Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Legacy of a 'Little Evil'


For anyone that is unfamiliar with the sport of Mixed Martial Arts, the above listed title may suggest that the following is a short story about Horror or Suspense. The irony is that it is just the opposite. It is the story of a man who overcame the odds of growing up in an environment filled with horror to go on and become a World Champion, when nobody thought he could. More importantly though, is how he did it while capturing the hearts of MMA fans worldwide. This is the story of Jens 'Little Evil' Pulver.

To say that the story of Jens Pulver is a tale of rags to riches would be an understatement. The oldest of four children, Pulver grew up in the State of Washington in what he has personally classified as "a daily hell". While the worst most kids growing up might have to endure is dealing with a local bully at school, Jens had to worry about much more from his alcoholic abusive father; and being the oldest only meant he had to deal with it first and worst.

As stated in his own autobiography, 'Little Evil, One Ultimate Fighter's Rise to the Top', his father once placed a gun in his mouth when he was seven, only to remove it and tell him, "you aren't worth the bullets". Yet, from this environment came the will of a champion. Introduced at an early age to the sport of wrestling by a family friend, Jens learned to control his anger and depression and use it as motivation on the mat where he would go on to become a two-time State Champion.

This would only be the beginning though as his wrestling ability would take him to Junior College, where he would go on to attain JUCO All-American status, eventually earning a scholarship to Boise State. An injury would ultimately end his wrestling career, but not his chance at earning a college degree, which he did in Criminal Justice.

If the story ended here, it would already be considered a success, but it doesn't. While in college in the late '90's, there was a new sport just beginning to finally evolve and take flight and it was just the new competition Jens needed to continue his athletic career. With Mixed Martial Arts slowly starting to boom both nationally and internationally, Jens found a school where he could train and hone the skills necessary to compete in MMA; And compete he did.

In April, 1999 he had his first professional MMA fight and to no one's surprise he won. Only four fights and five months later, he would find himself competing in the UFC, which was slowly establishing itself as the major league of MMA. He did not win his first UFC fight, but he did not lose either as the fight ended in a draw. Nonetheless, the promotion saw enough in Jens to bring him back and what they noticed, he would go on to prove by winning his next five fights in the octagon, along with a few others sprinkled in between.

Along the way, Jens found out something else about himself. He not only could wrestle, but he could punch and with power no less. This made him a force to be reckoned with as can be attested by his (4-0) professional record in boxing. In less than three years of professional competition, Jens Pulver would become a World Champion, yet in his way stood a prodigy.

BJ Penn was the next big thing and as we can see today, he was everything he was billed to be. There was no way, even after all he had accomplished, that Jens Pulver could defeat the multi-talented Penn, especially at lightweight. However, as he had done all his life before, Jens overcame the odds and did defeat Penn @ UFC 35, surviving five grueling rounds to be the only man ever to defeat Penn at the weight class, while retaining his hold as the first ever UFC Lightweight Champion of the World.

Eight years later, Jens Pulver is an elder statesman in the sport he helped to build. The evolution of the sport has proven too much for him to compete anymore with the new generation of fighters, however something has happened along the way. With his humble demeanor and boyish smile, Jens Pulver became a fan favorite and an iconic figure, reaching a status level that only a chosen few have attained in the sport. A level of popularity where even if you lose, it doesn't matter; People want to see you and love you.

I witnessed this first hand last summer as I stood in line at The Beach @ Mandalay Bay waiting to watch UFC 100 and from out of nowhere, Jens Pulver happened to walk by. As he was quickly ushered into a hallway, people cheered his name and gave him an ovation as though he had just won a fight. Jens response, what else? A sheepishly shy grin and wave to the crowd. Only fighters such as Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture, the absolute cream of the crop in this sport, have reached this level of adoration. Ironically, they are both in the Hall of Fame, which is where the legacy of a 'Little Evil' is sure to land one day soon.

2 comments:

  1. Very nice piece on Jens "Little Evil" Pulver, he is a cornerstone to the sport of Mixed Martial Arts.

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  2. You gotta love Jens! He's a true pioneer and legend in the game. I hope he considers packing it in and goes the commentary route. He's done a great job with that. It sounds like he still wants to fight though. Once a fighter, always a fighter, and Little Evil epitomizes the word!

    Great read, Sam!

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