Jens Pulver's controversial UFC debut
Hardcore fans will remember UFC 22 for one fight - Frank Shamrock's historic bout against Tito Ortiz for the UFC Middleweight Championship. However, this same event introduced the MMA world to two other fighters that would go on to become icons - Matt Hughes, and the fighter this article is about, Jens Pulver. Pulver had his first sanctioned MMA fight at the Bas Rutten Invitational in April, 1999. Jens had incredible wrestling accolades under his belt by the time he dipped his toes in MMA, which started in underground tournaments where the lightweight often battled against heavyweights. With a very minor knowledge of submissions, courtesy of a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu purple belt he met named Alfredo, Jens relied on that wrestling pedigree to out-maneuver and out-position his opponents.
It was after one of these underground shows that Jens met Lowell Anderson, owner of a BJJ academy in Boise, Idaho (and currently operates a school in Nevada). Anderson saw great potential in the raw Pulver, and offered to train him and get him ready for his first fight on the records. With one month to get ready for the tournament, Jens was hesitant, but after hearing that UFC matchmaker John Perretti would be in attendance, it was an offer that Pulver could not refuse.
At the inaugural Bas Rutten Invitational in Colorado, Jens won his first fight by TKO after battering Curtis Hill to the point that his corner threw in the towel. When it came time to fight his second opponent in the tournament, David Harris introduced Jens to toeholds, and gave him his first loss in the same night. Despite that setback, Perretti was impressed by Pulver and informed him to come back at the next event, and if Pulver continued to impress, he would get a UFC contract to compete in the newly formed bantamweight division. Pulver did just that, plowing through Ray Morales and future UFC lightweight Joe Stevenson at the BR Invitational 3 to earn that chance in the UFC.
The dilemma was that Jens knew he could not train the way he needed to for this fight while staying in Boise. Before what would a turning point in his life, Pulver picked up the phone and called Bob Shamrock. Bob was the adopted father of Ken and Frank Shamrock, and had helped to train the other members of The Lion's Den, which at the time was one of the leading MMA gyms in the US. When Ken Shamrock left the MMA world to join the WWF, Bob started a new gym, "Shamrock 2000", where he continued to work with fighters like Jerry Bohlander, Mikey Burnett, and Pete Williams.
Immediately, Bob was telling Jens all of the things he wanted to hear, from looking at tape footage, to how to defend submissions. In Jens' autobiography, Little Evil: One Ultimate Fighter's Rise to the Top, Pulver talked about his first call with Bob:
As I listened to Bob Shamrock talk, I felt emotions well up inside of me. Here, at last, was the man I had been looking for, the man who could tell me how things were... When Bob finished his pep talk, he told me that if I still thought that Shamrock 2000 could help me, then he would fly me out to his place in Lodi, California, whenever I was ready.
Jens flew out as soon as he could, and walked into the doors of the underwhelming gym:
"There, behind a pile of ancient weight-lifting equipment, was a ring, a mat, and several heavy bags. Although it wasn't what I'd expected... I found myself smiling from ear to ear. It was an honor just to be in the gym where some of the world's top warriors had developed their skills."
Pulver got to trade blows with the likes of UFC veteran Cal Worsham and Erich Krauss, and roll with Valeri Ignatov (who was on the same UFC card as Jens, but had the unfortunate luck of facing Matt Hughes) and Steve Heath. By the end of his time training at Shamrock 2000, Pulver was more than ready for his big shot in the octagon.
"UFC 22: Only One Can Be Champion" took place at the Lake Charles Civic Center in Lake Charles, Louisiana on September 24, 1999, exactly seven months after his pro debut. Pulver's opponent was 5' 7" Alfonso "Alfie" Alcarez, who was known for his Muay Thai skills, but also won the 1989 Junior Nationals in Wrestling in Nevada and was part of the 1990 All-American Dream Team.
The two combatants blasted each other with everything they had in them, leaving it all in the cage. After a grueling 10 minute war that had the crowd on its feet, Pulver had his hand raised as the victor by decision. However, 30 minutes after being declared the winner, UFC officials headed to the locker room to inform Jens that the fight had been declared a draw instead. Jens was crushed, and told that there would be a rematch in the near future to settle the score. While this meant Jens had a second chance in the UFC, it also meant he did not officially get a "win" in his company debut.
Compounding the rage of his win being turned into a draw, Jens soon got the unfortunate news from Bob that "Shamrock 2000" would be closing its doors due to not earning enough money to stay afloat. However, Bob did not leave Pulver on his own for long, and told him to contact two guys in Iowa - Monte Cox and Pat Miletich.
Pulver never got his rematch with Alcarez, but what he did get was the chance to meet the man that would help mold him into a champion that fans learned to love. His opponent, Alcarez, continued to fight in MMA as well as pro kickboxing, but was never able to rack up a "W" on his MMA record after the Pulver fight. Bob Shamrock sadly passed away in January, 2010, but his legacy lives on with his fighters.