Rafael Natal is headed home for his UFC 143 training. | Photo: Peter Lockley


Rafael “Sapo” Natal will return to the Octagon on Feb. 4 against undefeated judo practitioner Michael Kuiper at UFC 143.

Sherdog.com confirmed the planned matchup with Natal and another source close to the bout on Tuesday. Brazilian outlet SporTv first reported the booking.

“The contract is already here and I will sign it today to send it back to the UFC,” Natal revealed to Sherdog.com. “I know [Kuiper] is a judo specialist, but [also] had a lot of muay Thai fights and likes to keep the fight on his feet. I’m so comfortable with my exchanging skills, and I will be completely ready for him in two months when the fight comes up.”

UFC 143 is expected to be headlined by a welterweight title bout between longtime UFC champion Georges St. Pierre and former Strikeforce titlist Nick Diaz. The event takes place at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas and will air live on pay-per-view.

Perfect through 11 professional outings, Kuiper has finished 10 of his conquered foes by knockout or submission. The 22-year-old Dutchman has knocked out three consecutive opponents, most recently finishing Morris Cilfoni on May 7. After fighting seven times to begin his career in 2009, Kuiper’s pace has slowed considerably in the last two years, competing just four times total.

Natal recently earned his first Octagon victory by besting Paul Bradley at UFC 133 on Aug. 6. The win came after dropping his UFC debut to Rich Attonito and drawing with Jesse Bongfeldt in 2010.

After defeating Bradley, “Sapo” underwent surgery on his right hand, which was broken during the bout. Having previously broken his left hand, Natal now jovially says his fists are now double-reinforced.

“I have this platinum reinforcement on the both hands now. It’s gonna be an advantage when I hit my opponent,” he said, laughing. “I’m completely healthy, cleared by the doctors and already training hard for over a month. I’ve asked my manager to fight on Super Bowl weekend. This lineup rocks and I’m very happy to [be] part of that. I will be ready.”

Training at the Renzo Gracie Academy in New York, the Brazilian says he will make some changes to his regimen for this camp, including a trip back to Belo Horizonte, his birthplace.

“I’ll spend the year-end holidays with my family and will train there,” he explained. “It’s the first time I’ll train for a fight in Brazil, even [if] it will last only two weeks. I’ll have Romulo Barral training with me and it will be great to have different teammates, different experiences. Then I will get back [to the US] in the second half of January.”

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