(Photo courtesy of vegasnews.com.)
By CagePotato.com contributor Elias Cepeda
CAGEPOTATO: Jens, you’re fighting March 6th in Columbus, Ohio. You’ve lost four straight to some very good opponents. Any word yet on who you are fighting?
JENS PULVER: Nope. I don’t know yet. I told them I don’t even want to know.
You actually asked not to know?
Not until they really have to tell me. Who cares who I’m fighting? Opponents don’t beat me, I’m beating me. You’ve got all these guys saying I’m getting punchy. I got hit on the head against Leonard but the other two of my last three losses were chokes. With Faber I ate everything, Lauzon clipped me on the chin. I’ve never been knocked out to the point of four minutes later they are waking me up and I’m trying to figure out what happened, saying ‘shit, what happened?’ I’ve been clipped. I might get punchy at some point but come on, it’s not happening now. Let me get mine. What fucking part of guillotine chokes don’t people understand? I appreciate their concern all the same but people don’t pay attention. Where does most of the damage fighters take come from? Not from fights but from when we are sparring with pillows on our hands and we take hours of brain rattling. Fights are five to twenty five minutes long; the brain damage comes from sparring. You don’t ever hear people saying we should quit sparring. So I’m not really worried about who I’m fighting. I’m fighting me right now. I’m fighting against myself, trying to be the old me. I’m trying to beat myself.
You’re talking about the old vs. new you.
I’m not talking about the young bullet-proof me. I’m talking about the middle me that has gotten his ass handed to him. I don’t complain to people, I don’t bitch about income. Of how there are all these other guys who have made a lot of money. Maybe I’m not that savvy with business. I’ve had a rebirth with meeting my wife, having my son and my daughter getting older. The biggest thing for me was how we moved training camps, finally. This one in Boise, I’ve designed. You can see it at DrivenTC.com. Just little things with this gym are going to make a lot of difference for me, I can’t even tell you. Our supposed great leader back in Iowa who didn’t even have a boxing ring or a cage — what kind of people fight in MMA and have never even sparred or trained in a cage? I’ve brought in Tony Fryklund and all positives happen with him around. That right there is leaps and bounds better.
You haven’t been full time with Miletich for some time but for your last few fights you’ve worked with Matt Hume and AMC Pankration in Washington. Does he have a cage or ring?
Matt Hume had a ring. That’s better at least because there is something to cut off. I got to train with Matt and them, right, but it was on short notice when I fought Faber and a lot of it was at their satellite school. They did a great job with me but it was a tough circumstance.
A lot of times fighters get cut after just one or two losses. What were your conversations with your bosses at Zuffa like after four straight losses?
I asked Dana White and Zuffa, ‘Please, give me one more shot. I’m going to make some changes.’ They asked, ‘What kind of changes?’ I told them that I was building my own gym and bringing it home to where I’m from. Bringing in Tony Fryklund, rebuilding everything, and I want to bring in the coaches like Duke Roufus and I’m working with BSU wrestlers. I’m bringing it back to where I started, training wise, and it’s a cool feeling. For me that’s what I needed. Its not just three people doing their thing then having to drive to boxing, drive to lifting, drive to another place to wrestle and then come back to the gym to train with one or two guys.
Now that you’ve got your own gym, do you plan to still keep training with Hume?
I’m continuing to work with Matt Hume. I love Matt, but all the skills in the world don’t matter if you don’t have your mind right.
Mike Chiappetta recently reported that you had begun treatment for depression and anxiety.
I went to see a shrink, finally. It was humbling. But I needed to. It is bad enough to have depression and anxiety so crippling to your life in general, but when you are getting beat and you are also telling yourself "you suck, you’re gonna lose, you’re gonna get beat," where it’s a compulsive thought that you can’t get rid of, that’s bad. The second biggest thing to help me get my mind right next to medication for OCD and depression, was moving my training to Idaho. I didn’t even say goodbye, I just picked up and left with my wife and son. Everybody I know is gone anyway. Jeremy [Horn] is in Utah so I’m closer to him here in Idaho anyway. Matt [Hughes] and Robbie [Lawler] are in St. Louis. Tony moved up here with me and I needed to get back home to the mountains and to the water. It’s just a different environment for training. And we’re going to do some different things. For example, I’m going to open up my sparring sessions to the public and also have them streamed online for people to watch from wherever. I’m going to create my environment from the cage to the crowd and cameras. People will be able to check that out starting in a few weeks on our website, DrivenTC.com.
So have you moved to Idaho or just moved your training?
I’m going to open up this school in Idaho but my residence is still in Iowa. Right now the plan is to go back and forth. I’m trying to figure it out. Fortunately for me I’ve got this good group of people taking care of the bills in training because I don’t have the money, that’s for damn sure. Winning woulda made life a lot easier, of course. But I’ve been real fortunate. I’ll always be out here to train and my residence will be back in Iowa but I want to stick around as long as I can. My family is with me. We packed up the car and drove out here.
A lot of times fighters separate themselves from their families during training camps. That’s something you did the last couple times. Why did you decide to have them around this time?
I don’t want to be three months away from them to fight. And all of our birthdays are in December and there was Christmas. They are good for me. It’s awesome training full time and running this gym with them here. I’m going to be here as much as I can.
You had a really rough childhood and many others in your family have also gone through a lot. What made you decide to get counseling and treatment at this point in your life?
My wife. She did.
A lot of people, and a lot of fighters, deal with issues like you’ve had — depression and anxiety — but many, especially men, seem to be unwilling to talk openly about it.
I got no problem talking about it. It is what it is. If a lot of people took time to look at their selves it would be better. It might be the reason for drinking and half of the criminals and addicts and sellers. They have something to compensate for and what they are lacking they try to fill with getting drunk. I’m not allowed to do drugs. If I was that might be my thing. I’ve gotta represent for them in this hard, hard battle to reach an even keel. One of our new t-shirts, it’s not out yet but I have one I’m wearing around the gym, says, “I battle depression for every day I wake it’s up and down and never in between. I would just like to get on an even ride. I am driven.” I couldn’t stand that stuff where you just make a lil mole hill into the biggest mountain on the planet. My wife is my solace. My wife, she told me, ‘it is what it is and you’ve got to fix it and go on and do your thing.’ She is just phenomenal and I’ve learned so much from her.
What type of effect did your depression have on your daily life and how has it been changing?
The depression and anxiety just feed on all the personal attacks out there. I became a procrastinator. I couldn’t bring myself to run. I would just lay there. As you start training it just piles up and gets worse. You think, ‘What’s the point?’ So I’ve got no problem talking about it. It doesn’t make you imperfect when you admit to your flaws. It doesn’t do anything but show you are trying to become better. I’m too old to play that BS. And I’m not saying that I’m done with it. I’m still battling it but I just finally realized that I needed help. Once I started getting help the changes in me were dramatic. After just ten days my wife gave me a high five and said ‘Holy Jesus, oh my God, where the hell have you been?’ When your wife can tell the transitions you’ve made and get you back, it’s huge.
It’s about getting rid of that anxiety and those fears so that I do have room for anger, for that aggression when I fight. Now I have all those things back. I have a place for the anger and aggression again. It’s important to realize that you’re not broken. I used to think they would put me in straight jacket if I got help. But everyone needs help one way or another and you can only mask it for so long. I had to face my mortality like, ‘Oh my God, they are talking about retirement. Everything I’ve ever known might be done.’ That’s the hard thing about being an athlete is that you have to face your mortality twice. The first way you face your mortality is when you are too old and when you have to give up doing all you know how to do. And then you face it a second time like everyone when you are done, its over and you are dead. When I began facing my mortality as a fighter I had an anxiety attack. I was driving and almost fell over at the wheel. I thought, ‘I can’t do this. I can’t breathe.’ I thought I was having a heart attack.
That sounds debilitating. What has been the key to getting through it?
One reason was my wife. I get nothing but positives from her. I only hope I can do the same for her. I told her, ‘what if we lose everything and we end up living out of a cardboard box?’ She said, ‘Well at least we’d have each other so we just get the nicest box we can.’ I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ She meant it. She is 84 pounds and I lean on her. She’s my pillar. My family and [my manager] Monte Cox and his family give me great support. They are all the same thing to me: family
Having someone like my wife puts you in a safe and secure place, the type of place I never had before. You have to remember that I was a kid that got the shit beaten outta him and was crying at night. It is huge. Now I’m taking on the things I’ve been procrastinating with. Coming out here and building a gym and knowing I could do this a little different than what I was doing before allows me to sit back and enjoy myself.
There was a decent amount of outcry when after your loss to Urijah Faber, the Versus commentator asked you if you were still relevant in MMA. You didn’t seem to get mad but implied that you would perhaps retire.
That’s the mortality of it. I was pissing it away and I didn’t know what to do. Here he is just jumping in with something that I’ve gone over in my own head with conversations with myself 999 times before and he asks it one time. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I’m sorry he had to be that guy but I had already been asking myself that question. That’s when I started going, ‘Damn, it’s gotten to that point. I’m such a joke now that I’m being giggled at.’ That’s what was so tough about it, that I thought it had gone this far. It was heartbreaking.
Obviously you’ve made the decision to keep on fighting. What did your coaches, teammates and family tell you while you were weighing your options?
I made the decision to keep fighting on my own. My family and coaches gave me the window that I needed, the time to sit back, except for Monte. I’ve always got Monte. I owe Monte everything. I was talking to him and apologizing to my agent and talking to Dana, Lorenzo, Joe Silva and Sean Shelby to see if they’d let me fight again. I have to thank them because they are not writing me off yet and I love them for it. Something has got to be said for those guys. They put the work in when nobody knew what we were. When they first bought the company I was there and they’ve turned it into this powerhouse from a little piece. I don’t talk to them like I used to but at least I had that conversation and I’m not taking it lightly. I’m pretty excited to have it. It’s my last ride.
How do you look at the rest of your career and how long you want to do it? Do you have a set amount of time that you want to do it for?
It’s not a time thing. I’m taking it fight to fight.
You talk a lot about doing things differently. Do you have regrets when you look back?
You’ve got to hug it, embrace it and enjoy it. Looking back on my youth I would have told myself that you see opportunities along the way and that you need to snatch them up because that day does come. I don’t say, ‘where did the time go?’ I just sit there and think of the road trips and all the things and its all good, all cool for first time in a while. I’ve really enjoyed watching BJ Penn do his thing. It’s been really exciting to me and extremely motivating the way he has turned himself around. Now, I’ll never be as skilled as that kid but the way he turned it around for himself is great to see. I realize now at 34 years old — all these listings have me as older but I’m 34 — that this is my last ride. And I’m not going to sit back, I’m going to go after it. I’ve got great family support and all the negatives, money grubbing people, I’m in the process of getting rid of them. I’m making everything the way I always wanted it. I’m staring at the mountains here in Idaho, not far from where Justin Eilers was buried, and I’ve got my whole family around me. This is my last ride and everyone is saddled up.