I’m down here for a reason, and I’m very focused on that reason. My focus is trying to beat McCall. Beat McCall, then (UFC flyweight champion) Demetrious Johnson. That’s my goal. - Brad Pickett

UFC flyweight Brad PickettMotivation is never in short supply for a UFC

fighter. First off, there’s the reality that if you win, you double your purse, and that’s enough right there. But there are other things that drive an athlete to sacrifice and cut weight in order to step inside the Octagon and perform. For flyweight contender Brad Pickett, there are several reasons why he fights.

“The main motivation for me is to be number one in the world, but you always get other motivations,” he said. “I got married last year and I know that I’m not going to be in the sport for years to come, so I want to try and achieve as much as I can now to set myself up for my future and the kids which I don’t have yet because I’ve sacrificed everything for this sport.”

Those are admirable reasons, but heading into his Saturday bout with fellow 125-pound standout Ian McCall in Dublin, it doesn’t hurt to have a little more incentive.

“You get extra help with motivation from someone like McCall, who you really want to punch in the face,” said Pickett. “That adds fuel to the fire for me. I don’t there’s been anyone I’ve ever fought that I wanted to punch as much as him.”

That’s not shocking, given the back and forth banter between the two before and since their March fight was postponed due to a McCall injury, but what is surprising is that the affable Pickett has gotten into a trash talk war to begin with.

“I’m mentally tough and I don’t need trash talk to motivate myself,” he said. “I fight how I fight and I have a lot of respect for every opponent I ever had because what we do is very hard. I appreciate anyone who does our sport, but McCall, with his antics and the way he looks past me as if I’m nobody, I just think it’s very disrespectful. I fight hard anyway, but I’ll get extra pleasure out of beating the crap out of him.”

That desire to send a painful message to “Uncle Creepy” may end up being the greatest motivation for Pickett to make the laborious cut to 125 pounds, a process which he readily admits isn’t the easiest one, especially after fighting the previous four years of his career at bantamweight. But after falling short of getting a title shot at 135 pounds, he decided his best chance at striking UFC gold is at flyweight, where he debuted in March with a win over Neil Seery.

“It’s hard to make this weight class for me,” said Pickett. “I have to make lifestyle changes, and it’s not easy. The only reason I’m at this weight class is that I want to try and be number one in the world and get a title shot. My doors were shut at bantamweight. I had a few opportunities where I was in title eliminator fights and I ended up getting beat, so for me as an athlete, I’m always striving to be the best, and as that door got shut for me at ’35, and I felt that I wasn’t the biggest 135-pounder, I thought I could make 125. And if I never even attempted it, I would have always looked back on my career and thought woulda, coulda, shoulda, and I didn’t want to be that person. I wanted to go down there and try. And if the door for a title shot shuts down for me in this weight class, I’ll go back up to ’35 and I’ll put on exciting fights. But I’m down here for a reason, and I’m very focused on that reason. My focus is trying to beat McCall. Beat McCall, then (UFC flyweight champion) Demetrious Johnson. That’s my goal.”

Pickett won’t say it, instead declaring that he “wasn’t satisfied” with his performance, but he did look good in going three hard rounds while beating Seery earlier this year. But what London’s “One Punch” will say is that this time around, he’s figured out the cut to 125 a lot better.

“I was dieting for way too long (for the Seery fight),” he said. “This time I didn’t do it that way. I stayed a bit heavier and now I’m in the same position I was for my last fight, but I trained a little bit bigger and it was a lot more enjoyable. In the sport, timing is very important. Not just in the fight, but in your training camp - learning when to peak, when to be in good shape, and when to have things come together. Last time, I peaked too early and I was in great shape for too long. And when you do that, you sustain more injuries, you over train, and for this camp it’s been perfect for me.”

So perfect that he can’t wait to test his fists out on McCall’s chin. But at the same time, despite his disdain for his foe, he won’t get too emotional – or emotional at all – when the bell rings.

“I love fighting and I stay very calm,” he said. “I don’t get too emotional and I’m never scared of my opponents. I don’t worry about getting hurt or knocked out, and what I feel is that everyone I fight is worried about getting hit by me. Even if that’s not the case, I always think it. When you fight me, you’re not getting an easy fight, win or lose. You’re gonna be in a fight, and some people don’t like that. I like being in a war. It’s terrible for my coaches sometimes, but I don’t care about bleeding, and I like that kind of environment where you’re trying to break someone mentally. If you’re trying to put me away and I keep coming at you like a zombie, it breaks people mentally, and to me, that’s one of the best satisfactions in fighting.”

A Fresh Start for Rick Story

I’m just worried about getting the W, but when I get in there and I get hit, some composure goes out the door and all of a sudden I turn into me. - Rick Story

UFC welterweight Rick StoryExamining Rick Story’s UFC career thus far, two

attributes that stand out are his toughness and his ability to go hard against top-level foes. Yet when Story looked at his fights, he only rarely saw those attributes. So after deciding to leave his longtime camp Brave Legion, his sights turned to a familiar face and a longtime acquaintance in former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson.

“Every time in Ben’s fights, he comes in and he’s in great shape and he’s really tough,” said Story. “So it was definitely something on my mind. Ben and me had wrestled in the same district in high school, and our colleges actually wrestled each other too, so we had known of each other for a long time and I got his phone number back when I first got into the UFC and we’ve stayed in contact here and there. So when I ended up leaving, coming down here and training here was one of the options that I was going to try out.”

Here is the MMA Lab in Glendale, Arizona, a spot rapidly becoming one of the ‘go to’ gyms in the sport thanks to the presence of Henderson, coach John Crouch, and a hungry group of fighters that not only push each other, but that are there for each other. For Story, it’s been a perfect fit at time when he needed it most, not just physically, but mentally.

“It’s just crazy how big the mental part is, for me at least,” said the 29-year-old Washington native. “It’s like I was walking under a rain cloud for the last seven years, and just getting away from that takes a whole lot of weight off my chest. Training has gotten fun again for me.”

Story + fun = bad news for prospective opponents, and tonight in Atlantic City, the recipient of the freshly motivated welterweight’s new attitude will be Brazil’s Leonardo Mafra. A member of the Ultimate Fighter Brazil season one cast, Mafra lost his UFC debut to Thiago Perpetuo in 2012 and was cut, but after going 5-0 with five knockouts on the local circuit back home, he was brought back to the UFC.

Now he’s in with Story, who is looking to get back on the winning track after a close split decision loss to Kelvin Gastelum in March. More importantly, Story needs to get the consistency he had when he ran off a six-fight winning streak in 2009-11 that included victories over Johny Hendricks and Thiago Alves.

Since then, his record has been a spotty 3-5, and while he’s looked like a top welterweight in wins over Quinn Mulhern and Brian Ebersole, other fights haven’t been as impressive.

“I would say there’s only been a few of my fights where I’ve been really confident with my conditioning and my ability to go really hard for three rounds,” he said. “And I performed really good in those fights. I feel like I’m in great shape right now. I was in good shape for the Ebersole fight, but I also had the confidence that I could go hard because of the partners that I had. It was a different camp and they were smarter about things. Down here it’s really smart too. They’ve got a good setup and a plan that they follow.”

For the Ebersole fight last November, Story trained in Montreal with the Tristar camp, and this time around he’s with Henderson and company in Arizona. Given his success back then and the way he feels now, he does think about how things might have been different if he switched gyms sooner.

“I’m stepping back and looking at it, and if I had been at a different camp I probably would have elevated my game a lot faster and I would have stayed more consistent,” he said. “Things happened for me pretty quick. I got into the UFC after only ten months of training for MMA, and I was thrown into the deep end. It was a difficult time in my life, and now it’s completely different.”

A UFC vet since 2009, Story has grown up in the Octagon, with all the requisite bumps and bruises that come along with life in the big leagues. And despite having his share of hurdles to get over, wins over Hendricks and Alves (along with a pre-UFC victory over Jake Ellenberger) prove that he does have the talent to not just stay on the roster, but to make some moves in the coming years.

“I’m looking at this as a way to come out and reinvent myself,” he said. “If it (the Mafra fight) starts off slower, that’s fine with me, and by slower I mean that I come out a little more cautious,” he said. “I’m just worried about getting the W, but when I get in there and I get hit, some composure goes out the door and all of a sudden I turn into me. (Laughs) But this is definitely a way for me to reinvent myself.”

You can hear it in his voice; Story sounds a lot more at ease these days, and he seems to be finally enjoying the ride a bit. Funny what a change of scenery and some new faces can do for someone’s view of the world. That hardcore conditioning at the MMA Lab doesn’t hurt his mood either heading into what is a pivotal fight in his career.

“I’m confident on my feet, on the ground, and I’m just confident wherever I go right now because when I’m confident in my conditioning, I’m a completely different fighter from what I’ve shown.”

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