Mike Pyle put on one of the grittiest performances of his career last weekend at UFC 160.
Following a treacherous first round where he was dropped and close to being finished by Rick Story, the Las Vegas-based fighter bounced back with vigor to earn the split-decision nod. It was a fight which required the savvy veteran to tap into every facet of his skill set. And while his ground game and striking turned the tide of the fight, it was perhaps his intangible attributes which ultimately secured the victory.
Over the three-round affair, the 37-year-old Syndicate MMA fighter displayed heart and determination all the while relying on his experience to help him persevere. It was a close fought back-and-forth affair, but after the 15 minutes had concluded, Pyle's hand was raised in victory.
"It was a good war," Pyle told Bleacher Report. "It's been awhile since I've been in a three round battle and a fighter needs it every now and again to dig deep and get the job done. I'm happy with my performance. I'm happy with the outcome. I'm glad to be victorious, man."
The opening minutes of the fight were spent grappling on the mat. But when the fighters returned to their feet, Story caught Pyle with a big shot that put the veteran flat on the canvas. The 29-year-old Team Brave Legion fighter immediately swarmed in looking for the finish, but Pyle was able to regroup and get Story under control inside his guard.
"The thoughts going through my mind were like, 'I have to weather the storm and hang in there. I know I can beat this kid, I just can't let him get anymore shots in on me," Pyle said. "I tried to stay safe and [Steve] Mazzagatti did a good job by not stopping the fight. I was still in that fight and he did a good job."
While Pyle rode out the rest of the first round off his back, the position would be repeated several times throughout the fight. But where the majority of fighters lose points with their backs to the canvas, Pyle remained offensive from the bottom as he made several solid submission attempts.
"I was just looking for whatever he gave me," Pyle said. "I was just playing it by ear. If he gave me something I was going to take it. He gave me opportunities a couple of times but I wasn't able to capitalize on them. That boy is really strong. Rick Story is a strong son of a b***."
"I have put a lot of time into my ground game and I believe that showed through in this fight. I'm comfortable off my back. I know that I can hang with the best. That is all there is to it. I'm not afraid to be in that position and I'll be there with anyone. I don't care who they are. In a fight, you are going to end up on your back.
"It's not just about scrambling up to get back to your feet. It's about winning. You have to stay focused and make sure your defense is sound before your offense. I have a pretty good defense on the ground and it's somewhere I'm comfortable."
Going into the final frame it was anyone's fight to take and Pyle put his foot on the gas pedal. Where the first two rounds were spent in grappling exchanges, the third round saw Pyle open up with his striking and score at will. He consistently backed Story up with solid shots and scored enough to lock down the round on the judge's scorecards.
"I was just in better shape," Pyle said. "I was in better shape and I could see a lot more openings because he slowed down a bit. I was moving a little slow myself but I was scoring. My corner was telling me it was time to get after him. I got a little complacent trying to put a play in and let him get that takedown at the end. But I was still able to use my jiu-jitsu again off my back and make the fight.
The win over Story at UFC 160 was Pyle's fourth-consecutive victory and added to an impressive streak where he's found success in seven of his last eight showings. That momentum has brought him to the doorstep of the top 10 and creates a likely scenario where he will see one of the division's best standing across the cage the next time he steps into the Octagon.
That being said, the decisions as to what comes next or where he stands in the bigger picture of the welterweight division are out of his hands. For Pyle, the only thing within his control is his ability to improve with each and every fight and the slick welterweight is determined to be prepared for whatever comes his way next.
"Let's do it," Pyle replied when asked about getting a top-10 opponent for his next fight. "Whatever comes my way I'm going to take it. I can't predict and I can't control what the UFC has plans for as the welterweight division. Hopefully I fit in there somewhere and we'll just take it day by day.
"I'm only getting better, man," he added. "My health is great. I feel 27 not 37 and I'm ready to keep going. Let's do it."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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