This Wednesday night (July 16, 2014) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) welterweights Rick Story and Leonardo Mafra will go to war on the main card of UFC Fight Night 45, airing live at 9 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1 from Revel Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Story comes into the bout off of a split decision loss to The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 17 winner Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 171, the fifth time he's been defeated in his last eight mixed martial arts (MMA) bouts.
"The Horror" was poised to become one of the top welterweights in UFC following his May 2011 win over Thiago Alves, but his recent track record has left him far behind in a crowded division.
Story was originally scheduled to face veteran John Howard in this bout before "Doomsday" was forced out with an injury. Instead, he'll look to give Mafra a rude welcome back to UFC.
Mafra has fought in the Octagon once before, suffering a third round knockout loss to Thiago Perpetuo back at UFC 147 in June 2012. It was the only loss of his career, and he's since won five straight bouts by knockout to earn a trip back to the big leagues.
"Macarrao" will have his hands full with the highly experienced Story. Let's take a look at the keys to victory:
Record: 16-8 overall, 9-6 UFC
Key Wins: Johny Hendricks (TUF 12 Finale), Thiago Alves (UFC 130), Jake Ellenberger (Sportfight 23)
Key Losses: Kelvin Gastelum (UFC 171), Demian Maia (UFC 153), Mike Pyle (UFC 160), Charlie Brenneman (UFC on Versus 4), Martin Kampmann (UFC 139)
Keys to Victory: With nine decision victories in 16 total wins, decorated former NAIA wrestler Story prefers to use his takedowns to grind his opponents into the mat.
It hasn't been working all that much as of late, however, as "The Horror" has been on the wrong end of several judges' scorecards. To get back on track, he has to find a way to neutralize Mafra's explosive stand-up skills.
To do so, he'll need to get in the Brazilian's face so that he never finds his striking rhythm. Setting up some combinations to close the distance early will help him take Mafra to the ground, where he has scored three submission wins.
"Macarrao" has never tapped out, but he won't be able to end the fight with a flurry if he's on his back. Story should look to control the action with his heavy top game and ground strikes.
He may be in need of a win in the worst way, but Story is still one of only two men to beat UFC welterweight champion Johny Hendricks. The talent is there; he just has to put forth a decisive performance in the Octagon.
Record: 11-1 overall, 0-1 UFC
Key Wins: Antonio Marcos (PFE 11), Santiago Ponzinibbio (CMMA 2)
Key Losses: Thiago Perpetuo (UFC 147)
Keys to Victory: Mafra has eight knockouts in 11 wins and he'll be looking to score a huge comeback to UFC with his ninth.
That's going to be incredibly hard to come by in this bout, as Story has never been finished by strikes. He has tapped out once, but with only one submission win of his own, Brazilian jiu-jitsu isn't usually "Macarrao's" main focus.
He'll likely have to settle in for the long haul. Mafra needs to defend Story's inevitable takedown attempts and land some subsequent combinations. Getting back to his feet if he does get taken down will also prove crucial.
Mafra has appeared beyond motivated since losing to Perpetuo in his only UFC bout, but he is receiving a huge step up in competition. He can't let the pressure of the big stage get to him again, because he might not be back if he loses badly.
Mafra should look to maintain distance with a varied mix of strikes to keep Story guessing and make this fight his. The Chute Boxe-trained product exhibits all the famous aggression of his camp, but Mafra has to be careful not to overcommit against his more seasoned opponent.
With Story being extremely inconsistent as of late, the potential for a huge win is there if he can keep this fight standing.
Bottom Line from Atlantic City: The bottom line for this fight is that it is an interesting match-up of a fading, once-touted veteran vs. a dangerous prospect who has fought his way to a second chance in the Octagon.
That means both of these fighters have to win now.
Story could see his release with another boring loss, so the pressure weighs heavily upon "The Horror's" shoulders. He has to step up his game and get a finish or at least provide a reason for the judges to give him the nod.
As a late replacement, it may seem like Mafra has nothing to lose, but he holds the dubious distinction of having been knocked out in his only UFC bout, so the pressure will be on him to perform as well.
Eager to prove his previous showing a fluke, expect Mafra to push the pace throughout with his vaunted striking. It's going to take something special to put out Story's lights, but if he can, he'll score his biggest-ever win and find himself with a wealth of possibilities in UFC.
If he can't, it may be back to regional shows in Brazil.
The UFC welterweight division is arguably the most talent-laden weight class in all of MMA right now. Fighters have to make a statement if they want to continue climbing the 170-pound ranks.
If these two don't do just that, their jobs are on the line. Expect a hard-fought battle in Atlantic City.
Up-and-down vet Rick Story is looking to salvage his career against returning Leonardo Mafra at UFC Fight Night 45 in New Jersey. Will ‘Macarrao' be the next underdog to write his own ‘Horror' story?