'Horror' Story goes from SOU to the Octagon
"Where there's a will, there's a way," goes the old saying.
On June 13, 2009, former Southern Oregon University wrestler turned mixed martial artist Rick Story found his way into the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The MMA equivalent of football's NFL, the UFC is the stage all fighter's dream of displaying their skills on. Story (11-3) would now get his chance, but only because of where he started.
As a young, athletic, though not fully mature freshman Story wrestled at 184 pounds for Pacific Lutheran University (Wash.). Although able to stay competitive in most matches, the physicality and mental dominance of older, stronger opponents ground him to a winless 0-17 campaign.
"I was strong and athletic," he says, earnestly assessing his early struggles. "My mind was just not there-not believing "… something there held me back."
But whatever it was could not hold him down. Misfortune struck the PLU wrestling program, and the sport discontinued at season's end. The killing of the program was Story's gain, and he and the other wrestler's transferred to Southern Oregon.
For Story, the transfer offered a fresh start. He had something to prove to himself. He wanted to know what life was like on the other side of the victor's circle. In high school, Story never even qualified for the state meet — a prerequisite for many esteemed wrestlers and cage-fighters. The weight of his winless freshman season and mediocre high school career slid off his shoulders. Story had had enough.
"To me, where there's a will, there is a way." Story knows it sounds cheesy. But it's the truth. Soon after, he met with his new head coach, Mike Ritchey, a four-time national placer for SOU, formerly Southern Oregon State College, promising to win a national championship. That afternoon he dedicated himself to outworking everyone else on the team.
"Honestly, I wasn't like, 'Oh we're so lucky to have (Story),'" Ritchey says of first meeting Rick. Story was just another wrestler he'd taken on from a dying program. But things changed quickly. "Rick's work ethic was exceptional. It's hard not to consider him one of the hardest working Raider's ever. I'd hate to say the hardest, to the exclusion of others, but man."
Story would borrow film of upcoming opponents and pick coaches' brains on how to attack opponents and improve technique. If any wrestler outworked him in a drill, Story vowed to repeat the drill twice as hard. Legend has it, he still has a coaching clinic tape Ritchey let him borrow in 2005.
Ritchey preached a total domination mindset: don't just pin an opponent, dominate him. Make him lament his next match with you. Story ate it up. Ritchey pushed and Story obliged. Every day a coach who demanded the most out of his wrestlers worked with a student who demanded more of himself. By the time Story graduated he willed himself into an All-American and national runner-up. Second place wasn't what he had promised, but it was worlds away from where he'd come.
To stay in shape Story worked out at 24-Hour Fitness, now Oz Fitness, where he met a workout partner who eventually offered to trade wrestling lessons for jiu jitsu pointers. At season's end Story began practicing at Samurai Fighting Arts in Medford, agreeing to fight in the cage in exchange for gym fees. After his first fight, a knockout victory, Story was hooked.
As Rick's amateur record improved, his talent caught the eye of Pat White the head coach at Brave Legion in Vancouver, Wash. who quickly offered to sign him. Rick's intense focus and intimidating ring presence inspired White to coin the nickname "The Horror." Rick "The Horror" Story was born and his professional career took off.
"The Horror" applied to the Ultimate Fighter season nine, and ended up not making the cut. His highlight tapes, however, caught the eye of the UFC talent scouts, and he was offered a fill-in role for another fighter in case of injury. He never fought, but was signed to a four-fight deal anyway.
Finally on June 13, 2009, surrounded by 13,000 screaming Europeans, bright lights, television cameras and the black, chain-link fence wrapping around the Octagon (the nickname given to the UFC's signature combat stage), Story finally felt the weight of his journey. Literally. UFC 99 was held in Cologne, Germany. One of the longest flight's Story's ever taken. The UFC was everything he thought, and more. Starting with his opponent, John Hathaway (14-0), who proved to be every bit the professional fighter the UFC boasts. Hathaway took advantage of a dominant first round and came away with a close victory.
He had come so far, but fell just short.
Story admits he was caught up in the moment. He stood there, taking in everything, when suddenly, he had to fight. Now, Story just wants a rematch.
"I would love to fight him again. I really want that back."
And he is making his way back. After his debut loss Story rebounded with four consecutive wins, most recently a TKO over Dustin Hazelett (12-6) on Aug. 7.
The UFC has yet to schedule Story's next fight though the welterweight division offers plenty of options. Rick is ready for whatever comes his way, he'll match his best against their's any day. If it's not good enough, well, Story knows how to overcome that.
Hey, where there's a will there's a way.