UFC Fight Night 31: "Fight for the Troops 3" takes place this week (Weds., Nov. 6, 2013) at Fort Campbell in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, and will be the fourth time that Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) cooperates with a United States military base to put on fights for the soldiers and military workers of the country.
Natal will be stepping up to the plate in search of the biggest win of his career, replacing Lyoto Machida, who was originally supposed to square off against Tim Kennedy, but was moved to UFC Fight Night 30 in favor of serving as a replacement to Michael Bisping at last week's UFC Fight Night 30 in Manchester.
The Strikeforce veteran and former United States Army elite special forces member has just lost once in his past five bouts, and is looking to make it two-straight victories in the promotion.
"Sapo" has just celebrated his three-year anniversary with the company and will be looking for his fourth-consecutive victory this week.
The co-main event features a women's bantamweight matchup between former title contender Liz Carmouche and Alexis Davis, who will both be looking to win emphatically in order to secure a title shot in the very near future. Rounding up the main card are two lightweight bouts, with Jorge Masvidal taking on Rustam Khabilov and Colton Smith battles Michael Chiesa. Two middleweights who have not yet lost in the Octagon will also trade blows, as Brazilian Ronny Markes takes on Yoel Romero.
Here are five burning questions heading into Fight for the Troops 3:
5. Does UFC realize they actually need to promote smaller, free cards?
Tim Kennedy and Rafael Natal are not necessarily main event fighters. Better yet, they will never achieve that tag unless they are promoted as main event showcases in the first place. Yes, Lyoto Machida was supposed to be on this card and would have slightly bolstered the intrigue -- although, how did the promoting go for his fight with Mark Munoz in England one week ago?
The promotion for this event is practically non-existent, with all eyes on UFC's 20th anniversary show, UFC 167, which is two weeks away (watch the first episode of UFC Primetime here, as we help the situation's cause). There has even been little to talk about when it comes to Vitor Belfort battling Dan Henderson in one week's time in Brazil for UFC Fight Night 32.
One would think a card that revolves around the military, with UFC giving thanks for the years of service to the men and women who fight for the United States, would get a little more coverage from both the promotion and the media outlets who cover the sport. Hell, you could say outside of the main event, the most popular fighters on the card are Liz Carmouche (who is the only competitor who has fought for a UFC title on the billing) and Michael Chiesa (who gained popularity during his time on The Ultimate Fighter 15). Did you realize the legendary Yves Edwards is on the online portion of the preliminary card?
4. Will another title shot be unreasonable for Liz Carmouche if she wins?
To say Liz Carmouche is a big fish in a small pond is unfair, since the women's bantamweight division does have a few blossoming contenders waiting for their chance.
Before an injury diminished her chances at coaching The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) alongside Ronda Rousey, Cat Zingano was supposed to get the next title shot (after Carmouche) after beating Miesha Tate, who not only replaced her as a coach, but as a the next challenger to Rousey's belt at UFC 168 in December.
Undefeated Sara McMann is 7-0 and another win should get her credentialed for a shot as well. There is also Jessica Eye, who may have gotten a debatable decision over a perennial contender like Sarah Kaufman (who McMann was supposed to face had she not bowed out of the fight due to undisclosed personal reasons), however her record of 11-1 cannot be underestimated.
So, there are other options. In smaller divisions, at least those with fewer competitors, title shots are easier to acquire. If Carmouche steamrolls Alexis Davis, you can match her up with someone like Zingano or Eye instead of an immediate title shot, and if Carmouche gets past those future challenges, she will evidently be in the title picture for as long as her career permits her to be.
3. Could Jorge Masvidal become more than just a mid-level fighter?
Jorge Masvidal's claim to fame is still being the mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter with a couple of street fights to his name on YouTube, one being in a Florida backyard against former UFC fighter and internet figure Kimbo Slice. Sure, he's had a string of memorable fights; however, his fighting career still hangs in the balance.
Will he be a mid-level fighter for life or can he climb the ranks with success?
Masvidal has fought for an abundance of promotions, including Strikeforce, Bellator, Sengoku and Shark Fights, and his record is not too shabby either being 25-7. What is even more impressive is that "Gamebred" is just 27 years old, and he has a lot of fights left in him. He is also entertaining, which goes a long way in the sport these days.
A veteran such as he is, his biggest win is arguably over K.J. Noons, back in 2011 under the Strikeforce banner and although he looked impressive submitting TUF 15 winner Michael Chiesa at UFC on FOX 8 back in the summer, he has not really amassed big wins over notable names during his 10-year career.
He has come a long way since being on the wrong end of a highlight reel back in his Bellator days courtesy of Toby Imada's inverted triangle choke, yet he came up short in the fights that would have actually taken him somewhere, against Gilbert Melendez, Paul Daley, and even Imada. Granted, he has only lost two in his past eight bouts (dropping decisions to Melendez and Daley). With that being said, for a competitor who has been fighting for a decade, the time is now for Masvidal, who has plenty to finish on his plate with Rustam Khabilov.
2. Is Rafael Natal ready for the big leagues?
"Sapo" has had a very good year thus far. Undefeated in 2013, he received his first UFC post-fight bonus for his Fight of The Night with Tor Troeng at UFC Fight Night 28, and he now steps into the main event spotlight as a replacement for Lyoto Machida, as he faces Strikeforce vet Tim Kennedy.
Is he ready for it?
If Natal beats Kennedy, a top-10 ranking could follow shortly. "Sapo" is a tough test for anyone, as he possesses strengths in grappling, and has power in his striking, too. He has been fighting for the promotion for three years now, and is on a three-fight win streak; however, his knockout loss to Andrew Craig (which is his only loss in six outings), sticks out too much for his liking. Notwithstanding, his promotional record of 5-2-1 is alright.
He does not have wins over ranked opponents, and although labeling a fighter a "gatekeeper" is rather rude, he is not even that. He has brought forth some decent performances; nonetheless, they are not performances that we rant and rave about until the next morning. With a win over Kennedy, hopefully Natal can continue to rise in the middleweight division. If not, he will more or less stay in the same scenario.
1. Will Tim Kennedy be able to back up his "fighter pay" words?
It seems that the best way the UFC brass contradicts those who are critical of fighter pay (fighters included) is to say if nobody wants to see you fight, or if you are boring, you get paid what you deserve. Or better yet, you should not be complaining.
That sounds a little better.
Before his fight against the one-and-done UFC newcomer Roger Gracie at UFC 162, the outspoken Kennedy, who has never been shy of expressing his true emotions and thoughts, was extremely disappointed with the company's pay scale, calling it "pathetic" and went on to say he would get more money emptying garbage cans. If he loses badly on Wednesday evening, his boss (Dana White), could make that dream come true for the former United States military serviceman. Especially after he did not dazzle the crowd in his win over Gracie, either.
The American has since apologized for his statements, however those types of blurbs never seem to go away. At least they are forgivable, yet not easily forgotten.
Kennedy will be a fan favorite when he enters Fort Campbell (it is unlikely anyone will be booed), and hopefully he could win dominantly against his Brazilian adversary, so he can anticipate the bigger fights he has been longing for. The former Strikeforce middleweight championship challenger is 16-4 in his MMA career, and much like some of his fellow peers on this card, he has been in search of a grandiose victory though he has beaten his fair share of tough opponents in Robbie Lawler, Melvin Manhoef and Jason Miller. Still, that is not enough, since those wins were a while ago.
Much like Natal, Kennedy will want to burst onto the company's official ranking system. Nonetheless, he should be looking to impress more so than just win, since the eyes of the brass will be beaming down on him to see if he is deserving of a little extra scratch.
This are my five burning questions heading into this week's latest MMA offering. What are yours?
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