Some men are coaxed into lives of greatness. Others are pushed, the shoves leaving bruises on their psyches. Mixed martial artist Jens Pulver trod the latter path to become a legend: He was the world's first UFC lightweight champion. But what comes up, must come down and Pulver's fall was that much harder because of his struggle to the top.
Pulver is the subject of local filmmaker Gregory Bayne's new documentary Jens Pulver: Driven, which screens on Friday, Dec. 17, at the Egyptian Theatre. Driven is a naked look at a man who suffered abhorrent abuse as a child and, as an adult, became a legend in his field due to a myopic focus on practice, fight, win. Bayne filmed him during the weeks leading up to a career-deciding fight. After garnering the title of champion, Pulver lost four bouts in a row. He returned to the cage on March 6 to try and regain some of his former glory.
Sitting in a diner booth, bright tattoos poking out from each of his sleeves, Bayne explained that getting Pulver to talk about himself was not a problem.
"I met him and he talked almost a full hour after I asked him maybe two questions," Bayne said, adding a slight laugh. "I found a guy who was engaging to speak with, really open and seemed emotionally honest. Then he had this back story that was unreal. Then the fight came into play."
The film is made all the more intense through the anticipatory build up to the match. It is a combination of shots of Pulver at home or at the gym preparing for the fight, and black-and-white confessional scenes in which Pulver speaks directly to the camera. He holds nothing back, and Bayne was right: Pulver is engaging. He is also charming, quite emotive and raw to the point that it's uncomfortable at times to watch him bleed emotionally. But that is also what makes this documentary so utterly viewable. Even if you had no idea what MMA stands for or why anyone cares about Pulver, by the end of the film you will have a better idea--on both counts.
When BW called him in Chicago, where he is currently training, the one succinct statement he made was in regard to how he felt about having Bayne follow him around: "I loved it."
Pulver will be in attendance at the Boise screening. He said he's a little concerned that no one will be there. Not because it isn't a great film--"Greg is a genius," Pulver said--but because he doesn't know why anyone would want to watch a movie about him. "I'm popular, but I ain't famous," he said.
But people will want to see this movie. And once they witness this tragic and triumphant tale of love, loss and redemption, Pulver may have more hands than he can imagine gently tugging him back toward the top.