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What words come to mind when you read the name “Jens Pulver?” Jens

 

Immediately, they register: Legend. Veteran. Champion.

 

So, what about if you asked Jens the same question?

 

His responses differ: Reject. Failure. Has-been.

 

From someone who is considered “the godfather” of the UFC‘s 155-pound division, this may astonish you. But Jens’ reputation precedes him, and I know for a fact that any terrible description a critic could possibly conjure for him, he has already heard before…from himself.

 

Pulver [27-18-1] is coming off an April 5th One FC loss to Masakatsu Ueda in Singapore. He was submitted via Brabo Choke in the second round.

 

“I’ve been beating myself up pretty bad about it. Physically everything was there, but I have just come to the realization that me and jet lag are not friends. I have never had jet lag destroy me like this. Conditioning wise, I was in such great shape, but my feet went flat. As far as physically, I have never been as ripped, lean and ready to go.”

 

He continues, “It was humbling. [Ueda] is a great former world champion; he was tough. The way I feel inside is a lot worse than the way it looked on TV, because to me it just looked like I took a beating, but I just got caught again.”

 

“No excuses; I said I wanted it,” he explains. “I wanted to travel. I didn’t know how it would hit me at this age. Even now, it’s still driving me crazy. It zaps your stamina bar; you’re just like a walking zombie.”

 

I ask Jens if he would take another fight, if there is something on the horizon.

 

“I don’t know. I don’t even think past this afternoon.”

 

I insist, “People want to know!”

 

Jens“I know!” he exclaims. “Nobody is harder on me than me, and it’s hard to explain to people unless they understand the ideas behind anxiety and depression, or what I call, ‘a depressed anxiety.’ I just beat myself up negatively so much, it doesn’t matter what other people say.”

 

“If there’s another one out there, we will see,” he tells me. “I don’t know if you’re supposed to feel this good physically at 38. I really do feel the best I ever have, except when I go with these 25-year-old wrestlers. I just try to hold on, man; it’s like riding a bull! So I’m learning how to adjust and be a different kind of fighter, and that takes time and takes work.”

 

I ask Jens to give me the scoop on his wrestling and martial arts background.

 

“I started off wrestling, but then I got so addicted to punching. When Duane Ludwig knocked me out, I thought ‘I really got to take this boxing seriously!’ So then I started boxing pro, and I really got into the standup. Now I’m just too old to be trying to shoot the lights out with the youngsters; I need to get back to being a wrestler.”

 

Pulver tells me that changing it up is his only strategy right now. “You’ve got to rebuild and start over. I just happen to have a name that doesn’t allow me to do it in silence, it doesn’t allow me to hide. I’m trying to learn how to be a more well-rounded fighter, trying to have fun, and walk away from this sport not hating it as much as I was there for a while.”

 

Also on the agenda? Coaching the younger generation:

 

“I am having fun coaching. I used to laugh when I heard the expression, ‘Man, I’ve forgotten more about fighting than you’ll ever learn!’ But now, I understand what they’re saying. I’m not trying to be the ‘old dog,’ trying to hang on though. It helps me battle my anxiety and depression.”

 

Jens

“When I was focused on fighting, I became a world champion,” he tells me. “So when I focus on being a coach, I will be the best coach there is.”

 

I ask what would happen if Jens were forced to pull away from fighting for the rest of his life.

 

“I would learn to adapt; I would learn to appreciate the things that I have. Lance [Steffen] has been a phenomenal mental coach. My wife, my kids… I know later on they’ll be happy, they’ll be proud of me for what I did, what I’ve done. I can’t chalk everything up to my last fight.”

 

He stresses, “Even though my name has died in the UFC, I was still there when it first began. So, at some point when it’s all said and done, I’m learning how to be proud of what I’ve done, rather than hanging my head on the ‘misses’ and the ‘almosts.’”

 

“Never close the door on the person you will become in a year or in two years, because you haven’t met them. Think about that,” Jens instructs me. “As bad as you think it is, don’t close the door on the person you haven’t met in five years, who you are going to be. I don’t know what the 42-year-old champion is going to be like, but I don’t want to piss him off! [Laughs]”

 

Jens and I talk about the UFC next. I know this is a sensitive subject for him, but also one of great importance in his life.

 

“[Leaving the UFC] is the one mistake I will never be able to take back or change. The biggest regret was giving up the world title and leaving. That was the worst thing I could have ever done and I will never be forgiven for it, nor do I deserve to be. I wish I could go back and say, ‘Here, have the belt back,’ and then I would have just fought in the UFC and would still have been a part of it.”

 

In his second contract with the UFC, Jens faced current lightweight contender, Joe Lauzon, losing by knockout in round one.

 

“The second time I came back, I lost. It wasn’t like they didn’t give me an opportunity,  G-d knows they tried to give me as many as they could, even in the WEC. I just couldn’t put the wins together,” he describes. “I was so mentally done, it didn’t matter.”

 

“Do I miss [the UFC]?” he asks aloud. “I miss them to death. Am I proud to have been a part of it? Absolutely. Do I wish things could have been different? Of course.”

 

Jens continues to lament, “I miss Dana, I miss Lorenzo, I miss the UFC. I miss just talking to them. I wish I could work for them or with them. This is the only time I have ever said it.” Jens

 

After his stinging loss to Lauzon, the former champ was hired to coach The Ultimate Fighter 5 opposite B.J. Penn. Much to Jens’ dismay, Joe was chosen as one of the competitors.

 

“Here you’ve got somebody that dropped one of the coaches; of course it was awkward,” he describes. “I had B.J. who wanted to rip my head off, Joe that dropped me, and now I’ve got to try to convince this team that I am worth listening to.”

 

He advised his team to do as he said, not as he did. “I have been around phenomenal coaches, world champions: Pat MiletichJeremy HornMatt Hughes. I was right there with them. I won a world title. I told some of the guys, ‘Trust me on the conditioning and on the mental side, and I am going to allow you to fight the way you want to fight. I didn’t try to change any fighter from what they already knew; I just wanted them to be in the best shape they could be.”

 

“Look at Lauzon now though, man; that kid’s a beast,” he adds. “He’s phenomenal. It all works out at the end of the day.”

 

It would be impossible for me to end this discussion regarding the UFC without asking the inaugural 155-pound champ to weigh in on Henderson vs. Melendez. [Benson Henderson will defend the UFC lightweight belt this Saturday, April 20th, against Gilbert Melendez.]

 

“I’m excited! I think it’s going to be a great fight,” he exclaims. “I love Henderson; Bendo’s no joke. I love the way he’s fighting. He’s fighting with a little more animosity, but he’s real relaxed; he just wants to go out there, really put people away and try to damage them. He realizes how great he is.”

 

“That’s not taking away anything from Gilbert [Melendez],” Jens says fairly. “He’s beaten a lot of great fighters; but Benson, I just admire that kid. I wish I could be there live to see that one. As the godfather of that lightweight division, I am happy for both of them. They’ve both got the right attitude. [Henderson’s] just got this air to him, like, ‘how dare you come in and try to take my belt!’”

 

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I decide to end our conversation with what I believe to be a fairly simple question: “Jens, what makes you happy?”

 

There is a long pause on the other end of the phone. “Man, that’s actually pretty tough; I think there have only been a few times that I have been truly happy outside of my family, my wife and kids. That’s been the hardest battle, being happy with myself. It’s one of the reasons why I still fight; I want to get that smile on my face.”

 

I hang my head in a lot of ways,” Jens tells me sullenly. “I don’t think too highly of myself; never have. I just keep working. I am a work in progress. I don’t want to sit there at 70-years-old in a rocking chair and be full of regrets. And the damndest thing is, that is the direction I am heading. Hopefully one day I will be smiling; but that inner happiness? I don’t got it.”

 

“I always tell people there’s Johnnie, there’s Jens and then there’s ‘Little Evil’: a three-headed monster,” Pulver describes vividly. “If you can’t kill the demons inside, then it doesn’t matter. I need to learn how to be my own best friend. I am trying to practice what I preach, to find that comfort and that solace.”

 

“Don’t get me wrong,” he says. “I have a lot of moments where I am extremely thankful…but I am always trying to shut up that other voice.”

 

***

 

Photo Credits:  Getty Images AsiaPac  Sherdog.com  FCFighter.com  SeattleTimes.com  CagePotato.com

 

 

james_harden_rockets_display_imageThe Houston Rockets had a complete overhaul this season. With only Chandler Parsons returning from their 2011-2012 roster, the team has 14 new players. The most notable in the Rockets’ latest additions are former New York Knicks star Jeremy Lin and defending Six Man of the Year James Harden. Houston’s signing of Lin via free agency made headlines due to New York’s breaking of their promise to extend the young point guard’s stay in the Big Apple. Harden also had the same media attention when he was traded earlier in the season for Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb. It may have been a crazy scramble to assemble this year’s roster, but I got to say, the team has a bright future ahead of them. Especially with the acquisition of Thomas Robinson before the trade deadline, the Rockets already have three positions covered for their next championship run. A lot of people are going to hate me for saying this but I believe that Houston will reach OKC’s level in a couple of years.

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Projected to finish in the bottom half of the Western Conference, coach Kevin McHale and the Rockets silenced their critics by going to the playoffs in just the first year of their rebuilding stage. While early season contenders Portland and Dallas are already going fishing or playing online games like Cheekybingo for their premature off season, the Houston players are already prepping up for the team’s first post season game since the “Yao Ming” era. Fans are already ecstatic and are in full support for their hometown basketball team who might upset some power house squads. Although they are not expected to win the championship this year, the playoffs can serve as a barometer for the Rockets’ performance in the upcoming seasons.

Jeremy and James will also be in the spotlight once again as they are pressured to deliver a couple of postseason victories for Houston. Can these two All-Stars play together in basketball’s biggest stage? We’ll have just to wait and see.

“I’ve definitely embraced it since it’s become an obsessive-compulsive disorder of mine, but other than that I find it to be a major pain in the a**.”

 

Shockingly, L.A.’s “The Show” host and famed Showtime boxing broadcaster, Mauro Ranallo, is not speaking of yours truly.  I know; it fits, right?

 

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In actuality, Ranallo is referring to Twitter, where breaking news travels faster than a wagon with 4 spare oxen on the Oregon Trail.

 

After meeting through a mutual friend, “Crooklyn” Stephie Daniels, on Twitter, Mauro and I soon got on like a house on fire. Why, you may ask? Well, because of our shared first-generation American status, of course. And, most certainly, our love for all-things combat sports.

 

The self-proclaimed “Bipolar Rock n’ Roller” has had over 27 years in the business. At the age of just five, Mauro knew exactly where he was going, and what he wanted to do.

 

“I was incredibly young [when I realized what I wanted to do]. I almost don’t believe it when I’m saying it. I really knew at three, four, five years of age that I wanted to communicate; I wanted to be entertaining,” he explains. “I loved attention, and yet was as always drawn to the communicators, the broadcasters.”

 

Mauro’s parents even caught on to his addiction. “[They] said the best babysitter I had was the radio or the TV. I’ve been practicing all of my life. I’ve been able to, as cliché as it is, [live] the dream.”

 

Ranallo tells me more about his fervent appetite for broadcast journalism. “I have done it for free, it’s my passion. I love learning things about people, telling stories; that’s why combat sports has always been a huge pleasure for me.”

 

Mauro paints a vivid picture. “It’s in the cage, it’s in the ropes…where the story is really told. You know everyone wants to know what the truth is: you get in the cage against another human being, you will soon find out what that truth is.”

 

I am not sure if I can fully communicate in just one article the experience that this man has accumulated in his 27 years as a journalist. As Mauro, and my Nonna for that matter, would say, “Mamma mia!”

 

A Canadian-native, Mauro was hired at the age of 16 by Vancouver-based promoter, Al Tomko as commentator for the nationally-televised “All Star Wrestling” program. Until 1989, Ranallo was “The Voice” on weekly Saturday afternoon broadcasts, earning him many accolades, as well as comparisons to greats such as Jim Cornette and Paul Heyman.

 

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At age 19, Mauro’s career was tragically put on hold.

 

“I lost my best friend in the world [Michael Janzen]. My career constantly pays tribute to him. His death was the first real loss that I experienced in my life. He was a huge boxing fan and a huge pro wrestling fan, but died in 1986, which was seven years prior to the invention of the UFC; he would have been a huge fan of that as well.”

 

Ranallo describes the pain he went through and subsequent depression. “There was a chemical imbalance in my brain that was caused by the trauma. I went through a period where I was hospitalized with what was known as manic depression, and what now is more commonly known as bipolar effective disorder.”

 

He explains further, “Starting my career at 16 and being on national TV in Canada right out of high school, it was quite overwhelming. I knew I was going to do something in this world; I wanted to tell stories. We create our own fate and destiny and the power of the mind. It’s something I wish people would take advantage of more.”

 

I ask about his current mental health.  “I’m the healthiest I have ever been; I am still taking my medication. The stigma is still there, but it’s shrinking. It’s something that doesn’t need to be debilitating. A lot of people that have really impacted the world suffer from mental illness; I try to look at the positive. I want people to know that you are never ever alone and mental illness doesn’t have to be a death sentence.”

 

This distressing period was certainly not a “death sentence” for Ranallo who, after a brief stint in the hospital for his mental illness, returned stronger than ever.

 

In 1999, the Hart family hired Mauro to host “Stampede Wrestling” in Calgary, followed by a play-by-play gig in July 2003 alongside Bas Rutten for Pride FC, the world’s largest MMA promotion of its time. Traveling to Japan over 30 times certainly left an impression on Ranallo.

 

“The best country to watch MMA in is Japan! [The fans are] knowledgeable, passionate…you can hear a pin drop and its really strange, but being in front of 40,000 people for every event is amazing. The respect and the knowledge of the sport, cheering loudly for a sweep, every little nuance, they appreciate it. Japan has the best MMA fans. Bas Rutten and I used to get in trouble! Some of the fighters would say “Hey! We can hear what you guys are saying!”

 

Ariel_Helwani_Backstage_With_Mauro_RanalloIn September 2006, Ranallo was given the opportunity to anchor The Fight Network in Toronto, the first 24-hour combat sports channel in North America. Still, the opportunities just kept pouring in for the witty broadcaster.

 

“I was with the Elite XC through Showtime in 2007, and way before FOX and the UFC, we had the phenomenon that was [Kevin Ferguson] Kimbo Slice. I was part of the broadcast crew. I was on CBS four times between 2007 and 2008: amazing ratings for Kimbo, nearly eight million viewers. I got to work with Gus Johnson, one of the best sportscasters in the business.”

 

This past December, boxing returned to CBS for the first time since 1997.

 

“I was very honored to be the play-by-play announcer with Al Bernstein, Paulie Malignaggi, Jim Gray, Brian Kenny. I am a very lucky guy.”

 

Mauro tells me that he moved for yet another gig, “The Score,” a weekly TV show, the first of its kind, as well as doing a daily podcast. Recently, however, Ranallo has moved to Los Angeles to pursue some different dreams.

 

“I got sick of the winters, and it just got a little stale. L.A. is the entertainment capital of the world, with so many more opportunities for a person like myself. I wanted to continue to challenge myself as broadcaster and as an entertainer.”

 

He tells me, “I have done literally everything that there is to do in broadcasting. Combat sports are what’s given me the opportunity to make my living and realize my passions. I used to be a club DJ; music is another passion of mine.” (His current playlist favorites include Bruno Mars, Maroon 5, Tupac, Snoop, Biggie, The Eagles, The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Mackelmore.) “Voice over work is also something that I am pursuing a lot more now that I have moved to Southern California.”

 

“I came [to L.A.] at the behest of Frank Shamrock, who has become a family member to me, and Bas Rutten is 20 minutes away, so I’m surrounded by loved ones,” he reflects. “It was humbling to know that people missed my daily podcast, so I said I would put all my energies into a good weekly show and really go back to my roots: MMA, boxing, pro wrestling, pop culture. I was blown away from the first shows response. I don’t want it to be the ‘same old, same old.’ I’m not a cookie cutter guy.”

 

And so, “The Show with Mauro Ranallo” was born. The first episode aired on April 4, 2013 and had a tremendous response.

 

An exclusive scoop for my readers: this Wednesday, April 17th, Mauro will be talking with Gilbert Melendez, Strikeforce lightweight champ, who is challenging Benson Henderson for the UFC lightweight championship this Saturday, televised via UFC on FOX. Ranallo calls this fight “a fantastic matchup “ and promises a few other exciting guests.

 

“It’s always topical and it’s always in depth; I do appreciate the support [“The Show”] has already gotten!” IMG_8862

 

Up next for the Italian Stallion of combat sports? Oh, you know, only covering one of the biggest sporting events in the history of the world.

 

“I’m covering the first Floyd [Mayweather] fight on Pay-Per-View, the biggest contract potentially in sports history; him and Robert Guerrero will go ‘mano y mano’ May 4th.”

 

I ask Mauro what he would say to an aspiring journalist and broadcaster, especially one that might suffer from a mental disease of some kind.

 

“I would say first and foremost, make sure they’re at a good place with their health. No matter how much you love what you do, you have to have a balance in your life.”

 

He warns, “If you think you suffer from something, no pride, go and ask the doctor go and speak to someone. I have been touched by so many people that say me speaking out like this in an interview, or on my show, and saying that they aren’t alone has helped them. It’s one of the reasons I really love what I do.”

 

After some reflection, Mauro draws a breath and says, “It’s always going to be a battle…but never stop chasing the dream.”

 

***

 

Check out Mauro’s show on Wednesday evenings RIGHT HERE, and follow him on Twitter @MauroRanallo.

 

Photo credits: MauroRanallo.com  FightHubTV.com  Mauro Ranallo.

 

Some exciting news to share with my readers!

 

Make sure to check out “The Write Stuff,” a feature Nick Esquer wrote on three of Houston’s top female sports journalists! The article can be found in the April Men’s Issue of HOUSTON Modern Luxury Magazine. And yes, I was one of the featured ladies. I was very excited to have been a part of this unique opportunity.

 

The link to the article can be found HERE.

 

Below are a few shots of me from my photo sesh with Laurie Perez. Enjoy!

Laurie Perez

Laurie Perez

 

 

 

 

 

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