Heading into 2011, Rick Story was on a roll.
The Vancouver, Washington resident was coming off the biggest win of his career, an upset decision over the previously undefeated Johny Hendricks. The victory extended Story’s winning streak to five, and established the compact and powerful welterweight as one to watch in the deep and dangerous 170-pound ranks. Five months later, Story pushed his winning streak to six with a unanimous decision victory over former title contender Thiago Alves at UFC 130.
Sitting on the fringes of contention after defeating Alves, Story’s momentum came to a screeching halt a month later.
He accepted a short notice, main event assignment opposite Nate Marquardt, filling in for the injured Anthony Johnson. He was the talk of the division; a former prospect that could push his way into the top 10 with another impressive win. Featured on the marquee for the first time in his career, the attention increased when Marquardt was pulled from the bout 24 hours before the event. Charlie Brenneman was tabbed to replace Marquardt, and the whirlwind of changes and stress and vastly different styles got the better of Story.
Just as quickly as he had put himself in a position to break into the upper echelon of the division, Brenneman knocked him back down the divisional ladder, halting his winning streak at six by out-wrestling Story for 15 minutes.
“Taking fights on short notice is definitely not something I was prepared to do,” admits Story. “Even though I was in shape, all the hype and stress and interviews and everything like that, it’s normally something you work yourself into, but with me, I got a dump truck load of all-new stress put right on my shoulders. It would have been cool if I would have been seasoned enough to have been able to handle that, but I’m chalking it up as a learning experience because I wasn’t seasoned, and wasn’t used to all the interviews and all the pressures that it takes to be a main event or co-main event.”
With his loss coming under such unusual circumstances, Story was given a chance to redeem himself and remain in the welterweight conversation five months later at UFC 139. He’d be facing an opponent who knew all about “hard luck losses,” Martin Kampmann. The Dutch veteran entered the fight on a two-fight losing streak, though a case could be made for “The Hitman” having won both fights, especially his March encounter with Diego Sanchez.
Story was no match for Kampmann’s technically precise striking, and lost a unanimous decision.
“The Kampmann fight, you know, it was just a tough fight,” says Story with a laugh, correctly assessing the bout in the simplest way possible. “He’s a tough guy. I would have liked to have gotten the win, but it didn’t happen that night.”
A year that started out with so much promise ended with back-to-back losses, and a plethora of questions about where the once-surging welterweight stood in the division. Nearly a year later, Story is once again making his case for being a contender, and he’s getting a little help from a pair of former opponents as well.
Hendricks and Kampmann have both been on a roll since their bouts with Story. After tasting defeat for the first time, Hendricks has rattled off four consecutive wins, including back-to-back victories over former title challengers Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck, while Kampmann added wins against Alves and Jake Ellenberger to push his winning streak to three. The two are slated to meet at UFC 154 in November, with the winner expected to earn a shot at the welterweight title in 2013.
“I don’t really think about it too much,” Story says of his history with the division’s top two contenders. “It is a cool feeling to know that I’m competitive with these guys, and I know that I belong with them in the top of the rankings.”
The Brave Legion product began working his way back up the ladder in May with a one-sided decision win over Brock Jardine, a late replacement for Papy Abedi, who was a late replacement for Rich Attonito. Though not completely satisfied with his showing, the now 14-5 Story wanted to make sure he didn’t do anything careless in an effort to earn cheers from the crowd.
“It was a good feeling to get back in the win column,” offers Story, who was able to control the contest with his wrestling. “I would have liked to have gotten a little bit more – I’m not going to say wild and crazy – but be a little more aggressive towards getting a finish. I just didn’t want to do anything stupid because I know people get a little over confident, they get caught, and then they end up losing the fight on some freak knockout or something. I was being a little bit more conservative than I really like to be.
“You keep your job if you win; that’s kind of about it,” Story answers when asked about the fine line between fighting to win and fighting to entertain. “You definitely don’t want to be the guy where the crowd or everyone around you goes, `Aw no – this guy’s fighting again? I can’t wait to see him get hit or finished. He’s so boring.’ I don’t want to be that person. I’m always training and I’m always working to not be that person, but sometimes it pans out that way.”
Back in the win column and once again moving in the right direction in the division, the 28-year-old Story adds another marquee name to his list of opponents this weekend as he travels to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to take on welterweight newcomer Demian Maia. The former middleweight title challenger made his debut as a member of the 170-pound ranks in July with a 47-second win over Dong Hyun Kim.
“I would have liked to have seen that fight go a little longer,” jokes Story. “It was kind of a freak thing where Kim’s rib got messed up in the first clinch. But, if Demian’s able to achieve the clinch and drag a person down like that, he must be strong at the weight.”
Even though his time in the division has been limited, there are no secrets when it comes to Maia’s approach and area of expertise, and while he’s not going to rush in and pull guard, Story isn’t afraid of mixing things up on the ground with the Brazilian jiu-jitsu standout if the situation arises.
“Demian’s one of the best on the ground in the world, (and) I expect (him) to be trying to take it to the ground and bring it to his (area of) strength. I’m not opposed to going to the ground, but I don’t want to play into his strengths. If I’m there, and he gets me to the ground or I get him to the ground, I’m going to be trying to put some punishment on him, that’s for sure.”
A win over Maia will have Story right back where he was after his win over Hendricks – knocking on the door of the top 10, winning streak in hand, ready to make waves in the division once again. Only this time, he’s a little more seasoned, a little more prepared, and certain that he deserves to be considered alongside the best in the welterweight division.