Story hoping next chapter moving closer to UFC welterweight title shot

Spanaway’s Rick Story feels like he often gets lost in the UFC welterweight division shuffle.

The good: Story, a Bethel High School graduate and former NAIA All-American wrestler at Southern Oregon University, has beaten some of the bigger names of the sport in Johny Hendricks, Thiago Alves, Gunnar Nelson and Brian Ebersole.

The bad: Untimely injuries.

Ranked ninth in the division, the 31-year-old has a golden opportunity to squarely get back into the championship mix Saturday night at UFC 202. Story meets Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone as part of the main event card in Las Vegas.

“I have beaten tough guys, and I am not getting the recognition I deserve,” Story said Wednesday before the start of his media tour. “I believe I will be competitive with anybody in the division.”

At one point growing up, Story’s best sport was football. He was a fullback and middle linebacker on three Bethel state playoff teams (2000-01).

He went to Pacific Lutheran University for football (2002) and wrestling (2002-03; had an 0-17 record as a freshman). But after the school’s wrestling program folded, he was one of six Lutes transfers to SOU.

“I considered staying to play football because I was doing well – and I made great friendships,” Story said. “But I decided to solely focus on wrestling.”

Good thing he did. In 2006, Story put together one of the finest seasons in SOU history – 33-7, and advancing to the NAIA national championship match at 184 pounds, losing 16-8 to Dana College’s Willie Parks.

It was early in his mixed-martial arts career that a former coach gave Story his current nickname – “Horror” Story.

“It was one of the best things that came out of the relationship with that guy,” he said.

Known for his vicious body punches and ability to absorb big shots, Story debuted at UFC 99 in 2009, and has compiled a 19-8 record.

He has also suffered a couple of career-threatening injuries.

The first came in the victory over Nelson in 2014. Despite fracturing his tibia (shinbone) in the second round, he went on to win a split decision over the previously-undefeated prospect.

That injury healed up about the time another recurred to a point of no return.

During workouts, he kept suffering stingers while on the mat. His right arm would go numb.

“I was in real pain,” he said.

Expected to fight Erick Silva last summer, instead he pulled out of the fight, opting for neck surgery in September to remove bone spurs and also have two artificial discs inserted.

He was cleared to return to full action last December, and returned to the UFC in May. He defeated Tarec Saffiedine by unanimous decision to set up this weekend’s fight with Cerrone.