Jens Pulver is a pioneer in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts.
Over his 11 years as a professional fighter, he has overcame adversity from all angles and paved the way for the fighters you see today; particularly those at the lighter weight classes.
However, Pulver's lifestyle wasn't always glamorous. He grew up in the small town of Maple Valley, WA, where he was the eldest of four siblings. Sounds like the perfect little family right?
Pulver lived in what he referred to as "a daily hell" experiencing violence and abuse from his alcoholic father that would crush the spirit of the average human being.
Pulver began wrestling at Tahoma High School where he earned two state Championships before moving on to Highline Community College, where he became a NJCAA All-American. In college, his attention shifted from being an amateur wrestler into being a mixed martial artist.
After dabbling a little with some unsanctioned underground fights during his college years, Jens had his first sanctioned fight as a part of the Rutten Invitational in Littleton, CO, against Curtis Hill, which would be Hills first and last fight when his corner deemed they had seen enough and threw in the towel. Pulver would also experience his first defeat only a few short hours later against the more experienced submission artist, David Harris.
Two short months later, Pulver would return to the next Rutten Invitational event competing twice in the event and only being in the ring for a total of one minute and 29 seconds. His second opponent was future Ultimate Fighter Joe Stevenson; in the attendance was then UFC match-maker John Perretti who soon brought Lil' Evil to the UFC.
Sept. 24, 1999 in Lake Charles, LA at UFC 22 marked the UFC debut of Jens Pulver facing off against the kick-boxer Alfonso Alcarez. Pulver and Alcarez battled it out for ten minutes in their untelevised bout that was declared a draw.
It was a new year, and a new millennium and time for Lil' Evil to get his name out there; Pulver competed seven times in the year 2000 which culminated in what many consider the moment that Lil' Evil put the MMA world on notice. The event is UFC 28, his opponent was Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu black belt John Lewis; it took Pulver only fifteen seconds to finish the fight and show the world the power in his left hook.
Following that outstanding showing, Pulver got the opportunity to face Japanese sensation Coal Uno to determine the first UFC 155 pound Bantamweight Champion (which would later become the UFC Lightweight Championship).
Pulver collected a Majority Decision victory after frustrating Uno by stopping his take downs and forcing the bout to remain on the feet.
They say "Winning a Championship is the easy part, keeping it is the hard part" and Pulver has his opportunity to do so in his first title defense against Dennis Hallman, who sported an impressive seven fight win streak, including an arm-bar victory over Matt Hughes.
Although troubling Pulver at times with submission attempts Jens would leave with the gold strapped around his waist.
Rarely is there a bout where the Champion is a heavy underdog, this was the situation Jens was faced with in his UFC 35 clash with BJ Penn. Penn had just burst onto the scene with three consecutive first round stoppages and many believed this was the fete of Lil' Evil.
Jens Pulver and BJ Penn battled it out for 25 minutes in a classic nobody would soon forget, the key to the bout would be the cardio advantage of Jens Pulver which secured him a Majority Decision in the later rounds of the war.
Following his success, Pulver was considered to be the best 155-pounder in the world. However, contractual problems forced Lil' Evil to leave the UFC.
Over his next seven bouts he would continue to compete in the United States, Canada, and Japan going 5-2 before competing in what Jens considers the "hardest fight of his career." The event took place in Hawaii for the Shooto promotion; his opponent was a tough, well-rounded grappler named Stephan Palling.
Pulver and Palling battled it out for the bout before Pulver finished the fight with the power that still lived in his trademark left hand.
Following this impressive outing, Pulver made the transition to the elite MMA promotion in Japan at that point and time, Pride FC. Pulver wasn't handed an easy fight to begin with; first up was the man who many considered to be the best 155-pounder at that time, following a string of four first round stoppages: Takanori Gomi.
Gomi and Pulver would battle at PRIDE Shockwave 2004 in a fight that would put Pulver on the map in Japan; although Lil' Evil did not come out victorious, he showed overwhelming heart and great striking ability that earned the respect of the Japanese public. Pulver would continue fighting in PRIDE, defeating Tomomi Iwama and Kenji Arai however also suffering a defeat to Japanese icon Hayato "Mach" Sakurai.
Pulver made his return to the United States stopping Cole Escovedo in 56 seconds before making his way back to the big leagues: the UFC. The former Champion clashed with the 21 year old who already held victories over Mike Thomas Brown and Rafael Assuncao, Joe Lauzon. It only took Joe 47 seconds to dispose of the veteran Pulver.
Jens Pulver was a coach on Season Five of The Ultimate Fighter , along with his rival BJ Penn. Although Pulver was the superior coach on The Ultimate Fighter , when it came time for them to compete, it was "The Prodigy" that was too much for Jens Pulver.
Following his second straight defeat at 155 pounds Pulver announced that he would make the move down in weight to 145 pounds and compete in the World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) promotion which is also owned by Zuffa.
Pulver was originally scheduled to face Cub Swanson at UFC 30, but a knee injury held the bout back until the UFC 31 event, where he made a statement in his WEC debut by submitting Swanson at the 35 second mark of the very first round. This marked what may be the very last victory for Jens Pulver.
His impressive submission of Cub Swanson was enough of a statement to earn himself a shot at the WEC Featherweight Champion Urijah Faber. Faber and Pulver met at WEC 34 in one of the standout bouts of 2008 which went a solid 25 minutes where neither man was able to finish the other but when the smoke had cleared "The California Kid" still had the Championship around his waist.
Following his defeat to Urijah Faber, he was matched up with Greg Jackson camp standout Leonard Garcia. Pulver would again come up short this time being knocked out in one minute and twelve seconds after a flurry of strikes from the experienced Texan Garcia.
After Urijah Faber lost his Featherweight crown to Mike Thomas Brown, it was announced that his comeback fight would be a rematch of the WEC 34 classic with Jens Pulver. This time around, the two would not battle it out to a decision, Faber proved to be better than Pulver on that night, submitting him at the one minute and 34 second mark of the very first round.
Many considered Pulvers time to be up at this point, however, he could not contain his fighting spirit and agreed to another bout, this time against Josh Grispi. Grispi entered the bout with an injured ankle and an eight fight win streak on his back; it took Grispi merely thirty-three seconds to put Pulver away with a Guillotine Choke.
Following his bout Pulver gave an emotional speech stating that it could be his last fight after losing eight of his last twelve encounters.
However, Jens Pulver returned for one last shot at the big time this past weekend at in WEC 47 in an attempt to find the magic in his left hand. His opponent was a well rounded grappler, Vazque Javier Vazquez. Much to the dismay of the 8,345 on hand at the Nationwide Arena, Vazquez would defeat Pulver with an impressive arm-bar after controlling the majority of the bout.
Following this bout, Pulver again gave an emotional speech to all his supporters around the world, stating that this may be the last time we see Jens Pulver compete. Is his time up, or does he have one historic run left in him? well that isn't for me, you, or anyone but the legend himself to decide.
When the history book closes, Jens Pulver will go down as one of the best of all time. Whether you remember him as the first UFC Lightweight Champion or the only man to defeat BJ Penn at 155-lbs or a pioneer of Mixed Martial Arts, when its all said and done Jens Pulver will be considered a legend of our time.