One of the most interesting and significant bouts taking place on Saturday night at The Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale is a welterweight contest pitting two-time NCAA Division I wrestling champion Johny Hendricks (9-0, 4-0 UFC) against Washington-born wrestler turned mixed martial artist Rick Story (11-3, 4-1 UFC). The match-up will not only feature two outstanding wrestlers who have proven that they have transitioned their backgrounds successfully into mixed martial arts, but it should give us the opportunity to see how both fighters have progressed their stand-up skills. A win will likely vault one of these fighters into some much bigger, much more relevant battles near the top of the division.
Hendricks remains undefeated in his career with nine victories, four of those taking place under the UFC banner. He defeated Amir Sadollah at UFC 101 in his debut in only 0:29 seconds, defeated Ricardo Funch and T.J. Grant via decision at UFC 107 and UFC 113 respectively, and recently knocked out Charlie Brenneman at UFC 117 in August.
Story has only one blemish in his UFC career as he was defeated by John Hathaway in his debut with the promotion at UFC 99. He returned at UFC 103 and submitted Brian Foster via arm triangle in the second round, and then rattled off three more victories with his most recent coming against Dustin Hazelett at UFC 117.
In nine UFC bouts between the two fighters, their styles have been parallel in how they win fights. Both Story and Hendricks are physically intimidating fighters who thrive on using their strength and power punching to damage opponents while also working for takedowns in the process. Both have shown a propensity to out work anyone put in front of them, and the clash between these two fighters should be very interesting to watch considering all of the improvements they've made during their tenure in the UFC.
That clash of similar styles is what makes this fight very tough to predict, and most fans would simply give Hendricks the nod due to his wrestling credentials. But I find this collision between two rising prospects to be refreshing in the context of great matchmaking. There seems to be room for only one of these guys near the top of the division, and this bout should give us an answer as to who that will be in the future.
While I normally don't succumb to public consensus, Hendricks has the edge in this fight. I think he'll struggle in trying to take down Story repeatedly and keep him on his back over the course of three rounds, but his clinch striking and use of the uppercut is something that his opponents have problems dealing with. Story should be the better striker from range however, and that's going to be problematic for Hendricks in that he'll have a hard time trying to shoot if he needs to wade through strikes. Unfortunately for Story, Hendricks hasn't been hindered in previous bouts by any sort of offense, including knee strikes as he shoots.
Tough call here, and I truly love how Rick Story fights. It's tough to find fighters who flat out work their asses off to implement a gameplan and continually work at a quickened pace, but Story imposes that strategy brilliantly. I'll probably regret this decision, but I'm going with Johny Hendricks here. While I think Story has a great chance to win, I think Hendricks' power in the clinch along with his wrestling will prove to be Story's undoing.