Fresh off a unanimous decision as part of Ultimate Fighting Championships' 20th anniversary show, Rick Story believes he is poised to climb up the welterweight ladder of mixed martial arts' top circuit.
Saturday's 30-27 victory over Brian Ebersole on the undercard of UFC 167 in Las Vegas improved Story to 16-7 in professional mixed martial arts fights. That includes 9-5 in UFC events. The victory figures to boost the Vancouver-based Story's UFC pedigree, and his chances of drawing more top-flight opponents in the future.
Story, 29, is a Spanaway native who has lived in Vancouver for three years. His role in UFC 167 went beyond his own performance.
Story spent six weeks prior to Saturday's match in Montreal, sparring with Georges St-Pierre. One of the most popular and successful UFC fighters in the promotion's two decades, St-Pierre fought Johny Hendricks in the main event of UFC 167.
Prior to St-Pierre's controversial win on Saturday, Story was the only fighter to defeat Hendricks. That history motivated St-Pierre's team to invite Story and his coach Pat White to Montreal.
"Training there just solidified that I know I am up with the elite class of fighters," Story said.
White said one lesson from training in Montreal was that Story needs UFC-level training partners when preparing for a fight.
To that end, White said sponsors Paleo Ranch jerky and Kronobar nutrition products have agreed to pay for St.-Pierre and other top fighters to come to Vancouver for Story's next training camp.
Story hopes his next fight will be in three or four months. He learned on Wednesday that a biceps injury suffered during Saturday's bout will not require surgery.
Training away from home, while challenging, helped Story prepare better to fight Ebersole.
"By the time I got to my fight I had done everything I could to be ready," Story said.
When he won six consecutive fights between the fall of 2009 and the spring of 2011, Story looked like he might be on track for a shot at St.-Pierre's UFC welterweight championship belt. But Story dropped four of his next six fights.
White said Story's recent record is deceiving. Pointing to a controversial split decision loss to Mike Pyle in May, White said that in his opinion Story has won three bouts in a row.
White, Story and a third investor own Inferno Fitness and Sports in Salmon Creek and also own Brave Legion professional mixed martial arts team.
A successful wrestler at Bethel High School and at Southern Oregon University, Story relied on his grappling ability at the start of his MMA career. But Saturday he won by out maneuvering and out striking Ebersole.
"For a while, takedowns and wrestling were taken out of my game plan, because when I get to the top I'm going to need to be able to have a lot of different skills," Story said.
Improved boxing skill has made Story a more well-rounded and confident fighter.
Fourteen fights into his UFC career, Story said he is much more relaxed and less worried about looking good for the TV cameras and large crowds.
"At this point I don't care what people say. I know my ability. I know I'm getting better," Story said.
He also knows the road ahead will require his full attention.
"Everyone is going to be tough from here on, no matter who I fight," Story said. "I'm going to need a full training camp to prepare for every fight."