(Props to Scritch and Scratch.)
Standing in a grocery store, Rick Story is torturing himself. The UFC welterweight is dropping pounds for an upcoming bout and as giddy as a fat girl in a doughnut storm.
“This is the most incredible place ever,” Story says of Fairfax, Va.’s Whole Foods. “There’s sushi over there. There’s fresh produce. A bistro, a salad bar, a dessert bar…”
Story continues, describing the store section-by-section, savoring the details of foods he cannot have.
“Of course, I only get to pick one thing,” he said with no small measure of disappointment. “And THAT has to be healthy.”
On Jan. 11, Story will fight Jesse Lennox on the undercard of UFN 20 in Fairfax. It will be Story’s first return to action since earning $130,000 in bonuses at UFC 103 in September.
Story went from the poorhouse to the penthouse by beating Brian Foster with an arm triangle from Foster’s guard to earn double $65,000 bonuses; one for “Fight of the Night,” and one for “Submission of the Night.” The fight was named the seventh-best fight of 2009 by UFC.com and the bonuses literally changed Story’s life. Prior to the fight, he had collection agencies on his back; was barely making rent and skipping meals.
“You have to make a lot of sacrifices to be a pro fighter, but you usually you don’t think of food as being one of them,” Story said. “It was getting down to the point where I was struggling just to get enough nutrients in my body to keep going.
“Luckily, those days are gone now.”
Story begins to absent-mindedly rattle off sections of the store he’d like to visit.
“They have a whole section just for seafood,” he says.
Story returned from UFC 103, paid off his creditors and sought advice from an accountant. “I didn’t want to be one of those guys who would have to go on the run from the IRS,” he said.
Story invested a large portion of his bonuses back into his gym, Brave Legion in Vancouver, Wash. Formerly Braveheart Fight Club, the gym houses two UFC fighters: Story and Mike Pierce. Now a part owner, Story teaches classes and works the front desk, – hardly the glamorous life.
“Sometimes I go a bit stir crazy,” he said. “But it keeps me focused on fighting. I know I only have a short window of opportunity to this before my body will give out.”
In Lennox (14-1), Story will face a fighter of similar build and style. Lennox is 2-0 for Zuffa, winning fights in the WEC and at UFC 101.
“He is aggressive and looks like he can take punches,” Story said of his opponent. “He’s come in good shape – at least from what I have seen. He has an exciting style and I think the two of us together should make for an exciting fight.”
And perhaps another bonus. Story and manager Pat White spoke openly about gunning for fight bonuses going into UFC 103.
“I always want to win, but my second priority is to be exciting and put on a good show,” he said. “Even when I was growing up, I was like that. In high school, I’d do things to get the fans into it so that they’d like to watch me.”
Story’s first taste of crowd-fueled adrenaline came during a high school football game in Washington state. He recalls racing down the field on the kickoff team.
“I was the wedge buster so I went in there as fast as I could,” he said. “I blasted through the wedge and laid the ball carrier out. I had so much momentum that I wound up with my knees at his armpits, straddling him. The crowd went insane. It was an adrenaline rush.”
Story went on to become an all-star in football, but chose wrestling in college. As a senior at Southern Oregon University, he placed second in the 2006 national tournament. However, he missed that feeling of mass adulation until he discovered MMA and the thrill of the cage.
“This is definitely the biggest adrenaline rush you could ever ask for,” he said. “Everyone is screaming. You go out there and you know you’re going to feel pain. It’s just a question of when. There’s nothing else like it.”
Story beat noted veterans Ryan Healy and Jake Ellenberger in regional shows before catching Zuffa’s eye during a publicity trip to Las Vegas. He made his UFC debut in Cologne, Germany during UFC 99.
After a 10-month layoff and only two weeks to prepare, Story never asserted himself and lost a unanimous decision to John Hathaway. Since then, Story has always remained in shape and fight-ready, just in case.
Of course, that doesn’t make being teased by sights and smells of thousands of foods any easier.
“I’m use to cutting weight, but it still sucks every time,” he said while wandering the aisles of Whole Foods. “But at least I know where I am going to be after the fight.”