Rick Story has something to prove.
After breaking through into the upper tier of the welterweight division after defeating Thiago Alves at UFC 130 back in May of 2011, the Vancouver Wa.-based fighter experienced a bit of career turbulence.
The six-fight win streak that carried him into the top 10 rankings was snapped after a chaotic opponent shake-up at UFC on Versus 6 when Charlie Brenneman stepped in for Nate Marquardt after the former middleweight contender failed to received medical clearance for the bout due to elevated levels of testosterone.
Facing a new opponent on 24 hours notice is a difficult adjustment for any fighter to make, and the end result was Story coming out on the losing end of the affair.
The 28-year-old would go on to lose three of his next four showings. Suddenly, the fighter who handed Johny Hendricks the lone loss of his MMA career and appeared poised to make a title run, looked as if he may never regain the footing to get his career back on track.
When the Team Brave Legion fighter stepped into the Octagon to face Quinn Mulhern at UFC 158, the pressure was on Story to perform. He was determined to not only face the doubt head on, but stop his backslide once and for all. It was a challenge Story answered in brutal fashion as he battered the Strikeforce veteran to earn a first-round stoppage victory.
"It was pretty awesome in the fact that I was able to make that happen," Story told Bleacher Report. "To have it in your mind and actually going out and doing it are two different things. That fight made it clear in my mind that I have the ability to do it and that I just have to go out there and get it done.
Looking to keep the momentum alive, the Tacoma native will step in for an injured Gunnar Nelson to face Mike Pyle this Saturday at UFC 160. The savvy veteran is also looking to break through into the welterweight division's upper-tier, and Story will try to bring Pyle's current three-fight win streak to an abrupt halt.
"In all of his fights, Pyle is pretty much the same guy," Story said. "He's always sticking and moving. It doesn't matter if it is me fighting him or someone else; it is probably going to be the same Mike Pyle. My style is hard nosed and straight forward. That's what he's going to see.
"He's definitely sharp and has really good counter punches. I have to be ready for everything. His striking is sharp and I definitely have to respect it. He's also shown in the fights that he's lost that he doesn't take punishment very well. And I'm going to try to deal out some punishment to him. Fans can expect to see a tank out there."
Where trying to work his way up the ladder in the quickest possible fashion once led Story's career path astray, he's confident in his steps going forward. The opportunity to fight Pyle may have come on shorter notice than a typical fight-cycle, as there was still plenty of time available for him to fully prepare for the challenges the 37-year-old presents.
This is where he gives credit to his coach Pat White and his Brave Legion Fight Team. With a camp dedicated to making sure Story is ready for what Pyle brings to the table, he believes he'll have all the tools necessary when the cage door closes in Las Vegas.
"I never really sit and dwell too much," Story said. "When the opportunity is there, I jump all over it. That's been the same deal as it's always been. I never turn down a fight. I want to continue this momentum. It isn't a three-week turnaround like it was before when I was supposed to fight [Nate] Marquardt. I had more time to prepare. I still had a month off and time to regather my senses and then start training camp. It wasn't rushed.
"It is a great opportunity for me to catapult myself back into contention. Pyle is a very formidable opponent. He's well known and has been around for a long time. He's defeated tough opponents and it's an opportunity for me to show once again that I belong up at the top of the division."
A victory over Pyle this Saturday would make a strong case for Story to regain the ground he lost since defeating Alves at UFC 130. Nevertheless, he's not willing to look too far ahead and has his total focused locked on his opponent this Saturday.
For Story, the ultimate goal is to become a UFC champion. That being said, the past has taught him that steady progression isn't a bad route to travel, and he's willing to take his climb back up the ladder one step at a time.
"I'm not getting ahead of myself," Story said. "I'm not looking past anyone. Getting the victory in my last fight was something I definitely needed to do in order to get my mind right and to take that step in the direction of contendership again. But anytime I start getting ahead of myself, I end up eating my words. I felt good about the last performance. I felt great about it and it provided extra motivation in this training camp to prepare for Pyle.
"I really don't think that I am," Story replied when asked if he feels overlooked in the welterweight picture. "I think because of who I've beat and how I've performed in the past, that respect is there. Some of my performances were not as good as they could've been and I think it's caused people to wonder which Rick Story is going to show up. If it's the destructive Rick Story...look out. But if it's not, then it's not going to be that exciting. That's the way I look at it.
"My last fight was an eye-opener. Something clicked in that fight. It's like riding a bike where once you've done it, you never forget. I guess we'll find out in my next fight if that is true or not. But I plan on trying to lay some punishment on Pyle."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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