Jens Pulver Still Trying to Find a Way to Leave MMA With No Regrets

Yes, Jens Pulver is still at it. Twelve years and 40 fights after his debut at the Bas Rutten Invitational 2, the former UFC lightweight champ is still getting in the cage, still trying to find some peace amid the chaos.

The question many people ask the 36-year-old Pulver -- and the question he's been struggling with himself lately -- is, why?

"It kind of dawned me a couple days ago," he said Wednesday on a media conference call. "I thought I was doing it because it was fun, I love it, and that's still part of it, but the reality is, I'm doing it now and giving it 100 percent the way I am...[because] when I walk away, I don't want to walk away with any regrets. I don't want to be 65, God willing, sitting in a chair on a deck in a rocking chair and wishing I would have gone out differently."

In other words, he's doing it so he can quit, but have it not feel so much quitting. He's doing it so that he can feel good about how he's doing, which in turn might allow him to feel good about stopping.

The only problem is, as long as a fighter feels good about how he's doing, he isn't likely to stop. He'll probably just keep going, especially as long as he could use the money, which Pulver certainly could.

It makes you wonder what this happy ending for Pulver would look like at this point, and how he'd even know if he found it.

Things recently seemed like they were on the verge of turning around for him. After being dropped from the WEC following five straight losses and then adding a sixth on the small circuit, he won two in a row.

Sure, they weren't big names or on big fight cards, but he got his hand raised again for the first time since 2007. Then he went to Kansas City for a fight in May and he lost again, this time via first round submission.

So much for that happy ending.

Now Pulver is back to take on former WEC bantamweight Coty Wheeler on a thirty-dollar pay-per-view card that's littered with names fans used to know, but probably haven't thought about all that much lately.

Houston Alexander. Junie Browning. Jamie Yager. And, of course, Jens Pulver, who's still trying to figure out how to get back to the fighter he used to be.

"Ironically, I spend more time remembering," Pulver said. "...I watch interviews of mine from way back, especially when I had more confidence. I'm sitting there going, man, I remember that guy."

The difference, Pulver said, is that now he doesn't take several months off between fights, which means he doesn't have to spend the bulk of his training camp "getting the fat off." Physically, he's not worn down, he said, and mentally, he's no longer so burned out.

"I go with these guys that are my weight, and I'm right there with them. The problem is just trying to turn it on in the cage. I've become what I almost despised most or what I put down the most when I was a world champion, which was the gym fighter."

In training, he said, he's taking it to his younger, faster sparring partners. The broke-down old man looks pretty good then.

"It's when the lights come on and the face in front of me is different" that he loses some of that pop, Pulver said.

"The mental side is what's gotten the oldest. The physical skills are still there. I've got no injuries. ...The mental side of me kind of got old, got tired, and that's what I'm trying to fix more than anything. I don't know how to adjust to that, because it's new to me."

Maybe it would be easier to deal with if it were a physical decline. Maybe then he could write it off as a natural and unavoidable consequence of age. The fact that he remains convinced that his problems are more mental than physical probably isn't helping him find the strength to walk away.

As he put it: "I'm using this time to prepare myself to walk out the door of MMA, and when I do, I don't want to have any regrets. Basically, my major reason why I'm fighting right now is I'm out there to send myself off the right way."

Of course, that assumes that there is a right way, or that there's any peace at all to be found in the last throes of a fighter's career. It also assumes that you find that peace first, before you decide to leave, rather than after, when you don't have any other choice.

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