Two talented Brazilian middleweights will square off this Saturday night (May 18, 2013) as Rafael Natal takes on debuting Joao Zeferino in the opening bout of the UFC on FX 8 main card in Jaraguá do Sul, Brazil.
Natal has showcased some improvements in recent bouts, looking strong in his last two fights especially his third round submission over Sean Spencer in his most recent outing. He'll be looking to take out his second straight UFC debuter this weekend.
Zeferino is a bit of a wild card, stepping up on short notice to fight Natal when original opponent Chris Camozzi got moved up to fight Jacare. He's won 12 of 13 fights heading into his UFC debut.
Record: 15-4-1 overall, 3-2-1 in the UFC
Key Losses: Andrew Craig (UFC on Fuel TV 4)
How he got here: Natal began his career winning a single night tournament in 2005. He experienced some success in Brazil, but wanted to showcase his skills to the American audience. He moved to the United States and began competing at Ring of Combat shows in New Jersey, experiencing mixed results.
His big break came with a dominant first round knockout of former Ultimate Fighter winner Travis Lutter in 2010 which punched his ticket to the UFC.
After stumbling out of the gate in his first two bouts with the promotion, Natal has won three of four and he would have been on a four fight winning streak had he not been on the receiving end of an out of nowhere miracle knockout against Andrew Craig.
When his original opponent received an upgrade, he's now ready to take on his second straight UFC debuter.
How he gets it done: Natal should keep it simple and work with what got him here, and that is the knockout. While he's got a solid pedigree on the canvas, that's where Zeferino is strongest and his debuting opponent has been on the receiving end of a knockout or TKO in three of his four professional losses.
Natal was lighting up Andrew Craig before getting caught two fights ago and if he can get back the same swagger that allowed him to perform so solidly on the feet for a few rounds, he could definitely be putting himself in a position to score his first stoppage via strikes inside the Octagon.
Record: 13-4 overall, 0-0 in the UFC
Key Wins: none
Key Losses: none
How he got here: Zeferino began his MMA career back in 2005 at the age of 19 and it didn't go smoothly. Believe it or not, after winning his pro debut, he was crushed in his next three bouts, dropping two knockout losses on the local Brazilian circuit.
Since then, he's really stepped it up, winning five straight and most recently scoring seven straight wins including heading ot America and beating UFC veteran Sean Salmon at NAFC in Ohio.
In his most recent outing, Zeferino took home a first round submission this past March and when an opportunity arose to step into the Octagon on short notice against fellow Brazilian Rafael Natal, he gladly took it. He'll be in prime position to make a huge splash on Saturday night.
How he gets it done: While he's not a one trick pony, Zeferino needs to stick with his jiu-jitsu in this bout. He's won via submission in nearly every single victory thus far in his MMA career and while submitting Natal is not going to be easy, he can at least his use BJJ skills positionally to potentially take home a decision.
Zeferino's biggest issues have been when he got stuck standing against superior strikers and ate some heavy shots, leading to a knockout or TKO defeat. Natal isn't an incredible striker, so it's not the end of the world if he can't take the bout to the canvas immediately, but it's highly recommended he close the distance quickly and try to implement that grappling skillset of his.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest factor for this bout is the how Zeferino handles the UFC jitters. Every fighter is affected differently but it's always hardest to step into the Octagon on short notice against a veteran opponent. Zeferino will be at a huge experience disadvantage on Saturday night and with many fighters, they experience a huge adrenaline dump after the first round. He'll have to be under control on Saturday night, or he could fall off quickly regardless of how he starts.
Bottom Line: Natal should be able to hang with Zeferino regardless of where the bout goes. It's hard to remember the last time he was manhandled on the canvas so even if Zeferino is able to implement his gameplan, he'll still be in a position where Natal could come out on top. If the fight goes to the ground, it should be pretty evenly matched. On the feet, however, Natal could be in prime position to score via highlight reel knockout.
Who will come out on top at UFC on FX 8? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!