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A longtime contender to the UFC middleweight championship, Brazilian fighter Rafael “Sapo” Natal has closed the Octagon door on his career.

In a surprise announcement on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour, Natal announced that he was done fighting in mixed martial arts. 

“I come here today to make this announcement,” he said. “Yes (I’m officially retiring from MMA). It’s very hard. It’s a long journey. I love the MMA.”

Rafael NatalNatal earned his way to the Octagon by becoming the Ring of Combat middleweight champion. Ring of Combat is a regional promotion in the Northeastern United States that has become well known for producing UFC talent. 

Though he faced a rocky start to his UFC tenure, Natal went on to amass an overall record of 21-9-1. He fought under the UFC banner from 2010 until his retirement, always edging close to a middleweight title shot, but never getting his crack at the belt.

“It’s time to step back. It’s been a hard decision. I am just open a huge school in Brazil now and I plan to open here in New York, too,” Natal continued on Monday.

“My mom is happy for this decision. She asked this from me for a long time.”

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