You can`t talk about hardcore lightweight NHB fighters and not mention Jens Pulver.
You can`t talk about hardcore lightweight NHB fighters and not mention Jens Pulver. His fans and friends call him "Lil Evil". His opponents usually call him one tough SOB. Jens has destroyed a lot of opponents in the octagon. One of his most impressive victories was when he defended his UFC title against BJ Penn.
Walking through the MGM Grand Hotel just hours before cornering Matt Hughes to another virtually flawless victory, I spoke to Jens in the lobby. Here we talk about the legacy of the Team Miletich, the true style of a champion and if he has any desire to see BJ in the octagon again.
AB: So how`s things?
JP: I`m just lovin` the excitement of the show. We got Matt Hughes fighting tonight. I`m gonna be in the corner with Matt Hughes.
AB: There was a lot of confusion with Joe Riggs weight. What happened?
JP: Because it`s a title fight if you are over two pounds, it`s an automatic non-title bout. Matt still agreed to take the fight, but he [Riggs] couldn`t make the weight.
AB: Matt Hughes has exploded onto the scene in recent years because of the UFC TV show. Your team is one of the most enduring in NHB. Now you are doing PRIDE FC in Japan. So, how does it feel after all this time to see all the growth?
JP: It seems like we`ve been around for a long time. Back when Pat was runnin` it and Jeremy was back in the UFC fighting Frank Shamrock. We`ve been here [in the UFC] through all the changes, transitions, black balling from cable Tv, going BACK to cable TVâ€¦We`ve had five champions here at one point or another. It`s been an amazing ride.
Especially now with the UFC TV show. It was amazing to see Matt Hughes walking around this week and to see people exploding on him when he walked in the room. I remember a year ago it`s be 500 dollars to wear all of our clothes. Now huge companies with major endorsements are steppin` in.
These guys have done a great job in blowing up the Ultimate Fighting Championships. It`s great to watch. Because again, we`ve been around for a long time. It`s great to know what we can still hang.
There are a lot of new, young fighters out there. They have seen the sport grow. They were able to prepare by mixing the grappling with the boxing and the muay thai. Then when they are ready, they grow up and say "I want to be an Ultimate Fighter".
With us, we we`re coming out of college like- "We`ll fight". We try to evolve as the sport evolves. It`s great to see Matt out there dominating at 175 pounds. It`s great to watch Jeremy Horn and Tim Sylvia. We got young guys still comin`.
We`re still here and we`re going strong.
AB: What`s going on with you?
JP: I`m over in Japan fightin` at PRIDE FC. Right now they are the ones building a 165 division. I got the opportunity to step up in weight and help build the weight class and I took it. I`m still trying to get the point where I`m not walking around at the weight class, but I`m a little heavier.
My job is to be a pioneer. To set standards for people. So, I`m over there trying to get that international market going. I`m out there bangin` away, making fans and having a good time. I`m an advocate for the little guys. I wanna see them have a future in this sport. I`ll be over there for another year at least. I plan to keep on fightin` so we`ll see what happens.
AB: What are the biggest differences you notice in the American NHB culture and the Japanese NHB culture?
JP: The American NHB culture is coming into what the Japanese culture already was. They were already extremely educated in all aspects of the sport. The fans over there- 58,000 come to a show.
I remember when things started out here people would be like "What the? How`d that fight end? What`s that ground game about?"
Now they understand submission attempts, submission failures and you see a different reaction and a different cheer from the crowd. Now they understand that the fighters are not huggin`. They are doing some serious ground fighting.
Japan has had it for a while. What the UFC is doing is giving the American fans that education. The fans are really embracing it, like the fighters that started it knew that they would.
AB: I gotta talk to you about BJ. You have been the only one to stop him. That was an amazing testament to your resolve as a fighter. Recently we`ve seen BJ in K-1 and Rumble on the Rock. What are your thoughts on a rematch?
JP: I`m extremely interested. He`s obviously been fighting at heavier weights. I think we`d have to find an agreeable weight class to fight at. I`m not sayin` he`d have to meet me at 155. But I think we`d have to find an agreeable weight class and a venue that wants to see the fight.
I know they have the Rumble on the Rock. That`s his families show. They are doing a great job.
I know we like to jaw at each other and stuff. But you`d be a fool to say BJ can`t fight. BJ can fight- bottom line.
So, I don`t wanna give him too much of a weight advantage in the process. Of course we`d have to come to money terms. But I think that fight is something people want to understand and see.
I know we`ll both do it. We`re both fighters. We`re both professionals. I don`t turn down fights. I fight who I`m told to fight. So, the day my manager calls and says "You`re fightin` BJ"â€¦Well then, I`m fightin` BJ!
AB: A lot of people were surprised when he went up a weight class to fight Matt Hughes. I got the impression that the entire team, but especially Hughes found that insulting at the time. Like "Dude, you didn`t even get past Jens and now you`re tryin` to get with Matt"?
Then BJ took the fight and WON, by submission. I think his victory was a shocker to many people. What did you make of the fight that day? What do you make of it now? What did the team learn from that event as you guys look to the future?
JP: We didn`t think he stood a chance. Matt is so dominating, so strong, so powerful. "BJ decides to go up a weight and the guy he wants to fight is Matt Hughes? The toughest 175 founder there is"? We all felt the same way.
We all felt the same way and took it lightly. "There`s not way he can handle Matt`s strength?"
We believed it from head to toe. I know Matt believed it.
It was not so much that "Well Jens beat him, I`m gonna beat him."
I think it opened all our eyes. Like. "Wow". I was stunned. Extremely stunned.
Anybody can get beat by any given person. That`s what we were saying.
That`s what happens. But it`s not the loss. It`s what you do afterwards. Just look at what Matts done afterwards! He dominated.
AB: To BJ`s credit, after his big loss to you, he stood back up and drove forward. Also to Matt`s credit after his loss to BJ, he mustered up his spirit and drove forward. I must agree it`s the reaction to the losses that define true champions.
JP: That`s all you can do when you are a professional. You`ll have that off day. When it happens, you don`t quit. You don`t retire. You come back and fight again.
Or, maybe you are that fighter. Maybe you can`t take the loss and it beats you up so bad, you`re done.
But that`s not Matt`s style. It`s not BJ`s style and it`s not my style.
It`s not our teams style. If you beat us once, we`ll go back to the drawing board. We`ll try and come back to beat you again.
Adisa Banjoko is author of the upcoming book "Lyrical Swords Vol. 2: Westside Rebellion". For more info visit. www.lyricalswords.com today!