Fresh off his recent eye-opening win over Thiago Alves, Rick Story was offered a spot in the UFC Live main event.
Not enough people appreciate how difficult it is to be a mixed martial arts fighter for a living. The rigors of training alone for the multidisciplined sport are enough to fell most athletes.
The physical toll on the body in hand-to-hand combat with an equally highly trained man is beyond comprehension for the average person. And yet, week after week, MMA fighters step up to take bouts on short notice, to fill gaps on cards in hopes of garnering attention.
Few decisions, though, are as compelling as the one Rick Story made a month ago. Story was just another face on the crowded roster of Ultimate Fighting Championship athletes. Nobody was mentioning his name for a title shot. No one was clamoring to buy tickets because he happened to be on a given card. Few, outside of the small but intensely loyal cadre of the sport‚Äôs hard-core fan base, knew much about him.
But five days after the biggest victory of his career ‚Äď a clear win over former welterweight title challenger Thiago Alves at UFC 130 ‚Äď Story had a decision to make. Anthony ‚ÄúRumble‚ÄĚ Johnson was injured and wouldn‚Äôt be healthy enough to fight Nate Marquardt in the main event of UFC Live, set for Sunday on Versus at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. Fresh off his eye-opening win over the highly regarded Alves, Story was offered a spot in the main event.
It was an option fraught with risk. Marquardt has long been one of the top middleweights in the world, but he was dropping to welterweight to fight Johnson. Marquardt coach Trevor Wittman has said that it isn‚Äôt so much a drop to 170 for Marquardt as it is a discontinuation of bulking up to 185.
Taking a fight against Marquardt with a full training camp would carry risk, but doing so just five days after having defeated an elite fighter and with little time to prepare could have been reckless.
Story, though, understood the upside: Following his win over Alves with a victory over Marquardt would make him a key player at welterweight and thrust him into the spotlight. When he called out Jon Fitch after his win over Alves, Fitch shrugged, believing a win over Story would do little for him. Should Story reel off a seventh straight UFC victory, however, he‚Äôd instantly be a hot commodity.
And so, when given the chance to fight again so soon, Story said yes.
‚ÄúNo hesitation at all,‚ÄĚ said Story, a 26-year-old wrestler whose record stands at 13-3.
Story had been steadily moving up the ladder, knocking off Brian Foster, Jesse Lennox, Nick Osipczak, Dustin Hazelett and Johny Hendricks before facing Alves. He poured his heart and soul into the Alves fight, knowing the significance of a win over the powerful Brazilian.
Alves entered the fight at UFC 130 with a 23-6 mark. From 2006 through 2010, Alves had only lost three fights ‚Äď two to Fitch and one to welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre. He was about as elite as it gets in the division.
Story had a long, grueling training camp that paid off with a surprisingly dominant victory. His body hadn‚Äôt really even finished recovering from the Alves fight when the call came to fight Marquardt. The challenge was to remain in shape while not winding up overtrained; the body can only take so much abuse.
‚ÄúI was a little sore [after the Alves fight], to be honest, but it wasn‚Äôt anything I‚Äôm not used to from training,‚ÄĚ Story said. ‚ÄúWe train really intense, and it just felt like I went through the ringer in a hard practice and got beat up a little bit. But I bounced back in about a week and I was training on Wednesday, so I‚Äôm good.‚ÄĚ
Story was going to camp to fight Marquardt less than a week after coming out of what to that point had been the fight of his life. There were positives to it, though: He could quickly focus on devising a strategy for the fight itself because he was already in shape and simply needed to maintain it.
Story eagerly hopped back into training, knowing he could be mere weeks away from becoming the hot name in a deep and talented division.
‚ÄúThe challenge is just sticking with an intense training regimen for a long time because the training camp for the Thiago fight was awhile ‚Äď and trying to stay away from injury and everything, that‚Äôs another challenge when you‚Äôre training so hard,‚ÄĚ Story said. ‚ÄúBut at the same time, it‚Äôs awesome training like that. Jumping right back into a training camp when you‚Äôre in shape, it‚Äôs really easy to grow just like one or two things into a game plan to get ready for another fight.‚ÄĚ
There isn‚Äôt another sports equivalent to what these fighters do. It‚Äôs not as if entering a PGA Tour event a couple of days before it starts would have dire physical consequences.
In taking on the fight, Story accepted a big risk: Marquardt is a quality fighter and figures to be better at welterweight than middleweight because he won‚Äôt be giving away so much size and strength. It‚Äôs no slam dunk that Story will win, and a loss would derail him on his quest to fight for the title.
He deserves respect for taking the risk and saving the show. But anyone who doubted he‚Äôd do it doesn‚Äôt know him very well. He made his style and intentions clear in an interview with UFC.com before the fight with Alves: ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt shy away from anything or anyone. I like always pushing forward and meeting in the middle and butting heads.‚ÄĚ
He‚Äôll do it again against another world-class opponent Sunday when he takes on Marquardt in the main event of UFC Live. With an attitude like Story‚Äôs, this much is certain: Win or lose in Pittsburgh, this isn‚Äôt the last time he‚Äôll find himself on the big stage.
Get used to this Story. You‚Äôre probably going to be watching him for a while.