Only three of the four quarterfinal bouts for the ONE FC Bantamweight Grand Prix have been announced, but with Masakatsu Ueda, Yusup Saadulaev and Kevin Belingon among the participants it is set to be extremely competitive.
For longtime mixed martial arts (MMA) veteran Jens Pulver, the opportunity to be involved in a tournament like this was too good to turn down, but he knows that to win the entire competition, which gets underway at ONE FC: 'Rise of Kings' this Saturday (Oct. 6, 2012), he is going to have to get past some of the best bantamweights in the world.
"To win the ONE FC Bantamweight Grand Prix would be massive for me, that’s what’s in my head, that’s what’s in my heart, that’s what’s in my mind. I want to to go out there and shoot it out with these guys, but these guys are extremely tough, there’s a lot of 135 lbs studs in there, these guys are hard to beat. I just want to go out there and be competitive, that’s my job, to get out there and be as aggressive as I always have."
He will be a favorite to win his first fight against Yanfei Zhao but while the Chinese fighter might be short on experience the warning signs are there. His losses are to two of the best pound for pound fighters in China and he went the full three rounds in one of them, so he must be more than merely a Sanda fighter.
For Pulver it is a step into the unknown, the only thing he is sure of is that he will be older than his opponent.
"I just expect youth and energy, the one Sanda fighter I ever been with it was frustrating to move in on him because the side kicks just kept pushing me away and then they time you and come in with the leg kicks. I don’t know too much about their hands or their boxing but I know they are strong with their kicks. I don’t know much about my opponent except he’s young."
On his ONE FC debut, against unbeaten featherweight title contender Eric Kelly, the 37 year old appeared to be rolling back the years in the opening exchanges. He rocked the Filipino on a couple of occasions but the first round seemed to sap all his energy and he looked a shadow of himself in the second.
Even though he was disappointed by the loss Pulver was able to to take a lot of positives out of his performance in that opening round.
"I was loving the first round and I had a smile on my face because the things I had worked on were the things that worked but then I just hit the brakes pretty hard and I got flat footed and stopped moving and became an easy target. I was in the corner after the first round and I thought to myself ‘my lungs are burning so bad’ and it’s almost like he heard it because he just went for the liver."
That fight in Manila was just over a month ago and Pulver has since been taking steps to ensure he doesn't run out of steam so dramatically in Singapore.
"I been sprinting and working on the cardio side of it and building that up and improving the conditioning side. I’ve always been known for being in great shape so I have just been working hard on that aspect. I’ve been working on improving that cardio a ton."
'Working' and 'improving' are two terms at the forefront of Pulver's vocabulary. His first amateur MMA fight might have been 15 years ago but he feels he is far from the finished article and that no matter how much experience he has the learning process will never end.
"For me what gets me up in the morning and gets me pumped is the ability to work on new things. I know I'm not a complete fighter, never have been. I walked into this thing as a brawler and worked hard and just punched my way to a world title and out-conditioned everybody. I enjoy learning the game, I’m a student trying to understand the game and change up my skills."
The former UFC lightweight champion might be trying his hardest to keep up with the competition in a sport which is constantly evolving but there are some habits which really do die hard.
"I can always say 'I'm gonna try and take it slower and have a paced, thought out fight' but I still have that old school attitude, the bell goes ‘ding’ and I start throwing and getting into a barn burner, that’s just the brawler that’s always been inside of me.
I’m not the most technical guy so I spend every day learning, learning how to pace myself and pick my shots and pick my battles, when to mix it up when to slow it down. My mentality before was to bite down, they hit me once I hit 'em twice and just keep throwing until something happens so trying to change up my attitude has been tough because when you get up there under the lights you just start going, you can’t help it you know?"
After leaving the UFC he fought for Pride and Shooto and is no stranger to competing in Asia but he still says he is relishing the opportunity offered to him by ONE FC.
"ONE FC has got an incredible show and I have loved every minute of it. It’s huge, I just got to do the ‘Thrilla in Manila’, I mean think about it... The Muhammed Ali legacy. I got to go to the Philippines and now I’m here in Singapore. I love it, the crowd, the fans, everybody, it’s phenomenal. It’s just what I wanted to do, this is how I wanted to end it to be over here and be a part of an organization like ONE FC, you can’t beat that. I’m real lucky."
As the old adage goes 'you make your own luck' and after competing in the biggest organizations in the East and West since the days when most people didn't even know what the letters MMA stood for Pulver deserves to spend the last day's of his career in the limelight of the most prestigious promotion in Asia at present.
It is a chance for fans in places like Singapore and the Philippines to get a glimpse of the first ever UFC lightweight champion but Pulver wants people to respect him for what he is now, not what he once was. He showed against Kelly that he can still compete, at ONE FC: 'Rise of Kings' he needs to go a step further and book a place in the semi finals by beating Yanfei Zhao
ONE FC: ‘Rise of the Kings’ will be headlined by a bout between Shinya Aoki and Arnaud Lepont. The online stream will be $10 USD and it will also be available on pay-per-view (PPV) in the US for the first time.
For more information visit: www.onefc.com