Many differences, one goal
The classical music blasting over the phone as I waited on hold for a World Extreme Cagefighting conference call was a real disconnect.
And the swapping of compliments from one fighter to the other was another, given that they plan to annihilate each other in a cage over the weekend.
But even given all that, Jens Pulver and reigning champion Urijah Faber made it clear that WEC 34 will be anything but a waltz. The June 1 battle for the featherweight title has consumed their lives, and rightly so. Heading into the biggest bout of both fighters' careers, neither are denying the case and both are out to prove just why.
"I don't see the fight going 25 minutes," said Pulver. "At 145, I've knocked everybody out except for one submission. I think I've been in the third round once at 145. At the end of the day, I'm looking to win this fight by knockout. I'm taking the belt home. Period."
Pulver (22-8-1) has an extensive, and successful, boxing background that is often overlooked in the cage. As the first Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight title-holder, "Lil Evil" defended his belt twice before vacating the top spot because of contractual reasons.
With strong wins against names like Caol Uno and B.J. Penn, Pulver enters Sunday's bout off the heels of his latest victory -- his first since dropping to his natural 145 pounds and joining the WEC -- against Cub Swanson. The Anaconda-choke win after just 35 seconds in the first round made it clear that, after two UFC losses, the 33-year-old Pulver was back and ready to for another belt.
It also may have proved to Pulver that his three hours a day in the gym with grappling coach Pedro Silveira was well worth it.
"[Jen]'s an experienced fighter, so he knows how to fight, how to put himself in different situations," Silveira said. "And what I do is use jiu-jitsu skills that I've incorporated through my experiences and add them to his set of skills. He's already tough because of his background, but I try to make him tougher and ready to fight."
Pulver said that having won and subsequently lost a title gives him a motivational edge over his counterpart. From someone who thrives off others telling him he can't achieve something, Pulver could certainly turn his past UFC title abdication, and comeback struggles, in his favor come Sunday. Faber has never been on the other side of the fence. And, considering he's 8-0 in the division with an extra 10 bouts in his past, Pulver's also heavily flaunting the experience card in the face of the younger Faber.
But at just 29 years old, Mr. 20-1 has already successfully defended his WEC title four times -- all by submission -- and his lone defeat was way back in September 2005.
Last December, "The California Kid" submitted Jeff Curran, a jiu-jitsu black belt, by guillotine choke in the second-round. Prior to Curran, Faber handed the then-undefeated Chance Farrar, a fighter with a similar wrestling background and known striking ability, his first loss.
"My biggest strength is just being well-rounded. I feel like I'm strong in all the categories of mixed martial arts," Faber said. "I'm always looking to learn and improve, and that's something a lot of people aren't able to do, for whatever reason. I'm always looking to improve myself from fight to fight, and that's one thing that will be an advantage for me."
At this point, the question isn't who Faber has beaten, but, rather, who he hasn't, and the answer looms over his future and possible legacy. With one of the most impressive mixed martial arts careers, regardless of age, the former NCAA wrestling champion's record still lacks some of the big-name wins characteristic of other powerhouse fighters. A win against Pulver could possibly land him among the same recognizable class of MMA stars as the Penns, Georges St. Pierres and even Anderson Silvas.
But it's not Pulver's and Faber's lack of bad blood that holds the biggest weight in Sunday's bout. It's not their polar opposite personalities or their different backgrounds, nor their records or proclaimed experience in the cage.
No, just one thing, one similarity, holds more significance than anything else in their careers right now: that shiny featherweight-title belt. The rest is merely details.