Jens Pulver is planning to bring a little evil back to the WEC cage one more time.
The former UFC lightweight champion and MMA legend, who has not been heard from since losing to Josh Grispi in June and was assumed to be finished as an active fighter, plans to return to featherweight action in early 2010, he told FanHouse.
"I'm going to fight again," he said. "And I'm about as confident as I possibly can be."
The comeback will mark an important point in a personal growth period for the legend, who suffered from anxiety and depression for several years until recently seeing a psychiatrist for the first time.
He says the problems crippled him in his athletic career and personal life for almost six years, but that after two weeks of taking new medication, he felt revitalized. Finally clear-headed, he decided to leave his longtime surroundings in Iowa and move to Nampa, Idaho, where he is currently building a training center to be called Driven Training Facility. (He also owns a Driven clothing line).
"For me, the biggest thing was that I wasn't going to take a fight unless I got out of the sad-ass circle I was sitting in in Iowa, and I'm not attacking any one person there," he said. "I wouldn't do it if I didn't come home. God love the midwest and Iowa, thank you for everything, but I missed the blue turf, I missed the water, I missed the mountains. Out here, I'm back where I started and doing it right."
The move to Idaho is so recent there are still boxes to be unpacked. But he has with him his wife Nikka and son Karson (another daughter does not live with him), in a setting that feels like home. Pulver attended college in Idaho and only left to further his MMA career. Now, he's come full circle in trying to revive it. There are doubters, of course. Maybe even some in his own company. Moments after a loss to Urijah Faber in January, he was surprisingly asked in the cage by WEC broadcaster Craig Hummer if he was still "relevant."
The question nearly floored Pulver at the time, and he responded emotionally as the fans roared their support for him. He sees it as another of the peaks and valleys of a life that has always been open for public discourse. No matter what, he always seems to offer his fans his heart. He's most famously been very open about his abusive childhood, including sharing a story of his father putting a gun into his mouth as a seven-year-old boy.
The upbringing left scars that carried far into his adulthood, even when he was racking up MMA victories and winning championships. Most recently, he suffered through the passing of one of his closest friends, MMA fighter Justin Eilers, who was killed in a domestic dispute with his stepfather James Robert Malec last year. Eilers is buried in Nampa.The fact that he worked around his self-doubt, lack of self-esteem and general sadness is something of a minor miracle.
"I lived in a dark cloud," he said. "People think I fight because I'm arrogant. It's just the opposite. I always felt I had nothing to offer. People would ask me, 'Why don't you do seminars?' I thought, 'Who's going to come to my seminar?' I don't believe I'm popular even though people tell me I am. I didn't allow myself to embrace what comes from all the hard work I did to get to where I was."
Though some fighters say they find peace in the cage, Pulver was finding increasingly more confusion in the sporting arena as the years went on.
When he was younger, he felt immortal there, but as he got older and understood the reality of life, that feeling began to fade.
"I'd just blank out," he said. "I'd stand there, couldn't think of my game plan. All I'd be thinking is 'Don't get punched.' Then, bang, I'd get punched. When I was younger, I was bulletproof and 10 feet tall. My feeling was if you hit me, I'm going to hit you back, and twice as hard. But over time it was like, Don't get caught.' I'm not using that as an excuse, just telling it like it is."
He hopes the return to his roots combined with his new medication will change that. He doesn't know for sure, as he hasn't done any MMA training since his fight with Grispi, but what he does know is how it makes him feel now.
"I love feeling normal again," he said. "I've got my balance back. Before, my aggression level was wasted by the depression and anxiety. It became hard to do five minutes when before I could do 25 in my sleep. Now, physically, I feel great. I have an anchor lifted off my head and chest."
After losing six of his last seven, Pulver's career mark is 20-12-1, and most assumed his career was over. But now, it's almost like he's starting from scratch. He has a new home, and will soon have a new gym. When it's ready, he'll start training again (he admits he has some work to do on his body, characterizing himself as "chubby") with no expectations and nothing weighing him down. He'll always have the legacy of being UFC's first 155-pound champion, and he'll always be seen as a pioneer. But that's not what matters most to him.
"The only legacy I got is one: I'm as real as can be," he said. "I wore my heart on my sleeve. I gave my fans honesty from the day I started. I think I was one of the most genuine fighters out there, and if that's my legacy, that's cool with me."