Army Green Beret, Kennedy, came in as the huge fan favorite. Fresh off a win over Roger Gracie in his Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) debut, Kennedy was originally scheduled to face Lyoto Machida; however, an injury to Michael Bisping saw Machida replace "The Count" at UFC Fight Night 30, and Kennedy was instead tasked with fighting the surging Natal.
"Sapo" had momentum of his own, having won his previous three mixed martial arts (MMA) bouts. The Brazilian had a big opportunity on the line. A win over Kennedy would have proved he had what it takes to contend with top middleweights in UFC.
But it just wasn't meant to be.
Kennedy delivered for his military brethren, derailing Natal's substantial hype train with a vicious knockout to earn his first UFC stoppage and third consecutive victory. Let's take a look back at Kennedy's thunderous performance.
Kennedy came out snapping kicks to Natal's head. Natal responded with a crisp left, but was moving backward. The American soldier capitalized with a stiff kick to the body. The first round appeared to be winding down.
And then it was all over in a flash.
"Sniper" uncorked a vicious left hook that landed flush on Natal's chin, sending him crashing to the mat in a heap. Kennedy landed several ground shots before Herb Dean was able to stop the fight, but they were unneeded as Natal was finished.
The one round fight was competitive -- but not flashy - up until Kennedy's huge knockout. The Army fans in Fort Campbell were in full support of Kennedy, and it couldn't have been a better result for them.
With the win, Kennedy will move on to most likely face a top 10 opponent in his next bout. Olympic wrestling silver medalist Yoel Romero won on the preliminary card tonight and could provide a tough test for Kennedy. If UFC wants to book him against a bigger name, Alan Belcher would possibly be a good match-up for "Sniper." Even Bisping is a potentially solid opponent for Kennedy, but "The Count" will probably demand a higher-ranked opponent upon his return from surgery for a detached retina.
Natal will experience a slide down the pecking order with the loss. He's shown a ton of talent and promise, but hasn't really faced a top opponent until Kennedy.
We all saw how that worked out for him.
"Sapo" undoubtedly has an effective submission skillset; he just didn't use it at "Fight for Troops 3." Perhaps he's become too confident in his hands as of late and could use a new gameplan. Regardless, he's going to need several more wins to gain any true relevancy in a stacked division.
Natal was simply overmatched last night. Credit is due to him for filling in for Machida, but ultimately, it didn't pay off.
For complete UFC Fight Night 31 results, including play-by-play of the entire fight card click here. For recaps, videos, highlights, commentary and more from Wednesday night's FOX Sports 1 event check out our "Fight for Troops 3" live story stream here.