For former UFC champion Jens Pulver, this Saturday means everything.
It means he has another opportunity to rebuild lost confidence; it means another opportunity to show fans that this sport isn’t out of his grasp; it means another fight, against another tough guy, and that’s all he that could ask for.
There’s no belt on the line, but it’s a fight that excited him nonetheless. It doesn’t seem all that long ago that Pulver had worked his way to the WEC’s number one contender spot, taking on then-champion Urijah Faber for the promotion’s featherweight title in the biggest fight in WEC history. Though he lost the bout, he may have regained some confidence in himself knowing that he went five-rounds with a man regarded as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters at the time, and was competitive throughout. But what happened thereafter put Pulver in one of the darkest moments of his life.
A six-fight losing streak ensued which also saw his exit from the Zuffa owned promotion. Naturally, at 36-years-old, fans were calling for Lil’ Evil’s retirement, but Pulver didn’t have it in him to quit, at least not yet. Pulver is now 2-1 in his last three fights and has the opportunity this Saturday to add a 4-time WEC vet to his already impressive list of wins, which include the likes of Caol Uno, Dennis Hallman, and former UFC champ B.J. Penn.
So what does Pulver attribute to that losing streak that lasted over two years?
“I just stopped learning and it became one loss after another starts hitting and then you’re going through the motions because it’s still your job… and then you’re just not liking it, your coaches are going ‘this ain’t you’—it can get frustrating for everybody,” Pulver told FightLine.com.
He’s been doing plenty of catch-up since he joined up with Jeff Curran’s camp out of Chicago, Illinois which houses the likes of two-time Bellator finalist Pat Curran and UFC fighter Bart Palaszewski. Admittedly, Pulver hasn’t lived the life of a gym-rat in quite sometime. He would balloon upwards of 189-pounds and then jump into camp. However, with his busy lifestyle as of late, fighting now for the fourth time in about 8-months, he hasn’t had to focus his entire camp around cutting the weight. Instead, he has been able to progress his skills gradually, back to championship form.
“The changes I’m seeing is that I’m remembering again,” said Pulver. “I’m remembering what it’s like to be at my best. I’m remembering what it was like to be a champion. I’m remembering what it was like every day. I’ve never lived the fighter lifestyle.”
Now competing for the first time in the bantamweight division, Pulver steps into the cage this Saturday against Coty Wheeler, a tough-as-nails Greg Jackson product who has a “never say die” attitude. Of his three career losses in seventeen outings, Wheeler has only been finished once, and that was against the current number one flyweight fighter in the world Ian McCall.
“He’s a fighter,” Pulver said of his opponent. “He’s not backing down, he don’t care about me.
“This is two equal guys going at it,” he continued. “He’s going to go after it, the difference is that I have a name to go after too, rather than somebody make their name off of me. I know Coty; I know of him and that’s good enough for me. I know what I want to do in the cage and that’s all I’m really out there to do, more than anything.”
Pulver will be returning to action in front of a potentially hostile crowd in Wheeler’s hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Although the “legend” card could work in his favor, he’s not expecting Wheeler to be lulled into a star struck moment. At MMA Fight Pit’s inaugural show, dubbed Genesis, the two men will battle in the co-main event of the evening on a pay-per-view televised card which features a litter of UFC veterans. So with championships won, a legacy cemented, what more does Lil’ Evil hope to accomplish?
“No regrets… I’m learning how to say goodbye and it’s not going to mess with my business endeavors, it’s not going to be something looming over my head. When I’m ready to say goodbye, I just want to know that I gave it everything I had.”