Jens Pulver was the UFC’s first lightweight champion. | Photo: Will Fox/Sherdog.com
Jens Pulver believes he has a little more evil to give.
A mixed martial arts pioneer, he has competed within some of the world’s most prominent promotions, from the Ultimate Fighting Championship and World Extreme Cagefighting to Pride Fighting Championships and Shooto, and wants to add one more accomplishment to an already lengthy list by winning the One Fighting Championship bantamweight grand prix.
Having advanced in the tournament with a technical decision victory over Ya Fei Zhao in October, Pulver will meet former Shooto champion Masakatsu Ueda in the semifinal round at OFC 8 “Kings and Champions” on April 5 in Singapore. The undercard will stream live and free on Sherdog.com.
During his 14-year career, Pulver has demonstrated his dangerous skill set in four separate weight classes, first rising to prominence as an undersized lightweight in the UFC.
“I’ve always been a small lightweight,” he said, “but the UFC did not have the lighter weight classes when I was fighting there.”
Pulver became the first-ever UFC lightweight champion and successfully defended his title twice, including a majority decision victory over B.J. Penn in January 2002; it was the Hawaiian’s first career defeat. “Little Evil” then left the UFC and over the next three years showed the MMA world he was also a viable competitor at 145 pounds, going a combined 4-2 in Shooto and Pride.
After a brief and unsuccessful return to the UFC as a lightweight in 2006, Pulver downshifted to 145 pounds to fight for the WEC. A 35-second submission win over Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts standout Cub Swanson was followed by a six-fight losing streak that left him to consider retirement. Pulver ultimately decided his work inside the cage was not yet done and elected to move to the bantamweight division. There, he faced fellow WEC veteran Coty Wheeler at MMA Fight Pit “Genesis” in August 2011, winning his 135-pound debut by second-round technical knockout at The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M.
Pulver has no easy task in the OFC bantamweight grand prix semifinals. Ueda wrestled in college and holds the rank of blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Yuki Nakai. The 35-year-old Japanese mainstay has won six of his last seven bouts and has never been knocked it in 20 professional appearances.
“Ueda’s a tough fighter,” Pulver said. “He’s been fighting all over the world, like me. He’s a gritty veteran who is very good at grinding and controlling his opponent. His opponents lose the will to fight when they are unable to create space. I have to be mentally prepared for a tough fight and not let him dictate where the fight takes place.
“I’m confident in my grappling skills,” he added. “I carved a career out of wrestling larger guys, so I’m not afraid of his grappling.”
Pulver recently left Team Curran in order to be closer to his children. However, for this camp, he put down roots in Kearney, Neb., alongside former NCAA wrestling champion T.J. Hepburn, among others. Although Pulver has been kept away from his family during training, his focus remains on them.
“My entire life now revolves around my beautiful children,” he said. “It’s tough sometimes, having to juggle training and taking care of my family. When I get a break, I just like to have fun with them. We either go to the pool or the park.”
Pulver, who turns 39 in December, graduated with a degree in criminal justice from Boise State University in Idaho but has no plans to ever utilize it. Instead, he wants to stay involved in MMA once he does decide to leave the cage behind. Most importantly, Pulver hopes to pass on his legacy to his children.
“I want them to learn about the discipline and the determination behind martial arts,” he said. “Those life lessons will help them further in life.”
For now, Pulver has his sights set on Ueda and capturing One Fighting Championship gold.
“I want a final shot at the title,” he said. “I still have what it takes to be champion, and I want to represent One FC as their bantamweight champion.”