One of the most influential fighters to grace the lightweight division of mixed martial arts, Jens Pulver thrilled fight fans with his superb mix of wrestling and striking skills during division’s formative years. The inaugural holder of the UFC lightweight championship belt, Jens Pulver held the title for more than a year before going forth to a rollercoaster career in smaller fight promotions. Pulver still fights today, competing in the flyweight division of Singapore-based ONE FC.
Growing up in a rough household, Pulver was abused and nearly killed by his alcohol father. Things began to turn around when a family friend urged him to join a youth wrestling program. Pulver won two state championships while in high school and later became a National Junior Collegiate Athletic Association All-American while attending junior college.
He then wrestled for Boise State University, but an injury abruptly ended his amateur wrestling career. It was during this time that he got himself into mixed martial arts, first fighting in underground fights before breaking into sanctioned events. His performance eventually caught the attention of then-Universal Fighting Championship matchmaker John Peretti.
Pulver moved to California and shortly trained with the Shamrocks. He packed his bags for Iowa afterwards to hone his skills better under the tutelage of Pat Miletich.
He debuted in the UFC 22 but settled for a draw with Alfonso Alcarez. He made an explosive return in UFC 24 by knocking out David Velasquez. After outpointing Joao Roque in UFC 26, Pulver leveled John Lewis in UFC 28, knocking out the Hawaiian just eleven minutes into the match.
The sensational win set up Pulver to match against the similarly flashy Caol Uno in UFC 30 for newly-created UFC bantamweight championship (which would later be renamed as lightweight). He secured the title with a majority decision win.
He successfully defended the crown against submission specialist Dennis Hallman and then upcoming talent BJ Penn. During these fights, Pulver began to combine defensive wrestling and boxing doctrines, which in the end was called as “spawl and brawl” tactic by MMA practitioners and aficionados.
However, a contract dispute unexpectedly led to his exile from the organization, thus cutting short his reign as champion. Pulver fought in smaller promotions before making his way to Japan, where he’ll have mixed results.
Pulver returned to UFC to contend in the lightweight division, but his comeback was marred a first round knockout defeat to Joe Lauzon. He was penciled as a coach for The Ultimate Fighter reality television show opposite his rival Penn. They met in show’s special finale where Pulver tapped out to Penn’s rear naked choke.
Afterwards, things unfortunately went downhill for Pulver. After winning his first World Extreme Championship, he incurred six straight defeats.
He may not be winning anymore like in the good old days and age might be finally getting the best of him, but Pulver continues to give fight fans a good show every time he steps inside the ring.
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