This is a guest post by Josh Nason.
Old. Antique. Relic. Former UFC Lightweight Champion Jens Pulver has heard the criticisms before, amplified by a six-fight losing streak with four straight 1st-round tappets that fueled a merciful exit from the Zuffa family.
But armed with a new team and a realization that he had to give more effort to his training, Pulver has won two fights in 2011 and looks for three in a row this Friday against Brian Davidson in the main event of Titan Fighting Championships 18 on HDNet.
Pulver spoke to this writer and Bryan Alvarez Wednesday on WrestlingObserver.com's Figure Four Daily show about his resurgence, fueled by a self-realization that he wasn't giving his full effort in training or fighting.
The Washington State native said that if he is going to quit, he wants to do so knowing he gave it his all -- something he wasn't doing years ago.
"My biggest revelation was that I was sitting in limbo for too long. Physically, I feel incredible, I got my vision back, I take no time off. I'm making 135 and 140 with no problem. This is the first time I've lived 100% like a fighter which I hadn't done in a long, long, long time," Pulver explained. "I got away with a lot of talent and youth in the beginning, but I don't have that now."
Walking away is something many combat sports athletes struggle with -- two recent examples occurring last weekend with Dan Severn and boxer Roy Jones Jr. both getting knocked out in cringe-worthy fashion well past their expiration dates.
When asked about dealing with that reality, the 36-year-old said his situation is a bit different.
"I'm not slurring my speech. Are things hard to remember 10, 11, 12 years ago? Yes, but because I got a lot of things happening. I'm not punchy. People want to talk about knockouts. There's a difference between getting knocked down and having a fight stopped and getting knocked out when the medics come in and use smelling salts on you," Pulver (24-14-1) said. "I've been stunned, dropped and standing there when they raised the other guy's hand -- embarrassed, mad, angry of course. Am I getting dropped and put to sleep? No. I've passed physicals and passed all my tests.
"I just want to go out on a better note for me. I want to give it 100% and this time when I'm not doing that, then I'm done."
A lot has changed since Pulver began professionally fighting in April 1999 with even more changing since his exit from the WEC in the spring of 2010. On the current MMA climate post-Strikeforce acquisition, he gave Dana White plenty of credit while explaining that the sport of MMA still needs to grow so people know more than just the letters 'UFC'.
"The fans may get attached to a few of the fighters, but ultimately they get attached to the brand and the name 'UFC'. That's got to say something. They've done an incredible job. Everyone talks about how big MMA is. But the reality is how big is it when you have something like Strikeforce or Bellator that puts on incredible fights and these groups that have been out there forever can't build a fanbase because they don't have that name 'UFC'," Pulver said. "People need to get out there and support the local shows and support the minor leagues. You've got to be in the minor leagues before you go to the pros."
With Bellator continuing to invest in both the 135-pound and 145-pound divisions and having a history for giving ex-Zuffa names a shot (Roger Huerta, Ben Saunders, Rob McCullough), bringing in a well-known fighter like Pulver might make sense for Bjorn Rebney and company. While Pulver isn't aware of any conversations, he would be up for it if it was the right move.
"Right now, I have two wins (in a row). What people don't know or see is that I'm trying to build back. I'm not the youngest chicken in the roost and I just got to work on what I got to do. If that day comes and someone calls, awesome. The reality is every fight has a game plan and every fight, I'm trying to get back and trying to learn how to win again. I don't think that far ahead," Pulver said, "It's the way that you win and the way that you lose is what I'm trying to fix. I'm trying to fix me."
Pulver was open and honest in discussing his early days in the sport and his time with the Shamrock 2000 team more than 10 years ago, a place that attracted a teenage kid that became a regular to the gym in Lodi, California: Strikeforce Welterweight Champion Nick Diaz.
"Nick has always been like a little brother to me. His conditioning and his style...that's the Diaz brothers and that's what I love about them. They're no joke. Every fight is dead serious. When people ask about what a true fighter is, I point to those two (Nick and Nate Diaz)," Pulver said. "They don't have to mentally get ready for anything. They are down to fight. They've taken that street mentality and harnessed it into something unreal. Nick has got it and he's a force to be reckoned with. I love those guys and are proud of them."
Pulver went on to talk about growing up in Washington, asking to take the Shamrock name, his favorite fights and lots more in the 30+ minute interview. He will face Brian Davidson this Friday in the main event of Titan Fighting 18 in Kansas City, MO, on HDNet.
Josh Nason is a New England-based MMA journalist that contributes to BloodyElbow.com, WrestlingObserver.com and FIGHT! Magazine. He hosts the weekly MMA Show on ESPN radio affiliate WGAMthegame.com and can be followed at twitter.com/JoshNason.