FORT CAMPBELL – After Brazilian middleweight Rafael Natal outpointed Tor Troeng at UFC Fight Night 28, he told his trainers that things were going to change when he came back to his adopted hometown of New York City.
“‘We’re going to rest, we’re going to train without pressure,’” remembers Natal. “But I was feeling great.”
Considering his schedule that year, it was a blessing just to be able to focus on his technique. He had fought three times in the octagon thus far this year, and UFC fights aren’t the same as those on the regional circuit.
“In the UFC, you have more pressure,” Natal told MMAjunkie.com. “When you fight a lot, you put your body under a lot of pressure. You need to rest. That’s important for your body.”
Not long after announcing his intention to ease up, Natal got a call from his manager asking if he’d like to fight on Nov. 16 at the UFC’s 20th anniversary show, UFC 167. So much for rest and relaxation.
“I said, man, that’s a huge opportunity. I can’t say no,” he said. “I’m ready. I’m always in shape; I always train hard.”
Natal (17-4-1 MMA, 5-2-1 UFC) was training to fight Ed Herman when he saw on Twitter that he was among several fighters Tim Kennedy (16-4 MMA, 1-0 UFC), called out when Lyoto Machida was moved from “UFC Fight Night 31: UFC Fight for the Troops 3? to this past month’s “UFC Fight Night 30.”
Natal was open to the idea of fighting Kennedy, but he already had a fight. Then UFC President Dana White called his manager, and his plans changed yet again.
Now, the Brazilian is headlining his first UFC card before a partisan crowd who will heavily favor Kennedy, a former Army Ranger and Special Forces soldier.
“This is the biggest opportunity of my life, (and) of my career,” Natal said. “Tim Kennedy is a tough guy. He’s got a big name. It’s a huge opportunity for me.”
“UFC Fight Night 31: UFC Fight for the Troops 3? takes place tonight at Fort Campell in Kentucky. Its main card airs live on FOX Sports 1 following prelims on FOX Sports 1 and MMAjunkie.com.
In camp, Natal returned to the grind of fight preparation and switched his training to accommodate Kennedy’s wrestling ability as opposed to Herman’s brawling standup style. He’s confident that he belongs in the cage as a headliner and will prove he’s a contender by winning the fight.
“I just turned 30 years old,” Natal said. “I feel like I’m a new guy. I had three fights this year, and I my body recovered pretty fast.”
Tonight’s fight will be his fourth bout in 2013, which is unusual for most UFC fighters, who compete an average of three times a year and often settle for two.
It’s unlikely Natal will say no if he’s offered yet another fight early next year. But it he had it his way, a little break would be nice.
“I’m just going to start a little bit later,” he said. “Maybe I’ll fight in March of next year.”
For more on UFC Fight Night 31, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.