Photo by Susumu Nagao/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Jens Pulver had finally found peace with not being in the UFC Hall of Fame.
Despite serving as the promotion’s first ever lightweight champion, the now 48-year-old MMA pioneer felt like perhaps too much time had passed to be considered. On top of that, Pulver didn’t want to campaign his way into a spot in the UFC Hall of Fame, because he felt that wasn’t the way to earn such an honor.
“I love and appreciate all of you again for bringing my name and keeping it relevant and bringing it up. Every year this would happen,” Pulver explained Monday on The MMA Hour. “I was always in the firm belief if you have to sell it yourself, you don’t deserve it. That’s why I never retweeted or joined in on it.”
That all changed on Saturday night during the UFC 284 broadcast when Pulver was taken by surprise as he hosted a watch party for the UFC Twitch channel, a gig that’s kept him plenty busy over the past few years. Suddenly, a highlight reel started to play.
According to Pulver, nobody gave him any hint that he was being announced as a UFC Hall of Fame inductee. His family kept it a secret from him, even as his son sat down to record him while in the middle of the Twitch stream.
It took Pulver a moment to realize what was happening. Then he was immediately overcome with emotion.
“I was just stunned,” Pulver said. “I had no idea. I had let it go. I was in a place that I was OK in life, because otherwise I never would have said yes to that ‘where are they now [documentary].’ I was like this, ‘Well, at least they’ll know what I’m doing, it will help me promote the UFC Twitch stream, yeah I’ll do it.’
“So I was in a good place. I never, ever, ever expected what was about to happen right there.”
The “where are they now” feature had been pitched to Pulver prior to the UFC Hall of Fame announcement, and he felt like that was a good enough way to share his story with a new generation of fans who maybe never saw him compete during his glory years.
When he actually found out about his induction, which will happen during UFC International Fight Week in July, Pulver felt a sense of closure to his career.
“Bigger than the world title. This is everything to me,” Pulver said. “It’s the ending. World championships can come and go, but the Hall of Fame, you get forever. They’ll always look at me as the champion and the first ever UFC lightweight world champion. The godfather, I say. But this is immortality.
“This is something I can hand to my son and my daughter Hayden and my daughter Madelaine. I just want you to be proud of me. I had so many regrets — would’ve, should’ve, could’ve — in my career. Moments at the end, the losing streak, and I never knew if this would happen. It means everything to me, because this is such a rare moment.”
The occasion also marked a time for Pulver to share a special moment with his son Carson, who was filming his father’s reaction as the UFC Hall of Fame announcement was made.
It took Pulver back to his childhood, when he grew up in an abusive household, and a promise he made to himself that finally felt fulfilled.
“To look at my son was it,” Pulver said. “It’s ironic. I shot back to a moment, there was a time when my dad had beaten me really bad and I was just in tears and I was thinking to myself, crying in bed, ‘One day when I have a son, I’m never going to treat him like this. He’ll never know what this is like. He’ll never know what pain is like. He’ll never know what it’s like to be afraid of his father. To run when he sees him at home.’
“Then all of a sudden there’s my son and it just started hitting me. There’s tears welling up in my eyes right now. I got to ask him, ‘I hope you’re proud of your dad, because I wasn’t proud of mine. I hope you’re proud of your father.’ It was huge.”