Not Your Average Story

All Cylinders

By Jason Probst May 25, 2011
Rick Story has won five straight UFC bouts. | Photo: Dave Mandel/

At the elite levels of mixed martial arts, virtually everyone is a “badass” in at least one of its core disciplines, and with the influx of talented uber-athletes dominating the sport in recent years, one cannot always cruise by on superior athleticism.

In the end, it often comes down simply to who wants it more. If Rick Story is asked the question, one can bet can bet he will answer it with a resounding “yes.”

Facing Thiago Alves in a compelling welterweight contender match at UFC 130 on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Story has a significant opportunity in front of him, secured after an up-and-down fighting career that in recent performances has, finally, been hitting on all cylinders.

“I think it’s a great matchup for me,” Story says. “It’s a step in the right direction. He’s a great name, and I know I can beat him. In his past performances, he’s been known to fall off the bandwagon and get tired. I’m mentally tough, and it seems like he’s mentally weak. Normally, in this sport, mentally tough people win.”

After his big-show debut at UFC 99, where he traveled to Germany and dropped a decision to John Hathaway, Story, 26, has reeled off five straight wins, inching his way up the crowded 170-pound ranks.

A submission over Brian Foster at UFC 103 earned him both “Submission of the Night” and “Fight of the Night” awards -- and a $130,000 bonus check, to boot. Subsequent wins included split decisions over Jesse Lennox and Nick Osipczak, a knockout of Dustin Hazelett and a unanimous decision over Johny Hendricks at “The Ultimate Fighter 12” Finale in December.

Not bad for a guy who, by the end of 2007, had lost two of his first three professional bouts in a six-week career. Cutting his teeth as a middleweight in those matches, Story had previously wrestled at Southern Oregon University, stumbling on the sport almost on a lark.

“When I started [MMA], I wasn’t really taking it seriously. It was my sophomore year in college. I was 19 or 20, and had just gotten done with my second wrestling season,” he says. “It was right when [the reality show] had come out, and my roommates in college were all watching ‘The Ultimate Fighter.’ I started paying attention and realizing there might be a future in this sport if it grew.

“I was working out all the time to stay in shape in the offseason and got approached by a guy at an athletic club,” Story adds. “He wanted to trade submissions [training] for takedowns. I agreed to it. I thought it’d be pretty fun to learn some submissions. The stuff he was showing me … well, he sucked pretty bad. He was really low-level. When I went in and destroyed him just off of athleticism, he was, like, ‘Dude! You need to fight!”

And fight he has.

Thiago Alves File Photo

Story likes the Alves matchup.
After going 5-0 as an amateur, Story was in a peculiar position in the Pacific Northwest MMA scene. Brave Legion trainer Pat White received word of Story’s gym exploits through the Army Combatives Program; Story served in the National Guard during college, exiting as a second lieutenant. Dave Hagen, an Army Combatives instructor, had also served as a coach to five-time UFC champion Randy Couture. He knew what to look for in fighters.

“He said there’s this kid who’s the only person who was ever as strong as Randy from the top position,” White recalls.

Story trained for an entire weekend at Brave Legion, banging heads with team members, including fellow UFC welterweight Mike Pierce, and joined the camp. He then turned professional, losing a decision at middleweight to Mario Miranda, who has since made four appearances in the UFC.

Story enjoyed a turnaround year in 2008, as he reeled off six wins, including a unanimous decision over yet another fellow future UFC scrapper -- tough
welterweight Jake Ellenberger.

“The problem was that none of the local guys wanted to fight him,” adds White, who, along with Story, now owns the Brave Legion gym in Vancouver, Wash. “He couldn’t get fights at regional shows. That’s why he went pro so quickly and was overmatched. He wanted to stay busy fighting, but nobody [here] would fight him. None of the local guys wanted to fight him, and none of the other shows outside the region wanted to fight him because he wouldn’t sell any tickets.”

It was time to make the jump, and Story ventured to Germany to take on Hathaway in his Octagon debut in June 2009, losing a decision. Compared to his UFC bouts to follow, he performed flat, lacking the signature verve and relentless aggression that has fueled his five-fight win streak.

“I fought Hathaway and lost, and I was, like, ‘Come on! I gotta do something!’” he says. “I realized there ain’t nothing else to it. Gotta put my nose to the grindstone.”

The bout with Foster three months later weighed on him, knowing he could not afford another setback.

“I knew my back was against the wall. I knew if I lost I’d get cut. I was pumped,” Story says. “It was bad ass.”

The rollicking two-round war with Foster, which Story ended via arm-triangle choke, was the kind of significant blip on the radar screen that brings credibility and exposure. Ironically, it was not the first time Story has rebounded from a bad start. He has made a habit of it.

Continue Reading » Finish Reading: Poised for a Breakthrough
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