In a battle of two welterweights in the UFC Octagon on Saturday in Stockholm, Sweden - one experienced but needing to reclaim lost position and another on the rise - it'd be the veteran who would edge out his opponent as Rick Story defeated Gunnar Nelson via split decision in the main event at UFC Fight Night 53.
The event aired on UFC Fight Pass.
The two were active right away in the first frame, not with huge flurries of activities, but steady drips of offense. Story was consistent with leg kicks and even a takedown attempt, while Nelson scored with a right hand early and follow-up shots in the clinch.
From that spot, Nelson was able to work a step around trip, although Story was able to stand with a fair amount of ease. Nelson, in addition, hit the canvas from a misapplied leg kick, but neither was worse for the wear. Before the bell of the first round, Story connected with a hard left hook.
Nelson opened the second frame pressing forward and the two picked up where they left off. Story was more active, but Nelson landed the better, if more irregular shots. A left hook from Nelson opened up a cut over the right eye of Story, but not one that could jeopardize the fight being stopped.
Story continued to chip away at Nelson, forcing the Icelandic fighter to switch stances after a kick. The American was also able to uncork punches off the end of combinations. Nelson attempted to clinch on a few occasions, but Story was having none of it. Just prior to the end of the round, Story drilled home two hard hooks, both of which had Nelson backing up.
Story found himself fending off a blast double to start the third round, which only worked after he was taken to the mat. Story also unloaded a series of body shots as Nelson locked up a Thai clinch, but absorbed a knee to the face for his efforts.
Story continued to work Nelson's body, landing liver shots, middle kicks and straight jabs. He was even able to connect on Nelson as he backed him up straight. Nelson elected to pot shot, landing on occasion, but spending longer portions of the round waiting for a moment to strike.
In the fourth, Story connected with the best strike of the fight, dropping Nelson with a hook that landed as Nelson was backing up. Story followed up with a series of punches on top, but Nelson effectively blocked the majority of the strikes. The rest of the frame wasn't pretty for the European prospect. Story was able to measure Nelson with range-finding punches and land hard punches that snapped the SBG Ireland welterweight's head back.
By the fifth round, Nelson got more active right away. He was busy with movement and clinch attempts, but couldn't get much of anything really going. The two traded jabs and even power punches, but neither had a dramatic impact. Story, noticeably, put more physical pressure on Nelson as he took center of the cage and tried to walk him back.
The rest of the round played out like that, Story backing Nelson up, landing crushing body shots and heavy hooks while Nelson moved on the outside, intermittently connecting with strikes.
In the end, it was a split decision win for Story, albeit with scores not much in alignment. The judges had it 48-47 for Nelson, and 49-46 as well as 50-44 for Story.
After the victory was awarded, Story had positive words for his opponent.
"I wasn't going to underestimate Gunnar. He's a great opponent. He's a stud. I have the highest respect for him. I respect his ground game so much and look at my face. He tagged me quite a bit," he told UFC commentator Dan Hardy after the fight.
"He's definitely quick. Normally when you hit opponents, they give some expression on their face. He's got the toughest poker face in the game. No emotion."
As for what's next, Story didn't call anyone out, but said he was ready to take on anyone in the division.
"Right now, I don't know what the standings are. I don't really pay attention to them. I just know that I belong up there. I don't care who I face next. Line them up and I'm ready to fight."
For his part. Nelson acknowledged Story was a difficult opponent, but said the loss will be a very strong learning experience as he develops his game.
"Rick kept really good pressure. He was kind of hard to hit and he always came back every time I went in on him. He started swinging," he told Hardy. "He has very good cardio. He goes and goes and goes. He didn't really slow down too much. He's a tough possum."
"I'll have to go back to my training camp and see where I go from there. I'm definitely going to learn so much from this fight," he continued. "I'm happy for Rick Story and look forward to going to the gym again.
In the co-main event of the evening, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) contestant and native Swede Akira Corassani took on the surging Max Holloway.
Corassani started strong and cracked Holloway with a vicious right hook, but Holloway managed to shake it off early. In fact, the right was finding a home early and often before the tables seemed to immediately turn. Holloway backed Corassani into the fence and uncorked a right of his own that sent his opposition crashing to the mat.
Corassani tried to recover, and for a few brief moments was able to clinch with Holloway, but it wasn't enough. While Corassani landed one final right, Holloway immediately responded with another of his own, the time putting the Swede out cold.
The TKO finish came officially at 3:11 of the first round.
Two light heavyweights and one hometown favorite also fought on the event's main card as Ilir Latifi and KSW-matriculating talent Jan Blachowicz faced off in the second bout of the main card.
Both fighters kicked off the first round feeling one another out and switching stances, with Blachowicz scoring with a series of outside low kicks. Meanwhile, Latifi attempted to bullrush the Polish fighter with strikes, but to little effect.
As the two moved closer to the center of the cage, however, Blachowicz positively drilled Latifi with a crushing body kick. The audible thud and grimacing look on Latifi's face gave away the Swede was in tremendous pain. As Latifi slowly walked backwards, Blachowicz followed up with a series of strikes that put Latifi in turtle position, only covering up, forcing a referee stoppage at just 1:58 in the first round.
In the opening bout of the main card, hometown Swede Niklas Backstrom faced off against Mike Wilkinson, a Brit looking for his first win in the Octagon after dropping his UFC debut to Rony Jason.
And in the blink of an eye, he would get exactly that.
After the two felt each other out, it appeared Backstrom was beginning to loosen up with his strikes. The Swede secured a clinch and was beginning to connect. Wilkinson was also on the receiving end of a front kick that partially landed to the Brit's face. Backstrom attempted the strike again, and while it connected, Wilkinson dropped a hammer of a right hand that put Backstrom out cold with one shot.
The end came officially at 1:19 of the first round.
Full preliminary card results are available here.