On a personal note, we’d like nothing more than to see Jens Pulver at the top of the heap when it’s all said and done. Though we admit we’ve never met him, Pulver has always seemed like one of MMA’s truly stand-up guys. Exciting in the cage, straightforward and honest (maybe to a fault) outside of it, it’s hard not to root for him. It’s also been difficult to watch him slump through the last few years of his rapidly fading MMA career, including establishing his current six-fight losing streak and dropping eight of his last nine bouts overall. It’s that innate likability that additionally makes it downright heartbreaking to read Pulver’s latest interview with MMA Fighting.com on Saturday, where the aging former UFC champion indicates he’s just going to press on with his career until he “gets it right.”
"I’m trying to put ‘Lil’ Evil’ to bed, if that makes sense, so I can retire the right way, and so I can be done the right way,” Pulver says. “I can’t go out the way I’ve gone. Not from being a world champion to losing six fights in a row. I want to give it one more shot."
Look, we’re not psychologists, but we understand that stepping away from a successful career in athletics is one of the world’s most difficult things to do. Almost no one makes a graceful exit. The kind of unwavering determination and blanket self-deception that are required to make it in the first place also make knowing when, where and how to hang it up nearly impossible. Not to mention the physical rush, the emotional high of performing in front of people, of being known and admired. Athletes get “old” at such a comparatively young age that it feels inconceivable to them that the ride might be over. They always think they can give it, as Pulver puts it here, “one more shot.”
That’s why we can’t be surprised or even particularly upset with Pulver that – like the true fighter he has always been – he says he looked at his current losing streak and after much soul-searching finally decided the problem was everything besides his own deteriorating skills. The problem was distractions, or doubt, or not enough training and the problem could be fixed by, as Old Dad describes it, “going all in on an attempt to resurrect his career. No more half-measures. No more second-guessing himself.”
"I think before, I was stuck," Pulver says. "I was stuck wondering, what am I going to do now? Am I going to put on a tie and go to work, or am I going to fight? I really hit a crossroads. I felt like I was stuck in between, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do."
What he wants to do, of course, is give it “one more shot.” The only problem with that is that “one more shot” so often begets one more shot, begets one more shot. Pretty soon you’re riding a six (or eight or – we shudder to think – 10) fight losing streak and you’re living in a tiny room above Jeff Curran’s gym in Illinois with no TV and no computer, continually promising yourself that all you need is just one more win before you walk away.
"You’re just sitting there going, this is terrible,” Pulver says of his recent struggles. “I can’t even buy a win. It’s so frustrating. And then, how do you find the happiness and the willingness to go train? It’s a huge crush to your self-esteem. You just can’t win. But you have to sit back and look at what you’re doing wrong. It doesn’t help anything to sit there saying to myself, you’re a loser."
Pulver is scheduled to fight at XFO 38 on Jan. 22 and, goddamn it, we hope like hell that he wins.