“This fight’s do or die for me. I look at this fight as
either the start of my career or the end of my career. I don’t care who I
fight after this; I’m just focusing on this fight.”
It was 3 o’clock in the back of the schoolyard type of stuff, and Dustin Hazelett didn’t have a chance. Taking the sporting aspect out of the equation, Rick Story showed up to the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California on August 7th with the intention of fighting Hazelett, and after stopping the groundfighting ace in less than two rounds, mission accomplished.
“I wasn’t as focused on what he was thinking,” said Story. “I was more focused on what I was gonna do; I wanted to go out and put a beating on him real quick and let him know that he was gonna be in a fight.”
Fighting Story was the worst possible scenario for Hazelett following his knockout loss to Paul Daley seven months earlier, as the Washington native came to the Octagon with a fury that isn’t always a given in the modern incarnation of the sport. It’s an attitude he takes from an old school icon – Wanderlei Silva.
“It doesn’t matter who he fights, where he fights, or when he fights,” said Story of ‘The Axe Murderer.’ “He comes out and he’s trying to get the guy the whole time. And he has one of the best highlight reels out there. When people want to be a certain fighter, a lot of guys who are fighters want to fight like Wanderlei because he goes out and puts it all on the line.”
Story is building his own rep as that type of fighter, with the wins over Hazelett and Brian Foster prime examples of what the 26-year old welterweight prospect brings to the table. The Hazelett fight was a key one, mainly because it put his three fight winning streak on the line against an opponent who could end the fight at any time with his submission game. But once Story nullified Hazelett’s first attempt at a sub, he knew it was game over.
“After his first submission attempt, I defended it and I knew it was in the bag,” he said. “Every time he got up, he was getting up slower and slower and I could just see his will to fight die out.”
And it wasn’t just failed submission attempts and flashy punches to the grill that spelled Hazelett’s eventual demise, but a ferocious body attack that’s rarely seen in combat sports these days.
“Body shots are really effective,” said Story. “I’ve been hit with numerous body shots and it really takes a lot out of you. If you plan on going three five minute rounds, getting hit with those shots really take it out of your gas tank. I don’t know why you don’t see a lot of it, but I have good boxing coaches who have had the same experience and have fought long fights, and they just say ‘work the body, work the body.’ And then once you work the body, then the hands will drop and it will open the head up. And that was the gameplan going into the Hazelett fight because he was skinnier and not as thick, and usually on skinnier guys body shots really take a toll.”
The victory made it four in a row for Story, who has quietly built that streak following a decision loss to John Hathaway in his Octagon debut back in June of 2009. And quietly is the key word, as the soft-spoken welterweight isn’t one to beat his chest and search out the closest camera for attention. He’s letting his fists do the talking, but sometimes, that can make your road up the ladder a little harder.
“I feel like the smart people will notice what’s happening with records and how fights are being finished, and they’ll do the hype for me,” said Story, who has actually grown into a level of comfort under the UFC’s bright lights, opting to just be himself in and out of the Octagon.
“It was difficult at first for me, just because I wasn’t used to the interviews and having the cameras in my face,” he said. “But the more it happens, the more comfortable I get, and I realize that I just have to be myself. I don’t need to put on an act or anything; I’ll just say what comes to mind. At first when you do it you’re kinda awkward and you don’t know the ropes or what to expect next, and once you’ve done it a few times, it’s just like another thing.”
When it comes to that part of the game, fighting is actually the easier part, and Story has that part down after three years as a pro that has seen him compile an 11-3 record with little in the way of easy touches. Now it’s time to step up to the next level, and that begins on Saturday night in Las Vegas against unbeaten fellow prospect Johny Hendricks.
“Physically, I’m there,” said Story. “It was just the mental part and being able to impose my gameplan on people that I was waiting for. Now I have that confidence and I’m ready for the next level. Hendricks is on that level too, and I think that we’re there, but we’re just undiscovered.”
Not for long, as the two will be seen by millions on the nationally-televised Ultimate Fighter 12 finale main card. It’s a big step for both 170-pounders, but one that has the potential to end up in a Fight of the Night-type battle.
“Hendricks is a tough guy,” said Story. “He’s a very accomplished wrestler, and he’s an accomplished mixed martial artist too – he’s undefeated and he’s not used to losing, but that can be to his own demise at the same time.”
“Winning’s a habit, it’s starting to become one for me, I train to have it, and it’s a nice habit to have.”
In other words, Story has gotten addicted to that feeling of having his hand raised, and he’s not about to let it go without forcing his opponent to dig deeper than he’s ever had to dig before.
“He’s gonna be in for a fight,” said Story, “and he’d better be ready to fight.”
Given Hendricks’ history thus far, and most notably his recent TKO win over Charlie Brenneman on the same UFC 117 card as Story’s win over Hazelett, that won’t be an issue. What may end up being a problem for the former National wrestling champion is that his willingness to stand and trade with his opponents may play into Story’s hands.
“I know he’s probably watching some of my fights and my abilities and formulating a gameplan to best suit the fight for him, but I think it’s gonna be a big hole in his game because once he starts getting hit by me and starts trying to take me down - which is what most wrestlers do when they start getting hit – they get uncomfortable and go back to what they do best,” said Story. “Then he’s gonna get hit again, and it’s going to be a big scramble in his mind and technique goes out the door.”
“That’s where that winner’s habit comes into mind.”
Along with embracing the habit of winning, Story has also developed an attitude that this may very well be his last fight if he doesn’t succeed.
“This fight’s do or die for me,” he said. “I look at this fight as either the start of my career or the end of my career. I don’t care who I fight after this; I’m just focusing on this fight.”
That attitude means one thing – when the bell rings for Story, he isn’t looking to play patty-cake with his opponent or grind out a points win. He’s looking to fight, and he’s trained with his Brave Legion team in Vancouver with that very thought in his mind.
“You see with some of the fighters, they go out there and look at it as more of a competition,” he said. “But the really exciting fighters are the ones that are going to really put some damage on their opponents. And I think what plays into that is a guy’s confidence in his ability and his conditioning. If they’re in top physical shape where they can go as hard as they can for three five minute rounds, they’re going to have no problem making it a fight and going as hard as they can until their opponent mentally breaks.”
Mouthpiece in, hands up, chin down. Rick Story’s ready to fight.