For a brief period in time, Jens Pulver was the best lightweight fighter in the world. He was the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight champion, riding high after defeating B.J. Penn at UFC 35 by Majority Decision to retain his belt.
The status as the top dog in the sport was short lived as Pulver had a falling out with the promotion and was unable to recreate the magic in Japan. Knockout losses to Takanori Gomi at Pride Shockwave 2004 and Hayato Sakurai at Pride Bushido 9 illustrated that Pulver couldn't find success against the new breed of fighter.
After the Sakurai loss, Pulver's mixed martial arts (MMA) record was 19-6-1. Decent by all definitions but also the type of record that's usually attributed to a gatekeeper or journeyman, not a championship-caliber fighter.
Fast forward eight years and Jens Pulver is coming off his 19th career loss. His return to the Zuffa-fold was both unsuccessful and extremely disappointing for those that hope for "Lil Evil" to return to form. Even a drop to his more natural weight class of Featherweight failed to provide success.
After finally getting bounced from World Extreme Cage Fighting (WEC), Pulver's record in the promotion was a pitiful 1-5 with four first round stoppages.
Last night (Nov. 23, 2013), Pulver faced former-Olympic wrestler Sami Aziz in the main event of Superior Challenge 9 in Gothenberg, Sweden. For three rounds, Aziz outstruck and outwrestled Pulver to take home a unanimous decision victory.
The 41 year old Aziz used the opportunity to retire from MMA in front of his countrymen. His career record was 6-3-1 (1) with Pulver being the most recognizable win. It was a perfect way for the Swede to walk away from the sport after an eight year career.
Pulver? Pulver is still trudging along. If there is a promotion that is willing to give him "two hots and a cot" and maybe a few shekels for his troubles, Pulver is willing to show up. He hasn't quite reached the "Bob Sapp" levels of not caring, but that's because Sapp's career was always defined by the "freakshow" aspect.
At this point it's clear that Pulver isn't the fighter who successfully defended the UFC Lightweight belt twice. That's a given. But it's even more clear that Pulver isn't even the fighter that took Urijah Faber to a five round decision in a losing effort.
Pulver is a fighter who is competing long past his "sell by" date, hoping to cash a pay check to keep the lights on. And while it's clear that it's time to retire, it's also pretty obvious that he can't because of circumstances. He's not fighting for his legacy because that was tarnished a few years ago. He's fighting to survive.
Pulver is one of those pioneers who failed to cash in on the MMA boom of the late 2000s. Where some of his peers' loyalty to the UFC was rewarded with big money contracts and even bigger pay-per-view (PPV) checks, Pulver never saw a big return for his early efforts.
If the past five years haven't taught Pulver that it's time to retire, I don't know what will. Pulver's legacy is of a fighter who just didn't know when to hang it up, and hung around too long that retirement probably seems impossible.