Last week at PFL 3 (Professional Fighters League), Rick “The Horror” Story made his long awaited return to mixed marital arts action. One of the Pacific Northwest’s most well respected talents, Story had not fought in nearly two years. His return to the cage not only saw him back from the extended layoff but it also saw him fighting outside of the UFC for the first time since 2008. Many are not aware, but he actually declined to re-sign with the UFC and take his chances with the upstart PFL. With a successful promotional debut under his belt, it seems Story now has his eye on the big prize, a cool million-dollar payout. Story and his teammates firmly believe he has what it takes to win this tournament and if you look at the welterweight bracket, it is easy to see why. How does it all work? What do you have to do to win? Let’s break it down.
The quick and dirty version of what the PFL is doing is as follows. Twelve fighters at each weight class will compete in two regular season matchups. Based on how they do in those fights, they earn points to determine how they’re seeded for the playoffs, the top 8 fighters in each weight class move on. The playoffs are staged as a one night, two-fight tournament. The winners of these matchups move on to the championship to face each other on New Year’s Eve. The winner takes home a million bucks. It’s that easy. There are a few hurdles in the way of course. First, the two finalists will be expected to fight five times in about six months. That is a huge request and to assume that no one gets hurt would be naïve. Secondly, cramming that much action into a six-month window could lead to people not being sure what is actually happening during the season. However, the framework seems solid and with three shows already under their belt the PFL is showing promise.
Now back to Story. Outside of Jake Shields, Story has the most high-level experience in the welterweight bracket. After spending nearly a decade competing in the UFC, it is clear that he will be able to lean on that experience going forward. The majority of the fighters in the bracket with Story and Shields are up and coming fighters who are looking to make their mark. While many have experience fighting for large promotions, most of them washed out and are looking to right the ship with the PFL. With that in mind, it would seem that on paper this season should ultimately be Story’s to lose. After Jake Shields showed up looking like a shell of his former self, the only fighters who appear to be real threats are Joao Zeferino, Pavlo Kusch, and Ray Cooper. Zeferino has a top level Jiu Jitsu game and if he can somehow get Story to the mat, it could be disastrous. Kusch is a bit of an x-factor since he is relatively unknown. To this point he has to be considered a threat since he has a solid record and recorded a submission win at PFL3. Lastly, Ray Cooper is a potential threat. After his win over Jake Shields, everyone is taking the striking of Cooper a bit more seriously. However, the question remains, did Cooper look good or did the Shields just look bad?
Story looked dominant in his fight at PFL 3. After a slow first round, he came out with an assault of body shots and combinations in the second, coupled with some solid ground and pound as well. By the end of the fight, it was clear that Story was too much for his opponent as he earned the unanimous decision victory. He did look a bit sloppy, but he pointed to a very slick canvas as the reason behind his bad form. His cornerman, Jake Smith, also noticed the canvas being an issue and he mentioned to OSN that he had never seen a canvas quite like that before. Never the less, Story was able to display his power, wrestling, and tenacity in the bout that should serve as a good tune up fight for the Washingtonian.
Fighting five times in six months is going to be tough but with health no longer being an issue (having full recovered from dual elbow surgeries), it would seem that Story is poised to make a run at winning this season and coming home with a check for a million bucks.