Jeff Chiu / AP
Monday, June 27, 2011 | 10 p.m.
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Some of the most memorable moments in sports come when an unforeseeable set of circumstances thrust an unfamiliar player into a spotlight he ultimately seizes.
That’s what happened at Sunday’s UFC on Versus 4 card in Pittsburgh to Charlie Brenneman, who shocked Rick Story in the co-main event by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28).
“His fight tonight was a ‘Rocky’ story,” UFC President Dana White said in the post-fight press conference. “Here in his hometown and he’s getting a shot at the kid who is hot and on his way to a title shot, he takes the fight and comes in and wins it.”
Brenneman, who now trains in New Jersey but grew up less than 100 miles away from Pittsburgh, arrived in town earlier last week to bad news: His opponent T.J. Grant had dropped out of their bout with an injury.
It was especially devastating after Brenneman had liberally handed out tickets to family and friends to come watch him fight at home. UFC matchmaker Joe Silva told Brenneman he still had to make weight to collect his appearance money.
So Brenneman (14-2 MMA, 3-1 UFC) went about his normal training routine for a couple days without the pressure of an impending fight. Until Thursday night.
That’s when Silva told Brenneman he may compete after all because it was possible welterweight Nate Marquardt would have to pull out of his main event fight with Story (13-4 MMA, 6-2 UFC). But Brenneman had still received no official word early Saturday afternoon.
“When we got to weigh-ins and they said, ‘you might have to wait until 3:59 or you might not even know until tomorrow if you’re fighting,’ what can I do other than sit there and try to remain professional and try to do what I do,” Brenneman asked. “It worked out.”
As controversy swirled surrounding the Marquardt situation, Brenneman slid into his place and UFC rescheduled the fight with Story as the co-main event.
Although no one gave Brenneman much of a chance in the fight, he drew praise from many for accepting the challenge so late — including the coach of his favorite professional sports team. Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, a UFC fan who was in attendance, commended Brenneman for taking the fight, according to White.
“(Tomlin) said why he loves the UFC so much is because we make the fights,” White said. “The fights always get made. You’re pumped to come see a card, first time ever in Pittsburgh and bad things happen, but we still put it together.”
“It’s not just the UFC. It’s these guys stepping up to the plate and seizing the opportunity.”
Brenneman captured his moment by implementing a smart game plan. Despite Story’s laurels, Brenneman believed he was the better wrestler and proved it with multiple takedowns in the opening two rounds.
Story said he was unprepared to combat the strategy.
“Coming into this fight, I was prepared to fight a taller kick boxer with jiu-jitsu,” Story said. “I wasn’t prepared to fight a shorter, attacking wrestler. I didn’t do as much wrestling, or any wrestling, these last three weeks. He got the better of me.”
Brenneman never thought twice about doing anything different against Story, who is known as one of the best wrestlers in the 170-pound division.
“My wrestling is what got me here,” Brenneman said.
It was also his attitude. Winning a short notice bout against a fighter like Story makes Brenneman the most unlikely member of the welterweight class’ elite.