Father Time is not kind to professional mixed martial artists.
From PRIDE superstars like Takanori Gomi and Mirko Cro Cop to UFC legends like Chuck Liddell and Jens Pulver, we have seen pure greatness retreat to mediocrity and then sharply plummet into a realm of talent that can only be described as "awful."
At this point, fighters are no longer just losing fights, they are getting demolished, and it is scary to watch.
This feeling compounds whenever the fighter simply refuses to quit, seemingly choosing death over a permanent hiatus from the sport.
Enter Jens Pulver.
The 37-year-old fighter was once the king of the UFC's lightweight division and he ruled the throne with an overpowering wrestling base and a crushing left hand that led him to six straight UFC wins, including two title defenses.
As is the natural order of the world, though, all good things must come to an end, and for Pulver, the end was a prolonged beatdown from which he desperately needed to be saved.
Beginning with a bout against Duane Ludwig at UCC 12 in January 2003 and ending in June 2007, Pulver would go on to lose six of 13 fights—all by stoppage. This is a tough stretch, yes, but it gets even worse for "Lil' Evil."
After a successful debut in the now-defunct WEC, Pulver would lose six straight fights (five via stoppage) in a stretch from 2008 to 2010 before winning back-to-back victories in early 2011.
Do you see the problem?
Just when Pulver is pushed to the brink of retirement, when his cards are down and nature is saying, "Jens, you need to stop, please just call it quits," he wins. Maybe these wins are against Mike Lindquist and Wade Choate, but a win is a win, and it was enough to convince Pulver he had just a bit more to offer.
He did not, however, and this stint of success was again short-lived. Since his win over Choate in March 2011, Pulver has fought five times, losing three via stoppage.
Most recently, he lost to Eric Kelly at ONE FC: Pride of a Nation on Aug. 31 via second-round technical knockout.
Pulver is not just losing, he is subjecting his body to punishment it can no longer handle. If he were losing tough, well-contested decisions, this would be a different story, but he is getting knocked out or submitted in almost every fight—a sign to give it up.
His body cannot take the heat anymore and he needs to get out while he is still alive and can still function outside of the cage. As his documentary, Driven, showed, Pulver has a family and a beautiful wife to come home to and he needs to be thankful that he can still function well enough to do so.
The fight game is a business that sucks you in and consumes your soul, and for many of the old-school fighters, this is the only way of life they know.
When you are getting beaten down on a consistent basis, though, you need to listen to your body and call it quits before something terrible happens.
Otherwise, the "stop when I'm dead" attitude might just become literal much quicker than you anticipated.