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No Rest for the Wicked: Jens Pulver Fights for the Little Guy

Jens “Lil Evil” Pulver wants the world to pay more attention to the little fighters. He’s found a home at the WEC and he’s working hard as a fighter and as an advocate for lightweight fighters all over the world.

Soon, the WEC will have 125 pounders on their cards and Jens couldn’t be more excited. I caught up with him a few days ago and we talked about fighting, the WEC, WAMMA, the UFC, Monte Cox, and Strikeforce.

As you will read, the former UFC lightweight champion had a lot on his mind.

Gary Wimsett: When was the first time you realized you had knockout punching power?

Jens Pulver: I don’t know if it was so much I realized I had knockout punching power but I remember being in Idaho with my first ever boxing coach who held mitts for me and I just started punching them and he was real excited when the workout was done, and was like “Wow, you know you’ve got a lot of power,” and I was throwing these big hooks you know, fighting like a brawler. Punching like a brawler. And he was like, “man, once you learn to dial that in.” So I was like “OK, I guess I can hit hard cause otherwise he wouldn’t be saying anything to me.” Then I went to my first fight, they didn’t even have my weight class, and people were telling me that I needed to go out there and make a statement and to do that I was going to need to do it with my standup first.

You have to remember I come from a wrestling background, and the guy who was cornering me said look, you’ve got to stand up with this guy, so I had never had any real boxing fights but I went to my first boxing invitational and I would hit a guy and he would fall and I started enjoying it.

Gary Wimsett: If you weren’t making a living as a professional fighter, what would you be doing?

Jens Pulver: I was a wrestling coach at a high school. I was working with kids. That’s what I want to do. It’s what I want to do now. Even after fighting, I want to work with troubled kids and give them an opportunity. I want to give them a shot at life and I don’t want them to think doors are closed. I don’t want them to think they don’t have any opportunities because that’s what people and coaches did for me. They were there to push me and direct me and show me that hard work pays off. I’ve always wanted to do that because of the life I grew up in and I want to make sure that kids who’ve maybe been in trouble, you know, don’t douse out there candle, people can get through things and overcome things. It’s something I need to do. How? I’m not 100% sure but I know it’s something I have to do.

Gary Wimsett: Can you compares the differences between the boxing business and MMA business?

Jens Pulver: Not a lot of difference really. You’ve got to get out there and you’ve got to perform. If you win they bring you back. If you lose in good fashion they bring you back. Really that’s how it is. They’re not much different.

Gary Wimsett: If you had only more fight, who?

Jens Pulver: I don’t care. It’s the way I want to go out – that’s what I care about. It’s whomever they tell me to fight. I don’t have a “dream fight,” every fight is fun to me. Especially now, I’m happy to continue. I’m learning how to fight for different reasons. I’m having fun – trying at least. So I don’t think about any one opponent I want to get my hands on. There’s a certain way I want to perform and I haven’t been able to do that these last three fights. So it’s a big question. Can I get back to where I was? Can I turn back the clock to when I was a confident world champion who could beat whoever they put in front of me? Can I get that back? That’s what I’m after. That’s my dream.

Gary Wimsett: Is there a particular fighter you admire?

Jens Pulver: How can you not admire Randy Couture? He’s done great things. Especially as an older man competing with the young bucks. He gives all of us hope. And, to be honest, even though his last fight didn’t go the way he wanted it to, I admire B.J. Penn a lot. I have a lot of respect for what he’s done. I said I woke a sleeping dragon and he’s done nothing but prove me right. You know, we win and we lose fights. From where he was five years ago, kind of hanging out and not really caring what weight he fought at and then getting serious going after and getting that belt, he trounced the world at 155 and set up a big fight with GSP at 170. I admire his determination, drive and desire.

Gary Wimsett: Talk a little about “Vaseline Gate?”

Jens Pulver: If it’s true it sucks and from the looks of it, it’s true. That’s weak man. Grease is supposed to go on your eyes, not your neck, not your back, not your arms, not your chest, not your stomach, you know. Let me take a dive into a vat of Vaseline. I’ll go up against the greatest grappler as well. Did it affect the outcome? It had to make it frustrating for him not to be able to hold his high guard. Was GSP going to win that fight regardless? I don’t know. B.J. was getting tired but he was getting tired because he couldn’t hold that high guard. There are a lot of aspects to it. George won the fight and you know they raised his hand at the end. If greasing was a factor then that’s terrible. I wanted B.J. to win that fight.

Gary Wimsett: In your mind, who is the best pound-for-pound fighter?

Jens Pulver: Anderson Silva, for sure.

Gary Wimsett: Do you check in at MMA websites?

Jens Pulver: I’ll go to MMA Weekly when I want to see what’s going on, and then I go straight to my WEC site and check that out, and my MySpace page: The real “Lil Evil,” not the three imposters. Every now and then I’ve been known to stop by the Underground and just read what people are posting but I don’t really pay much attention.

Gary Wimsett: Are you at all surprised by popularity of MMA?

Jens Pulver: No way. I knew it was going to be big. I bet my life on this sport years ago. I was there when they didn’t even have the weight classes. I started when then didn’t have rules. They were just starting to clean the rules up. I was there when it was only legal in three states. And it wasn’t even on TV. It wasn’t anywhere. I had to believe in it. If I didn’t I wouldn’t have done this for a living. People thought I was crazy. No one knew what it was. I believed in it. I backed it up a long time ago. Yeah, I truly believed in this sport. I quit my job. Moved to Iowa and put it all on the line.

Gary Wimsett: What about the level of knowledge that exists with fans?

Jens Pulver: I love the fans. Back in the day, I remember when there’d be a take down and people would be booing. It seemed like they wanted boxing matches. They wanted to see knockouts. I was like; “you need to go to a Toughman if that’s what you want to see.” Sloppy people punching each other – you’ve got to go to Toughman.

I came from a wrestling background. People used to hate the ground game but now they’ll clap and cheer when they see good scrambles and good groundwork. They get excited when they know someone is damaging on the ground. They know there are submission attempts. They used to hate it though and then Royce Gracie would get someone in a triangle choke and the fans would be like, wait . . . what? Now, they respect the ground game. They get excited about a good game. Good submission attempts. They’ve come along away, just like the sport.

Gary Wimsett: Tell me about Monte Cox.

Jens Pulver: Monte Cox is my best friend. No ifs, ands or buts about it. He’s an unbelievable individual. I love his family. They’re the only reason I’m staying in Iowa. I want to be with family and when I say that, I mean no offense to my immediate family, they know I love them. I just love being around the Cox family. He knows the sport. He’s got a lot of contacts and a lot of people know him – for a reason – he’s a standup individual.

The smartest thing I ever did was to come out to be with Monte. A lot of people think I moved out here to be with Pat and the camp but that wasn’t the case at all. The fact was they just happened to be out here in the same place. I moved out here for Monte. It was hard to find fights back then and Monte was the man that could make it happen. He’s the reason I stay out here.

Now, a lot of people want to tear him down but he’s taken guys from the bottom to the top. Try not being in the UFC and you’ll see if Monte’s worth his money. Try doing this as a job and not be in the UFC and then you’ll see how bad you’ll miss Monte Cox. Every other agent, manager, whatever you want to call them, every one of them out there, they have to call around to get their guys fights. Every promotion under the sun calls Monte when they need a fighter. They know if you bring in one of Monte’s guys they are going to be ready, they’ll be game, and they won’t back down from anybody you put in front of them. The proof is in the job he does. I would take Monte every time. He’s honest. And he gets people fights. Period. He’s phenomenal.

Not even the UFC has had the same owners since the beginning. The same man has owned Extreme Challenge since the very beginning – Monte Cox. It’s been the most successful show as far as longevity. He’s been around from the very beginning. He doesn’t have a red phone in his office that goes straight to Dana White. He builds his guys. They go out and fight in the Extreme Challenge and when they get to a certain level, every promoter knows a Monte Cox guy is going to be ready. Look at Rich Franklin, look at Matt Hughes. Every time, his fighters are always ready to fight. He’s worked his butt off and he deserves that recognition.

People come in now with their hate and their gossip and the rumors – they are just doing anything that they can do to get their names out there to get their fighters in there because the reality is whatever else they are doing isn’t working for them.

Gary Wimsett: What are your thoughts on WAMMA?

Jens Pulver: I don’t really understand what WAMMA is supposed to do. If WAMMA’s here to help fighters and fans and help the sport – then great. I know they’ve got good people involved with Pat [Miletich] and Randy [Couture] but I think they need to educate people better, educate the fighters because, right now, it’s all good in theory but what are they going to do? There’s only one UFC. There are no other shows at that level. Ask any fighter who starts out – they want to work their way up to a world championship in the UFC. Then you are a world champion – the best there is.

And it doesn’t matter if they came from Pride or Cage Rage or Affliction – it just doesn’t matter. Everybody wants to be a part of the UFC. That’s what makes the WEC so beautiful for the little guys. It’s not the minor league; it’s the real league. It’s the biggest thing on the planet for the little guys. Everybody wants to be a WEC champion now.

Is WAMMA going to help other shows build up? I don’t know. Unification of titles? Which titles? They haven’t really explained that to me. And, the fighter’s union and things like that – that’s great, I would love to see it happen some day but to be honest . . . it won’t.

The reality in this sport, from the beginning until now, is that you’ve got to put up or shut up. There are about 150 people at 155 pounds that are ready to take my spot. If you don’t like the way the UFC does business, you can go. Find someplace else to fight and they’ll put someone else in.

So I don’t know what WAMMA can do. Right now, there is no other organization. There’s no other place to go. No other organizations even carry the lighter weight classes. If there were other gigantic promotions out there pushing 145’ers, pushing 155’ers, — but there aren’t. Affliction pushes big guys.

When those questions get answered, then WAMMA can become more relevant in my world and in the world of anyone who weighs 170 pounds or less.

Gary Wimsett: What are your thoughts on Strikeforce?

Jens Pulver: They’ve yet to have a show under the new group but don’t get me wrong; I’m excited to have it, in theory. The idea is phenomenal. But there’s no mountain to climb. In the WEC there is. When these other shows do decide to include the little guys and they announce their official weight classes, and they say they’re going to start getting guys belts and making them champions, now, OK, you can have champion versus champion. But where’s champion versus champion in any organization at 145 besides the WEC? There isn’t one.

I hope to God that Coker does believe in the little guys. Because, I believe in the little guys and the WEC believes in the little guys and they’ve been pretty successful so far. The fans want to see the little guys. When heavyweights failed in boxing – what’s kept boxing alive? The lighter weights. I go to see those fights – everyone watches those fights. I am the pioneer of the lighter weight classes. I’m the voice of 155, 45, 35, and 25.

Gary Wimsett: Can you talk about being a new dad?

Jens Pulver: Yeah. I had my second child – my son in December. It’s amazing. It means a lot to me. It’s pretty incredible. Ten years ago, looking back, I would have said, “please, I’m not having kids, I’m not even getting married.” But now, it’s been the highlight of my life. From the life I grew up in. All the times. All the prayers. All the times I thought to myself I can’t wait to be in this situation where I’m the father and I would never, ever, ever be that way to my kids. And every day, now, I get to prove that. I sit back now and I’m like “man, I can’t believe my dad ever hit me. How? How do parents hit their kids? How in God’s name could you ever do something like that so someone that little.” That’s what pushes me and drives me. They are my saviors in some respects. They get to save the little kid in me that was killed by my father basically.

Gary Wimsett: Will any other promotion be able to challenge the UFC?

Jens Pulver: I’m excited to see if people can make something happen. But a lot of people, they come in and they put on shows and they are not ready to take the hits in the beginning. They say well, we’re going to put some lights on, we’re going to put a cage in the middle of this arena here, and we’re going to pay this guy huge amount of money and we’re going make $2 million dollars. We’re going to get rich off this. But people have a short memory, back in the day, the Fertittas were losing $1.5 million per show. But they believed in the product that was coming at the end of it. And now everybody sees it. But they have to have that same business savvy and that same understanding that you may not make money on the first couple.

Why pay a guy $1.5 million? You are not going to draw them that way. You are not going to make your money back. Affliction could have made money on two shows if their purses weren’t six times what their gate was. I’m hopeful and excited about Strikeforce – I can’t wait to see what they are going to do. I hope they do well. I’ve been in the sport 10-11 years and I’ve seen so many come and go. The EliteXC had everybody excited as well. And they made some stupid moves and it cost them – where are they at now? Are these new promotions going to stick through the bad times and battle to the good because I know the UFC did. I was there. I watched it. I’m not being negative at all. I’m excited. The more we have the better we are. If I can help them out, absolutely I will. I want to see the sport grow.

People always say to me wow, MMA’s so big. MMA’s not big. The UFC is big. The WEC is getting big. Take Affliction and put them in North Dakota, put whomever you want on the card, it won’t sell out. Put the UFC in North Dakota, it’ll be sold out before the show even opens.

If MMA is so big, then why is that a reality? If the sport’s going to get big, it needs to be about who you have on the card – that’s what sells it out. But you can put anybody on a UFC card and people are going to go, they know what it is because they’ve seen it on TV. The UFC has become a household name. Fighters in the UFC, in the process, have become household names. I’ve been a part of that. But if I fought for someone else, “hey, I’m an MMA fighter” . . . “So?” I can pull out eight guys that are better fighters than me, technically, that no one’s ever heard of and they probably have 40 fights. But none of them have been in the UFC so people don’t know who they are. That’s why everyone wants to be at the UFC or the WEC. So, I’m behind them 100%.

Sure, let’s get this sport big and that’s where it comes down to the other promoters – do they have the guts, grit and determination to hang in through the bad times. I’m not being the dark cloud or Mr. Negative, you just have to look at all the shows that have come and gone. Where are they now? It’s that simple. It’s a question everyone should be asking. In theory it’s all great.

I’m an advocate for the little guys. I want to build the little guys. I don’t want to see anybody walking around saying “No, I’m too small to be an MMA fighter.” Thank God – the WEC – and I love them for it – they are bringing out a 125. I’m excited for that. More than my own fights. Wait to you see these little buzz saws go at it.

So, yeah, I’m excited about Strikeforce. Affliction? Sure, I’m glad they’re here. You want to unify them? Great. They don’t even have a 145 champion so what do I care? If I was a heavyweight I’d be all about it.

Gary Wimsett: Do you have any pre-fight rituals?

Jens Pulver: I spend a lot of time worrying about losing to dumb things, getting caught by dumb things. So I spend that week before really trying to shut myself up, more or less. Throw away the hesitations, throw away the fears. People think it’s easy to walk in there but it’s tough. You are thinking, “I don’t want to get caught in this, I don’t want to get caught in that.” You have to learn to chuck the “what ifs.” So, weight cutting helps me get my mind off of things. I enjoy cutting the weight and the weigh-ins and things like that because it takes my mind off things. Because once that’s over, it’s like “Oh here we go, fight time”! And you have to be ready to flip that switch and get in there and fight.

Gary Wimsett: How about post-fight rituals?

Jens Pulver: I do what I’ve always done. I go to be with my family. Based on the last three fights, I do a whole lot of apologizing. Not that they make me. I just want to be around them. I want to see the fans. I blow fans’ minds. I’m ready to hang out with them. I’m a fan of the show. Then I go home and hang out with my kids – that’s my release.

Gary Wimsett: How do you think MMA fans will remember you?

Jens Pulver: I’m down to earth, fan friendly, I fought hard every time. I went out on my shield. I’ve never made excuses. I’ve never hid from anybody. I’ve worn my emotions on my sleeve. When they broke my heart during that interview after my last loss and I teared up a little, that’s real. I’m real. I’m approachable and I appreciate my fans more than they can ever know. I hope that’s what they remember. Maybe they’ll say I was a pioneer for the little guys and “man, that guy could talk.”

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