WEC 47: A changing of the guard

March 14, 2010

At WEC 47 we witnessed the birth of new stars, another step back for one of its brightest and a farewell to Mixed Martial Arts’ finest ambassador.

From what Jens Pulver told The MMA Hour, perhaps he’ll never truly retire. He told the show he prefers to “fade away.” There’s no doubt from where I sit that Pulver will remain heavily involved in the sport in some significant capacity, but his fighting days are over.

Pure and simple. Jens Pulver the warrior is done. You could see it in his eyes while tears were welling and hear it though the poignant tone of his voice as he addressed a live audience and later the media following his submission defeat to Javier “Showtime” Vazquez. It was the fourth straight time Little Evil failed to make it out of the first round, the third fight in a row he was forced to tap, and his fifth consecutive loss and seventh in his last eight fights.

"It's over," Pulver said, drawing a synergy between his glory days and a tee shirt of Nintendo’s original “Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out” video game. "The vintage, the authentic. I don't know how many times I can cry in front of all of you. I'll never say that (I'm retiring), but I'm telling ya'll, I love you way, way, way too much to put you through this again.

"I'm just a proud old man. I'm a proud papa I guess. I'm the godfather of this stuff, and it's a good place and a good way to go (out)."

Tributes poured in faster than when Pulver at his peak pounded opponents with combinations. Vazquez, who like Josh Grispi before him was a paradox of emotions ranging from elated to guilty, said he was honored just to write someone who was a pioneer for he and many, many others. "For many, many years, I was the biggest Jens Pulver fan," Vazquez said. "Coming up through the ranks that was the pinnacle of where I wanted to be.

Scott Jorgensen – his blink-of-an-eyelash submission win over Chad George etched his standing as a serious bantamweight contender – recalled a story heard all too often when talking about Pulver the person.

"I met Jens back in 2001 at Boise State," Jorgensen said. "He came in the wrestling room for a workout. He wrestled with me and gave me the hat off his head, slapped me on the back, and said if I ever needed anything to give him a call ... He's always someone who I looked up to over the years. He's from the heart ... I wouldn't be where I'm at without people like Jens."

Many in the MMA media wore hearts on their sleeves while pouring their sentiments, the best of them all coming from UFC.com’s Thomas Gerbasi. Even while WEC general manger Reed Harris all but said last Saturday was the final time we’d see Pulver inside a WEC cage, he made it clear that the door is wide open for him to contribute in any way he chooses.

Here’s what’s for certain: Pulver is back in Nampa, Idaho, running his new gym and already training like he’s preparing for another fight. He’ll remain in the spotlight as either an occasional WEC analyst or a sage to the new blood. He will be the subject of an upcoming DRIVEN documentary about his life and career, and working hard to establish a local youth center for battered women and children.

"Canyon County wants that and I want to be there to get it there," Pulver told me in December. "My goal is to take care of my community. I fit in better out here. I'm home. I look out here and see mountains. Why try to hang out with the masses?"

Pulver the fighter may have flamed out, but that’s not the big story. This is someone who was as low as any human being can go. He overcame the hell he endured for years that would have had a weaker person contemplating suicide to find his niche in life. He’s married to his soul mate, Kannika. He has all of his wits about him and gets to live a long life without special assistance. His MMA legacy isn’t tarnished and isn’t soiled, for Jens Pulver proved for the umpteenth time why he’s number one and a real champion of superstars.

***

By the end of last Saturday in Columbus, the WEC crowned a new champion (Dominick Cruz), a new top contender staked his claim to a title shot (Joseph Benavidez), new stars took big steps (L.C. Davis, Anthony Pettis) and a veteran roared back in the spotlight after quietly earning three straight wins (Bart Palaszewski). Benavidez immediately campaigned for a rematch with Cruz, who took a close unanimous decision in their first bout. This time it’d be for the title with now former champion Brian Bowles the next in line once he heals from a broken hand suffered during his ill-fated title defense. Even without the injury, Cruz’s hands and footwork were simply too fast ... Suddenly, Torres has suffered two straight devastating losses following a 17-fight winning streak and long run as bantamweight king, but just on merit alone he is far from finished as a top contender. One day after being sliced open and choked out by Benavidez in Round 2, Torres Tweeted these updates: “20 stitches in my forehead. Couldn't see and was breathing in blood, [stuff] happens. I will be back. I will come out with my hand raised or I will go out on my shield. In victory or defeat my head will always be up.”

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