COLUMBUS, Ohio – He couldn’t say it, but his first-round submission to Javier Vasquez’s at WEC 47 was likely the last time “Lil’ Evil” will step into the cage as a competitor.
It was the culmination of Pulver’s hard luck streak that saw him defeated in seven of eight high-profile contests. It all started with a knockout by a debuting Joe Lauzon at UFC 63. Considered one of the greatest upsets in the sport’s young history, Pulver made a poor first impression on the audiences introduced to the sport by the 2005 Bonnar-Griffin Boom.
It was a far cry from his masterful majority decision over BJ Penn at UFC 35. However, The Ultimate Fighter season five endeared Pulver to mixed martial arts’ newfound viewers but a subsequent loss to Penn after the show aired ushered Pulver out of the UFC again. A drop into the WEC’s 145-pound class—a division suited for Pulver from the beginning but one that hardly existed when he started—kept his star growing despite the losing skid.
Pulver’s popularity was due to charm and honesty. A gritty competitor who talks openly about his horrific childhood, Pulver is revered as much for being knocked out by Takanori Gomi as he is for knocking out Stephen Palling. He’s loved as much for his 25-minute June 2008 championship loss to dominant featherweight king Urijah Faber at WEC 34 as he is for his 2001 classic title defense against Penn.
After submitting to Josh Grispi at WEC 41 last June, Pulver was unsure about retiring. He then shared with me what he believed to be the greatest moment of his career:
“I think the magnitude of fighting Caol Uno and fighting for that title. A lot of people didn’t understand or knew why, but when I won that belt, I was allowed at that point…I was able to look at my abusive father and take that entire life of growing up being beaten. Getting beaten bad, shotguns in my face from my dad and stuff like that. When I won that belt, I was cutting the ties to all of it. At that point, I started to be able…I erased my past.
“And as my brother sits in prison for 55-years, my sister’s in jail lost her kid, I got my baby brother Able whose got a master’s in literature, you know, married. I got my mother; Her new husband is incredible. And me. There’s a new Jens Pulver in town. That’s the name of my father. And he was the alcoholic, wife-beatin’, child abusin’ son-of-a-bitch that he was. When I won that belt, that changed everything.”
After his fight at WEC 47, Pulver pointed to his TapouT shirt, which played on Pulver’s resemblance to Little Mac from Nintendo’s Mike Tyson’s Punch Out, and demonstrated again why he’s so beloved.
“I love you all way, way, way too much to put you all through this again,” Pulver said. “You guys have made my life a miracle.”