Jens Pulver is a lot of things to Mixed Martial Arts. He was the first UFC Lightweight Champion and the only man to beat BJ Penn at that weight class in eight years. He is one of the originals of the Davenport, IA based Miletich Fighting systems. He is a warrior known for his heart and heavy hands. In short Jens Pulver is a legend in Mixed Martial Arts.
That having been said, Pulver has fallen on hard times in the sport, losing his last five bouts. His last fight was a first round submission loss to Javier Vazquez. The lead up to that bout is the subject of filmmaker Gregory Bayne’s latest film titled “Jens Pulver | Driven.” Bayne followed Pulver’s camp in the weeks leading up to the fight and got an introspective look at one of the sports legends. He was also kind enough to do a phone interview with me.
EC: How did you get involved with the project, and with Jens Pulver?
GB: Last year in early fall I had a friend who was working at his gym (ED Note: Pulver owns his own gym in Idaho, aptly titled Driven) and he introduced me to Jens. He told me about him, and his story and thought I might be interested in meeting him.
EC: Were you into Mixed Martial Arts at all before this
GB: I honestly have to say I wasn’t, I didn’t know much about it. But then after being in the gym and talking to Jens it sold me. I think I asked him two questions and we talked for like an hour. After being there and talking to him, I realized he had a really incredible story and it was a really intriguing sport. With the fight coming up and after reading his book and kinda knowing his life story it just seemed like a perfect storm with the event coming up. I started funding it, and we started a campaign on kickstarter after that
EC: Now the whole film was actually funded by donation wasn’t it?
GB: Yeah it was basically done on a pre-sell. You know someone would donate and we’d promise them a DVD when we got done. It was people taking a leap of faith that the film would be made, and we could look and say “Hey look we made that.”
EC: How long did you take footage for?
GB: Basically it was January through March for the lead up to the fight. Then after the fight we did about a week of interview to delve into his story.
EC: How much access were you allowed through his training camp?
GB: With Jens I was there the whole time. That’s the nice thing about this. It’s a really really intimate portrait of his life. Also the whole, this is what it takes to prepare for a fight like this…I mean things that are sort of outside. Things that you wouldn’t find compelling or interesting. We’re working on a 10-15 minutes sequence right now which is literally all about cutting weight. It’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever witnessed, what these guys go through to train and make weight. It’s seriously insane what they sacrifice on so many levels, physically, mentally, financially.
EC: Was he irritable at all those last few days during the cut?
GB: You know he was actually pretty good, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him off color in anyway. He was there with his brother and Tony Fricklund. He was in a good space before the fight, he just seemed happy to be there.
EC: Jens is considered one of the nicer guys in MMA, did that come through in the film.
GB: Oh yeah, absolutely. I think also a reflection of it is when I first put the trailer online in January. I put my email at the end of it and I started getting flooded with e-mail. “Jens changed my life,” “Jens means so much to me.” All throughout the process you can really tell the reason he’s so loved is because he is like an everyman. He really is this guy that cares about people and will literally take the shirt off his back for people. He just happens to be a fighter, that’s his profession.
EC: On the flip side, he’s a real success story who happened to have a tortured childhood. How much do you go into that.
GB: Yeah we do, we talk about that a lot actually. We’re still working on how it’s going into the film. Because his past is so much about what makes his story extraordinary. We go into the history of him growing up and where he came from for sure.
EC: A lot of MMA documentaries you see, they only go into the training and preparation. We only get to see the fighter. Do we get to see both Jens Pulver the fighter and Jens Pulver the person then?
GB: Oh yeah, the nice thing about Jens is that he’s one of the most self aware people I’ve ever met. He’s not guarded, to a degree everyone is. Once we started working on this I think he felt confident that I wasn’t trying to lead him in any sort of damaging way. He was really open about everything. The film captures him internally and let’s us delve into that with him. It’s what it takes to train and prepare but going deeper and underneath all of those internal battles. Jens isn’t only fighting his past, he wears this legendary status that is both a gift and a curse. He’s trying to win and take care of his family. It’s the whole gamut of it as opposed to some young fighter.
EC: How much did him losing affect the film then?
GB: Well I always knew that we wouldn’t take it past the fight. I knew from the get go we wouldn’t get any footage because Zuffa is hard to deal with. I just wanted to tell an intimate story about this guy. Yes he was fighting in the WEC at the time but it was more about his story. I haven’t capped the end yet, but I can say it wasn’t about the outcome of the fight.
EC: Having spent so much time with him, why do you think he still fights?
GB: Well I think it’s better suited to answer from the outside looking in, it’s because it’s what he does. It’s his profession, it’s what he knows, he isn’t injured. I think we go into this. I see someone in transition, at his beginning it was a different sport. Now it’s evolved, now he’s fighting guys who were younger and faster and with better skills. Maybe more sophisticated skills. He’s seeing that, and how he needs to make that transition as a fighter. He still can do it, it’s just a matter of finding a way to do that. He’s still competitive. That’s what it comes down to. We talk about in the film about kind of facing your mortality twice, you have the death of the athlete and your actual death. He’s very self aware and about what’s going on with him physically. I think he’ll know when it’s time to quit.
EC: Why should non fight and non MMA fans watch Driven?
GB: I think that Jens provides a universal story. He’s trying hard to make it through everyday. It’s a good intro to MMA. You look an individual trying to do the best that he can, and it just happens to be his profession is fighting. The entry point isn’t MMA, it’s about this human being and through that we’re introduced to MMA.
EC: What will surprise people the most about the film?
GB: That’s a good question, it’s in the eye of the beholder. I think people will be surprised at the candidness of Jens. How difficult the sport is. It’s hard to answer because I’m working to make the best film I can and I think people will walk away with their own interpretation and perception of it, and what affects them most. I hope people find it inspirational and maybe even a little heart breaking.
Bayne said the film is shooting for a late summer release. It will be available on DVD. For more information on the film check out the Jens Pulver | Driven fan page on facebook, follow Drivenfilm on twitter, or check out Bayne’s website Thislovelymachine.com.