and have some fun and relax. Take myself away from it. To me it’s a blast.
Q: What about the UFC’s new game?
You know, I haven’t seen it.
I remember seeing clips of it when it first came out. It looks great. The graphics look incredible. I know that the game play is going to be a lot more fluid. It’s going to be harder. It’s not going to be as easy to submit people.
Q: Tell me a little bit about Jens Pulver outside the ring?
You know what? It’s probably what most people consider extremely boring.
One of the things I’ve always said is that I love living in the Midwest. I love Midwest living. It’s laid back. It’s relaxed. You deal with the weather. Yeah, it gets cold in the winter and in the summer it gets too hot. And sometimes you get a couple weeks in between each season that get fall and spring when it’s pretty nice.
For the most part I sit at home. Nowadays I’ve been blessed with this wonderful woman I’m going to be marrying on July 4, my son Karson, and my daughter Madeline. I enjoy being at home and being around them. If people knew my background, knew where I came from, that was my biggest battle.
More than finding world titles. More than finding money and riches and fame and popularity, would I ever find the home life that I never had? The sound, secure, trusting, easy to be around home life.
For a long time that’s what drove me in fighting, coming from an abused family. Having an abusive father. When you live a world like that when you are always on eggshells and you are afraid to walk into your own home, and you never know what is going on.
It’s an incredible, incredible feeling to finally find a situation where you are happy to be home. You are glad to be in your house. You’re glad to make something of it. And really, that’s where I find myself now.
Battling that age old question: How do I bring back out that old Jens? He’s pretty much dead and gone. How do I become that fighter that I was? Motivated by the past. Maybe I might be the only emotional fighter out there. Fight with my emotions. Maybe that’s what carried me for as long as it did. That’s what got me to come out to Iowa and made me say goodbye to everything I knew.
Whatever it is, I come back now, and I’m in this situation of how do I get that back? Maybe it never does come back. Maybe I have to learn how to be regular old Jens Pulver.
Go out there and fight people because you love doing it. And really that’s where I’ve been. Trying to surface and find and grab a hold of the last three fights.
It’s tough, man. Being 0-3 and trying to figure everything out. If people really knew the leaps and bounds I’m gaining in life, they would see. Yeah, I might be getting an ‘L’ in the fight column, but, man, I’m getting a gigantic W’ in life.
I still have a whole entire life in front of me. That’s the battle. People fall to that everyday, whether they are a fighter or not. Now that I’m in a position where I love my life, now I’m trying to figure out how to love fighting as well.
Q: How did you get involved in sweater vests?
I don’t really know how the sweater vests came about.
I don’t want to just put on a t-shirt. I don’t want to just grab a button-up. I’m not big into dressing up. If you have ever seen me in a suit, more power to you.
Nobody wears sweater vests. Let’s do it. And she [my fiancé] goes “put the sweater vest on. Absolutely, let’s do it.”
So, I get cleaned up the best I could. I shave and comb my hair. I still had my DC shoes on, I had my Abercrombie pants, but I had the sweater vest on. It was just fun. I had a blast.
That was my version of dressing up. I didn’t think it would take off the way it did. Why dress up like everybody else? Nobody wears the sweater vest. I’m gonna wear the sweater vest. That’s exactly what I’m going to do. I’m not dressing you, so don’t dress me. I’m gonna continue to wear them. I’m gonna rock every sweater vest I can get my hands on. Believe this.
Maybe I’ll start designing a few.
Q: I heard a rumor that you are now co-owner of Fightjungle.com…
It’s simple: As crowded as Facebook is, as crowded as MySpace is, this was something to start that’s more personalized and hands on.
Get in from the ground up. Set up your page and talk about MMA. Let people know who you are. Share a little bit.
Just because you don’t throw down in the cage, doesn’t mean you can’t throw down an opinion. Just because you don’t fight in the ring, doesn’t mean you can’t fight with a keyboard.
Argue about this fighter or that fighter. It doesn’t mean your opinion doesn’t count, and that’s what I love about the fight jungle.
Everybody gets to hang out.
It’s laid back. It’s relaxed. It’s a lot of fun. We let people know what’s going on. At the end of the day, I’m on there. I’ll talk to anybody that signs up and joins in. Lay out your page and let people get to know who you are and be proud to be a part of MMA.
Be it as a fan or whatever, you are still a part of MMA, and that’s what I love about fight jungle and that’s why I was all for it.
Q: You are scheduled to fight Josh Grispi at WEC 41 on June 7. Tell us about the fight.
Man, I’m excited. I’m happy.
I’m happy that I get to fight a young guy that is extremely tough. I have all the respect in the world for him. Absolutely, I think he has great skills and is a dangerous fighter. I’m excited to fight a dangerous fighter.
I don’t want to fight an easy fighter. Things that I have to work on and I have to build at 0-3 with a lack of esteem and confidence, I have to get those things back.
It doesn’t matter who I’m fighting, I beat me. I’m the reason I lost. My battle is always within me.
Me and my training helps my mind and my emotions, and this is another test.
When they wanted to find somebody, they found one of the best up and comers out there.
Would I ever say "no?" No.
Tell me who I’m fighting. It doesn’t matter. I’ll fight anybody. At the end of the day, if I get really hurt and get really sad, like I said, I can always go upstairs and look at those four big gold belts that say "UFC World Champion" on them and be like, “All right, it wasn’t that bad.”
You can find more of Brad's work at MMAMadness.com. If you have any questions or comments, you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.