Jens Pulver’s Hall of Fame induction exceeded even his wildest expectations.
The UFC’s first ever lightweight champion, Pulver is a pioneer of the sub-170 pound weight divisions in MMA, and last week, he finally put a capstone on his legendary career when he was inducted into the UFC’s Hall of Fame. Speaking with Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour on Monday, “Lil’ Evil” was still all smiles from the big event.
“I’ve got this big, cheesy smile, it hasn’t left!,” Pulver said. “It’s been — I don’t even know how to begin. My family, everybody that was there, the fans, the crowd, everything. I’m stuck. I don’t know what to say. It’s one of those things where I just did everything in my power to make sure you slow down, enjoy it, enjoy it to the best of your ability, enjoy every moment, take it all in. So that’s kind of what I did, just live by the minute and just embraced it.
“One of the cool things we had going on too was they were filming that ‘Where Are They Now?’… So I’m really excited when we get through all of this, that will come out probably in October or something, so we get to relive the whole thing again,” Pulver continued. “Then my producers… he filmed hours. So he’s got it all. Wait until you see these videos. He’s got one of me in the back, I’m watching Brian Butler induct me, I’m crying, I’m laughing, I’m cheering, I’m crying, I’m laughing, then I get called out and off we go. So there’s going to be a lot. We’re going to be living this thing for a little while, I think.”
Pulver retired from MMA in 2013, ending a 14-year career that saw him compete in the UFC, WEC, Pride, the IFL, and ONE Championship, among other promotions. Since then, he has taken over the UFC’s Twitch streaming channel, hosting watch-alongs for pay-per-views and doing other things that don’t involve getting punched for a living. But despite his long absence from fighting, he said that his induction felt much the same as when he was still competing in the UFC.
“You know what the weirdest thing was? I felt like I was fighting,” Pulver said. “I felt like Wednesday was the day where you weighed in and everything, and then Thursday in the afternoon, we had to go early to do sound check, and I got to give everybody a hug. Everybody was waiting around, I come down from the elevator, give everybody a hug, the high-fives, ‘Love y’all, I’ll see you at the show.’ It felt like my PTSD was going through the roof. I felt like I was going to say my goodbyes and I’m on my way to the arena, which I was only this time I wasn’t fighting, I was getting inducted. I had to convince myself, ‘This feels exactly the same way.’ So it was incredible.
“It was an awesome feeling, absorbing it. It’s a rush,” Pulver added. “You get nervous. I don’t think people understand and I say it all the time about time: money can’t buy it, we always wish we had more, and the fact that you all are in here giving us your time, the greatest thing in the world, to get out there and get in front of you. Obviously I was nervous when it came to giving my speech. I memorized the damn thing, I said it at least 25 damn times before I went out there but then I knew the emotion was going to jump in, all the people are there, I’m going to lock eyes with someone or something and then it’s just going to — but that’s just like in the fight world. It’s all golden until that walk out to the cage, BOOM, it’s like putting your feet in freezing cold water. It’s a rush, every time, it doesn’t matter. So you just want to make sure everything goes the way you’re rehearsing it up here [points to head].”
Pulver made his UFC debut in 1999 and won the UFC inaugural lightweight title two years later. After leaving the UFC due to contractual dispute in 2002, Pulver fought in a variety of organizations but came back to the UFC in 2006 and then coached opposite B.J. Penn on season five of The Ultimate Fighter.
After that, Pulver then chose to move to the WEC to help develop the featherweight division, challenging for the WEC featherweight title against Urijah Faber in 2008. Given his numerous contributions to both the UFC and MMA as a whole, many felt that Pulver’s induction to the Hall of Fame was long overdue. But considering how everything worked out, including getting inducted into the Hall of Fame alongside longtime friend and teammate Robbie Lawler, he is thrilled with everything.
“I can’t even — destiny,” Pulver said. “Again, it’s so weird. I love everybody when they say, ‘It’s about time.’ Thank you so much… I always say it’s the perfect time. Just look at the way that it happened and next thing you know I’m sitting here at Robbie’s fight — well, I’m commentating with Bas Rutten, but I’m at the same event, Robbie goes out there and just the way that he went out, all of a sudden there’s my little brother, and then I got to see Nick [Diaz], he was walking around, it was crazy, we were like two brothers, I was holding onto him and we were walking along just talking and catching up. Then we all got together for a minute! … My entire past all of a sudden rolled up into one big ball of greatness and it was cool because it was just the perfect time. And to see Robbie go out and the way that he went out, with his fight, I was crying…
“It was just an unbelievable moment to have all of this. I remember Robbie was 17-years-old, rolled up with a two by four hanging out his windshield and he had to go win this tough contest and he got $1000 and that’s how he paid for his windshield… He was a junior in high school when I first met him. We would go watch him train in high school and stuff. Robbie has literally been my little brother for a long time.”
The best part though, Pulver said, wasn’t the ceremony, or the honor, or getting inducted as part of arguably the greatest Hall of Fame class in UFC history. Instead, he said it was all his interactions with the fans over the past week in Las Vegas.
“My friends, my family, my cousin Justin, everybody [was great]. But above all of them, it was just so cool, the fans,” Pulver said. “No matter where you go, just rushing up to you and saying hello. I felt so bad when I couldn’t sign every autograph that day because we were there for a three-hour window and I felt horrible leaving people behind… The fans. There’s nothing like it. Some of the greatest interactions I’ve ever had in my life. People, they just want to give you their time. You get to just meet people and they get to talk to you and you get to make their day, and they put a smile on your face. They wait in line just to meet you, you meet their kids, you meet their friends, it’s the coolest thing on the planet. I love it.
“It crushed [my expectations],” Pulver concluded. “With my family, with Robbie, it couldn’t have been better. With Cowboy [Donald Cerrone], with Jose Aldo, with everybody. And with the fans. I really missed that. That was really cool to just be back in there and feel relevant, to fill that hole, just to go out there and hear everybody and stuff. It was better than I would have ever thought.”