By Bloody Elbow
Saturday, March 5th. Illinois is in deep cloud cover, awash with snow and icy rain. Forty minutes west of Chicago, in the town of Villa Park, inside the Odeum Expo Center, Jens Pulver is hounding local palooka Wade Choate around the cage. It’s the closing minutes of their three-round affair. The arena is already half emptied out.
For Pulver, having just snapped a six-fight losing streak last January, this fight is the first chance in nearly five years for him to put two wins together and begin to change the story of the end of his career. Wade Choate is in a hole almost as deep. Dubbed “The Last Dog Man,” he also just recently emerged from a stretch of losses, which saw his record fall to 12-12-0 before a win last August. He’s a little younger than Pulver, but he’s never reached the heights the former UFC champ has seen. As if he’d like to erase the past two years of his career, Choate’s introduction states his record as it stood in January of 2009, before his five-fight skid: 12-7-0.
It’s easy to imagine how desperate he is to string a couple of wins together, and though outside the cage he may have observed Pulver’s recent downward spiral with due sympathy, in the fight it’s every man for himself. Hence Choate’s refusal to stand in the pocket, and his stubborn adherence to a stick-and-move game plan. It’s been surprisingly effective. Pulver’s had trouble chasing him down all night, and his power shots have come slow and fallen short time and again. It’s enough to draw angry boos from the crowd. Unthinkably, the words “You suck” rain down from somewhere in the audience.
Pulver and Choate fight it out for a final, lonely couple of minutes. When it comes time to hear the judges’ decision, Pulver favors his left foot as he walks over to the referee. It’s a close fight to call, but people nevertheless crowd the exits.