On this day 37 years ago, a boy named Jens Johnnie Pulver was born into a tumultuous household in Sunnyside, Washington.
Jens escaped from the violence and psychological abuse he, his sister, two brothers and mother endured daily from his namesake father who was a hard-drinking horse jockey, by dominating on the wrestling mats on weekends. It was there that his family would pretend they didn’t have a monster waiting for them back at their house and where they would escape from the sad reality that was their home life.
11 years ago this winter Pulver picked up and made the trek from California, where he had lived since moving out in his teens, to Davenport, Iowa with only a suitcase and a bag of change. He was put up by his soon-to-be manager Monte Cox when he showed up on his doorstep to ask the powerful agent to represent him. The Cox family took him in and treated him as one of their own children, while he set up shop training out of the fabled Miletich gym alongside some of Cox’s other marquee stable fighters like Matt Hughes, Tim Sylvia and the team’s leader, Pat Miletich.
The move paid off in spades.
Jens won his next six fights and picked up the UFC lightweight strap two fights after joining Team Miletich. He would only defend the title twice after deciding to walk away from the promotion to pursue more fights since he was only competing twice a year under the then SEG-owned promotion.
His go-for-broke style of fighting was his biggest asset, but also his biggest flaw as a fighter as it sometimes left “Lil’ Evil” susceptible to knockouts and submissions.
(Video courtesy of YouTube/Hel13torm)
During an interview I did with him back in 2008 prior to his WEC title fight against Urijah Faber, Jens had a moment of retrospective reflection about how far the sport had come from when he first made a name for himself.
“I’ve had big fights in my career, and I’ve had a lot of monumental moments and pioneered a lot of things, but this really just plays out to time. It’s crazy,” Pulver said. “You’ve got to remember, I was in the UFC when it was the same five people asking the questions and that was it. I remember when the weigh-ins gradually went from 50 people to 100 people. It’s such a huge difference from the way things used to be. I’m like a proud father. When I started and I made a commitment to this sport, I was making $750 in the UFC, and it was banned in all but three states. There was no future and to see [media attention and interest] like this – it’s perfect.”
Unfortunately, Pulver is one of the legends of the sport who never really cashed in on the spoils that came about as a result of the TUF explosion, even though he was one of the coaches on a subsequent season of the show.
Although his recent career hasn’t been as successful as it once was, Pulver has achieved more in his 12 years in the cage than many ever will. Hopefully a UFC Hall of Fame induction is in his future. Even if it isn’t, as Jens told me three years ago, he’s already achieved what he set out to do when he began in the sport.
“When I first started fighting I wrote down two goals on a piece of paper,” Pulver explained. “I found [that piece of paper] and read it, and it says, ‘Own a house,’ and ‘Win a world championship.’ I’m buying my house and I’ve already won the world title.”