On a weekend that UFC icon B.J. Penn walked away from competing in MMA, and Pat Miletich was inducted into the UFC’s Hall of Fame, it was only fitting that Jens Pulver -- the pioneer of the lighter weight classes -- retired as well.
Pulver was one of Penn’s biggest rivalries in the then newly created 155-pound division a decade ago. And Miletich was Pulver’s trainer, coach and mentor for all those glory years back in Bettendorf, Iowa, when Pulver was the UFC’s lightweight champion. They are all linked in MMA history.
"Lil’ Evil" appeared on the special Tuesday edition of The MMA Hour and explained why he chose to call it a career -- so quietly, so suddenly and so unceremoniously -- at this point in time.
"It was early in the morning, and we were at the [UFC Fan] Expo, and I just…you know, I’m done," he told Ariel Helwani. "I was really afraid. I didn’t want to be the guy who says, oh, I’m retired and then I’m come back and do it again. I didn’t really want people…I mean, there’s no much to celebrate. I’m not going to go out with some big send off or anything. So I just kind of fade off into the sunset and be done with it. I just got asked a question and I think, you know me, I’ve always been kind of emotional. And it was just at that moment I was like, yeah, I’m done."
Pulver won the UFC championship when he defeated Caol Uno in a 25-minute decision back at UFC 30, just as Zuffa -- under the guidance of the Fertitta brothers and Dana White -- took over the UFC. He defended it against Dennis Hallman later that year, and then defeated Penn via decision at UFC 35. After that Pulver had a contract dispute with the UFC and went to Japan, surrendering his belt.
Since that time Pulver has fought for a variety of promotions, including another stint in the UFC. After coaching opposite Penn at TUF 5, they again squared off in June 2007, with Penn avenging the earlier loss.
This past weekend, Pulver was in attendance at TUF 19, where Penn would enter the Octagon for the last time against Frankie Edgar. Pulver said it was hard to watch his great rival go out like that.
"The one thing people do or don’t know, yes, the rivalry was extremely real," he said. "It was a long time. From the first time we fought, he carried that for five years, and then we got to do the Ultimate Fighter and he got to get that revenge.
"But we got to talk after that, and man, I love him. Nothing says brother like punching each other in the face. So when I watched him fight, I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t get it. I was happy that he made 145, but I guess in my mind I think the fight for him was making 45. After that he kind of just shut down. I understand it, because it was a battle making 135. Woohoo. But the reality was he was up on his feet and there was no life, there was no activity. I didn’t understand what he was doing. It was like, man, you know this guy. You bring your feet together and you know he’s going to shoot for a takedown."
Penn expressed a half-regret for taking the third fight with Edgar afterwards, but said he didn’t regret it in the end because he needed to have that sense of closure. Pulver, on the other hand, said he should have retired long before he did this weekend.
"You know there’s a part of me that actually said, I should have finished definitely the Faber fight," he said. "Mentally, I really started suffering. I had issues. It’s sad, and again, I’ll never make excuses, but around that time. I wasn’t training hard. I wasn’t really, I was just kind of going through the motions and fighting. I think that first fight I was ecstatic. When I fought Cub [Swanson] and I then fought Urijah, I was confident, but after that, I was just kind of stupid. Just doing a half-shot into a guillotine, and getting submitted, getting arm-barred. You can kind of see it in the documentary ["Driven"]. To be honest, right when I made that documentary I should have been done."
Since the second Faber fight -- which happened in the first half of a six-fight losing skid -- Pulver went 5-8. His last fight happened at Superior Challenge 9 in Gothenburg, Sweden, a unanimous decision loss to Sami Aziz.
Pulver finished his career with a record of 27-19-1. When asked what he had plans to do now that he’s retired, Pulver said he is interested in coaching and commentating.