clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Jens Pulver: 'There's No Part of Me That Thinks I'll Lose'

Jens Pulver was once at the top of the mixed martial arts world, as the UFC lightweight champion and one of the best and most popular athletes in the sport. But he's now 35, on a four-fight losing streak, and faced with the prospect of his next fight being his last.

As Pulver prepares for that next fight, against Javier Vazquez on Saturday night at WEC 47, he's accustomed to the question of whether he's close to retire. But he says he's not even considering the possibility that he might lose.

In fact, in an interview with MMA Fighting, Pulver opened up about overcoming depression and anxiety and reaching the point where he approaches this fight -- and everything else in his life -- with nothing but positive thoughts. The full interview is below.

Michael David Smith: You're probably getting sick of this question by now, but --
Jens Pulver: The retirement question or the 0-4 question?

The retirement question: Is this going to be your last fight?
No. There's just no thought in my mind that I'm going to lose this fight. I can't answer whether it's my last fight because there's no part of me that thinks I'll lose, and that's what I have going for me. The way I feel physically is I have no torn knees, no torn elbows, no serious head injuries, no broken legs -- nothing like that in my entire career. So I don't need to retire, I just need to train better. I was dejected mentally the last couple years and that's why I wasn't training well, but I don't think about this being my last fight because I don't think there's anything wrong with me physically.

When you say you were dejected mentally, what do you mean?
I mean I needed to see a shrink. I was suffering from depression and bad anxiety, and it was terrible. It was a nightmare. That's what was tough. I was making little molehills into mountains. I was freaking out over little things, over nothing. The depression, the panic attacks, they were just crippling to me. Now that I've fixed those things and come to understand them, I've changed a lot.

You've been very open about growing up in an abusive home. Does the depression and anxiety stem from that?
I don't know. I've had these panic attacks, I've had depression, I've had fear, and I've needed to surround myself with positive people. My wife is really positive. She's a wonderful person. And she teaches me. She teaches me not to worry about money, she teaches me not to worry about whether I've made the wrong decision, she teaches me not to beat myself up about everything. She tells me to get off that train and be positive.

As a fighter who has a following, who has people watching you on TV, do you like using that platform to talk about these things?
I owe that to every person who ever helped me. A lot of great people, Bob Shamrock, my wrestling coaches, they didn't turn their back on me. And now when I see kids who have people turn their backs on them, I'm in a position where I can help those kids. I went to a high school and spoke to all the boys at an assembly and I had so many of them who said they looked up to me. I also had teachers come up and say they looked up to me. And I think I could relate to a lot of these kids. I have a brother serving 55 years in prison, I know what it's like to go through tough times, and I love the fact that this sport has given me this opportunity, because it's my turn to give back.

You've already been a champion, you're already beloved by MMA fans, if you never win another fight your legacy in the sport is secure. And I think one of the reasons that some of your fans think you should retire is that they see how much you have to offer after you step away from MMA. Is it time for you to devote yourself to that full-time?
If somebody would help me with that process, I'd love to do that. I'd love to give all my time to talking to high schools. I don't know how, though. I'm just a fighter. If someone were to walk up to me and tell me how to start doing all that full-time, I'd love to do it. As it is, I'm setting up a learning center next to my gym, but as far as making that my living, I don't know how to start. I need an agent in the speaking world, I guess.

Is that your long-term ambition? Is that what you'll be doing in your 40s, 50s and 60s?
Absolutely. I want to be a father, a grandfather some day, and a coach. And all of those are about wanting to help kids. I want to affect the world in ways that I can't do fighting. I've won titles. I've had a world championship. I want to do more to make the world better.

Are your interests outside the cage distracting you from preparing? Or are you more focused than you were before because of the way you've grown mentally?
I'm much more focused. I'm having fun again. I'm having fun training. I'm having fun with my family. I'm having fun talking to kids, going to wrestling practices, visiting high schools. I'm very focused and I'm enjoying myself. I feel great and that's going to help come fight time.

What should we expect from your fight with Javier Vazquez?
He's tough. He's going to throw hard, he's going to clinch and he's going to try to get that fight on the floor. He wants to submit me. He thinks I have a weak ground game -- he probably thinks my game is altogether weak. I know he's going to punch, he's going to kick, and then he's going to try to get me on the ground, and I'm excited to see him try. In these fights I've lost, I've been beating myself. I'm better now and that's not going to happen.

Your preparation for this fight is going to be part of the focus of the documentary Driven. What are we going to see when that comes out?
The documentary is going to be what we're talking about -- I'm giving you the oral version. Me training, me getting ready for this fight, me opening my gym, me sitting down crying, feeling frustration, all of it. That's what the documentary is, all of these changes in my life, and it's made by an incredible director [Gregory Bayne]. It's going to be an uplifting story, because that's what my life is.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the MMA Fighting Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your fighting news from MMA Fighting