When the action kicks off at the Bell Centre in Montreal for UFC 158, a collection of the UFC welterweights will be looking to carve out their places in the division. The circumstances cover the entire spectrum as some are competing for championship gold--or the chance to position themselves for a future opportunity to do so—while others are fighting to keep their spots on the roster. The event is arguably the most high-profile card of the year, and the fighters involved are all facing a unique amount of pressure.
While the focus leading into Saturday night's event has been locked on the championship grudge match between Georges St-Pierre and Nick Diaz, there is another interesting story line involving two other fighters on the card. Strangely enough, the competitors in question are not facing off with one another and will have no immediate impact on their respective futures, but the career paths of Nate Marquardt and Rick Story will forever be linked because of a fight which never took place nearly two years ago.
Often times, fighters' careers are dictated by how they perform inside the cage, but in the unique case of these two athletes, it was what didn't happen that had the greatest effect.
Where Nate Marquardt will square off with Jake Ellenberger on the pay-per-view portion of the card to determine who moves closer to a title shot, it is a starkly different situation for Story.
The Brave Legion fighter will lock up with Strikeforce alum Quinn Mulhern on the Facebook preliminaries, and having lost three of his last four bouts, it is highly likely the 28-year-old is battling to retain his spot on the UFC roster.
When taking a look at Story's current position in the welterweight fold, it is difficult to argue that the things which have come to pass are not connected to a fateful turn of events in June of 2011 in Pittsburgh, PA.
A Series of Unfortunate Events in the "Steel City"
After stumbling in his Octagon debut against John Hathaway, Rick Story dug in his heels and made a serious run for title contention. The Vancouver, Wash-native put together an impressive six-fight win streak, where he claimed victory over names like Brian Foster, Johny Hendricks and Thiago Alves.
With each step up the ladder, Story appeared to be coming into his own. After defeating "The Pitbull" at UFC 130, Story not only broke into the upper tier of the division, but found himself being mentioned in the conversation of potential title contenders.
The buzz surrounding Story was thriving, and he was looking to keep the momentum rolling strong. When Anthony Johnson was forced to pull out of his bout with Nate Marquardt at UFC on Versus 4, Story jumped at the opportunity to face another marquee name inside the Octagon. With less than a month to prepare for the throwdown, Story and his team signed on the dotted line and set their sights on facing Marquardt in Pittsburgh.
The bout was set to mark the first headlining spot in Story's UFC career and presented tremendous opportunity for the surging contender.
But less than an hour before the fighters took the scale for the weigh-ins, Marquardt was pulled from the card due to his failure to receive medical clearance. The former Pancrase champion failed a pre-fight physical which resulted in his removal from the card entirely.
This turn of events put Story in an unenviable situation. He had taken the fight in the hopes that a victory over the former No. 1 middleweight contender would launch him further up the ladder towards a title shot, but with Marquardt out, and the UFC reeling because of losing a highly anticipated bout, Story agreed to face a relatively unknown opponent in Charlie Brenneman.
In facing "The Spaniard", every ounce of upside Story was looking for in Pittsburgh went out the window and the circumstances rapidly changed into a high risk/low reward scenario. A potential victory over Marquardt would have been the biggest of Story's young career, where defeating an opponent with minimal name recognition like Brenneman, would only serve to notch another "W" in the win column. The bout was moved into the co-main event slot, and now Story was on the opposite side of the opportunity coin.
As it would turn out, the win was more elusive than expected. Brenneman wrestled his way to a unanimous decision victory, pulling off one of the biggest upsets of the year. In the aftermath of the loss, Story was despondent and obviously shaken by what had just taken place, because what was set to be a career highlight for the Washington-based fighter turned into an unfortunate series of events.
The win streak was gone. The momentum he had generated was erased. And in the aftermath of his loss to Brenneman, it was uncertain how much this turn of events would affect the road ahead.
Determined to bounce back and reclaim his standing in the division, Story took a fight with Martin Kampmann four months later at UFC 139. "The Hitman" was coming off back-to-back, razor-thin decision losses, and much like Story, the Danish striker was looking to regain his footing in the competitive weight class.
Coming into the bout with the Xtreme Couture product, Story was looking to prove his loss to Brenneman was a fluke and get back to his winning ways. Nevertheless those intentions were soured when he struggled to get into a rhythm against Kampmann and found himself on the business end of a unanimous decision defeat.
For the first time in his career, Story was sitting on back-to-back losses. Where he was once bulldozing his way up the divisional ladder, he now found himself in the midst of an ugly backslide and desperately needed a victory.
Fortunately for Story, that opportunity would come when he faced newcomer Brock Jardine at UFC on FX 4 in Atlantic City. Over the course of the three round fight, Story kept a measured pace and used his wrestling to control Jardine on the canvas. It wasn't a pretty win by any measure but absolutely necessary where Story was concerned.
The victory over Jardine came four days shy of the year mark since the fallout in Pittsburgh. And while Jardine didn't carry a big name, the much needed win helped to put some wind back in Story's sails and helped to close a difficult chapter in his career. But for as much relief as his victory in Atlantic City provided, a first round submission loss to Demian Maia in his next outing at UFC 153, once again put Story on the boundaries of relevancy in the welterweight division.
Having lost three of his last four outings, Story's bout with Mulhern at UFC 158 is a crucial moment in his career. It wasn't all too long ago when he appeared to be the "next big thing" in the 170-pound weight class, but if Story should come up short against Mulhern, there is a good chance his next fight could very well come outside of the UFC entirely.
The Quest for Redemption Continues for Marquardt
For years the 33-year-old Colorado-based fighter was considered to be one of the top middleweight fighters in the UFC. But after losses to Chael Sonnen and Yushin Okami pushed him out of title contention, Marquardt decided to test his skills in the welterweight division.
His 170-pound debut was set to come at UFC on Versus 4, but following his failure to receive medical clearance for the bout with Story, Marquardt was pulled from the card. Adding insult to injury, UFC President Dana White released video via his personal Twitter account that Marquardt had also been released from the promotion as well.
Marquardt's situation become top news across the MMA landscape as the exact cause of him being pulled from the card and termination from the UFC was yet to be made clear. Marquardt sat down with Ariel Helwani during the MMA Hour and explained the series of events that created the problem in Pittsburgh.
A remorseful Marquardt explained in detail how his doctor had placed him on hormone replacement therapy to combat low levels of testosterone. He applied for a therapeutic usage exemption for testosterone-replacement-therapy going into his bout with Dan Miller at UFC 128 in March of 2011.
While the request was granted, the New Jersey State Athletic Commission's decision ordered Marquardt to go off the therapy for 10 weeks then be retested to see if the therapy treatment was something he actually needed. It was ultimately determined by the commission-approved specialist that Marquardt's condition met the standards of someone needing testosterone-replacement-therapy.
But where the former No. 1 middleweight contender ran into trouble came when his primary physician attempted to get his testosterone levels back up following the 10 week break. His bout with Story was rapidly approaching, and when Marquardt was retested in Pennsylvania, his levels were above the allowed limit. Despite his levels on the downtrend, the commission could not allow Marquardt to compete. The only bright spot in this turbulent affair came when Marquardt tested once again on the day of the event, and since his levels had dropped to within the proper range, the original suspension issued was lifted.
Following Marquardt's release from the UFC, he signed on to compete in the British promotion BAMMA. He was slated to face Yoshiyuki Yoshida, but the bout never materialized, and Marquardt was granted a release from his contract with the promotion.
In the months that followed his exit from BAMMA, it was announced that Marquardt had signed with Strikeforce. After a year on the sidelines, Marquardt finally made his welterweight debut when he squared off with previously unbeaten Tyron Woodley for the vacant Strikeforce 170-pound title. His return would be a triumphant one as Marquardt scored a brutal fourth round knockout over the former University of Missouri wrestling standout.
His performance against Woodley generated instant buzz, and in addition to a championship belt, Marquardt's name was being thrown around as one of the top welterweights in the sport. Unfortunately, a lackluster showing in his next outing against Tarec Saffiedine would serve to quiet that talk for the most part, but Marquardt's proven abilities ensured he wouldn't be written off entirely.
Once the doors to the Strikeforce promotion were closed for good, Marquardt joined his fellow fighters from the San Jose-based organization and made his way back to the UFC. Prior to his bout with Saffiedine, Marquardt was figured to step immediately into the upper tier of the UFC welterweight division.
After his loss to Saffiedine at Strikeforce's final show, that scenario seemed unlikely. But after Rory MacDonald fell out of his bout with an injury and Johny Hendricks stepped up to fill his position opposite Carlos Condit, Jake Ellenberger was left without an opponent. Marquardt saw this as the perfect opportunity to make a strong return to the UFC fold and set about campaigning for the fight.
His wish was granted, and in less than 24 hours, the fight between Ellenberger and Marquardt was made official. Now Marquardt has the opportunity to officially set about the course he intended to begin nearly two years ago. After the pain of being released and the year he spent floating in career uncertainty, the table is set for Marquardt to claim redemption and prove he belongs with the top welterweights in the UFC.
Whether Story and Marquardt's paths will ever cross inside the Octagon remains to be seen. Where they were once set to face off to determine who would become a legitimate welterweight contender, now their careers are in much different places.
One is fighting to prove he is an elite 170-pound fighter in a crowded title picture, while the other is fighting to keep his job with the promotion. It is a drastic turn from where things stood just a short time ago, but this is the fight business, and the tide can be a difficult thing to overcome.
Both men will step into the Octagon Saturday night in Montreal, and regardless of where their respective careers go in the future, the situation in Pittsburgh will always be a part of their pasts.