This Wednesday (Sept. 4, 2013), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight fighters Rafael Natal and Tor Troeng will take to the Octagon on the main card of UFC Fight Night 28 from Jornalista Felipe Drumond Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
Both fighters have looked effective as of late. While Troeng has the bigger win streak with an impressive five in a row, Natal has won four out of five against stiffer competition in the UFC.
Natal is a veteran of seven UFC fights, having made his Octagon debut nearly three years ago. That experience will prove invaluable when he steps into the cage to face Troeng at UFC Fight Night 28. The Brazilian Jiu-jitsu black belt Natal has a propensity for submitting his opponents, and will look to put a show on for his hometown fans.
The Swedish-born Troeng made his way to the Octagon by appearing on the seventeenth of The Ultimate Fighter. Although he had potential on the show, he was ultimately knocked out by Josh Samman. He rebounded well by tapping out Adam Cella with a rear naked choke at the TUF 17 Finale.
Interestingly enough, both Natal and Troeng possess exactly the same record, but their strengths are definitely two contrasting styles. Let's take a look at the background and keys to victory for this Middleweight showdown between Rafael Natal vs. Tor Troeng from Brazil.
Record: 16-4-1 overall, 4-2-1 UFC
Key Wins: Joao Zeferino (UFC on FX 8), Paul Bradley (UFC 133), Travis Lutter (Moosin: God of Martial Arts)
Key Losses: Andrew Craig (UFC on FUEL TV 4), Rich Attonito (UFC Fight Night 22)
Keys to Victory: The Brazilian Natal will have a big leg up on his opponent at UFC Fight Night 28 due to his much more extensive track record inside the Octagon. This, coupled with the emotional support of his home crowd, will play into Natal's favor in a big way during this fight.
While both fighters are tough to put away, Troeng's weakness has appeared to be submissions, and Natal is a specialist in that area. He's put away eight opponents with submissions throughout his career, and will look to add a ninth to his hit list this Wednesday. Natal is a fourth degree black belt under renowned Pan American champion Vinicius Magalhaes. He'll try to drag Troeng down to the mat to utilize these skills. Troeng's no slouch on the ground, so it won't be easy, but definitely possible.
Natal will have to avoid Troeng's striking prowess in order to do so. "The Hammer" has put away six opponents via (T)KO to Natal's three, giving the TUF veteran the slight advantage in that category. Natal's last loss was due to an Andrew Craig headkick, and he hasn't put an opponent away with strikes since he knocked out Travis Lutter in May of 2010.
Because of this, Natal will look to showcase his ground skills in the country that made them famous.
Record: 16-4-1 overall, 1-0 UFC
Key Wins: Adam Cella (TUF 17 Finale)
Key Losses: Thales Leites (SC 6-Lion's Den)
Keys to Victory: Troeng is a well-rounded fighter looking to capitalize on the momentum gained from his submission win over Cella this April. He boasts an impressive 12-1-1 record over his last 14 bouts, but he's now moving into the deep waters of the UFC talent pool. It's time to sink or swim for Troeng, and to stay afloat, he'll need to stay out of his Brazilian opponent's comfort zone.
That most likely means he'll look to keep the fight standing. Although Troeng has shown excellent submission offense, he has been forced to tap out on three occasions during his career. Anything but the best submission defense will not fly against Natal. If Troeng can keep the fight standing, he should be able to pick Natal apart on the feet and look for a TKO stoppage. Troeng has never been stopped by strikes (except for his off-the-record loss to Samman on TUF), so he should have utmost confidence on the feet.
Getting involved in a grappling match will not play into Troeng's best interests here. He has good triangle and rear naked chokes, but Natal has never once submitted in his mixed martial arts (MMA) career, so Troeng would be advised to look to score points elsewhere.
Keeping an iron resolve will be paramount to success as well, as it's never easy to face a Brazilian in Brazil. Troeng's complete skillset will be undoubtedly tested at Jornalista Felipe Drumond Stadium.
Bottom Line From Brazil: This bout could turn out to be a back-and-forth affair between two fighters struggling for position in the UFC. Troeng has the potential to be a solid Middleweight, but he remains unproven after fighting relatively unknown fighters for the majority of his career. Now he's got a chance to take on the world's best in the UFC, and that challenge begins with Natal this Wednesday.
He may have notched a submission win over Cella in his most recent bout, but Natal will be a very steep step up in competition for the Swede. On TUF, Cella stated that he did not need fighting as a means of financial support, so it could be argued that his head wasn't completely in the game.
Against Natal, the exact opposite will be true. The Brazilian ground wizard will be looking to extend his win streak to three and gain much-needed footing in the UFC 185 lb. landscape. To accomplish that task, expect a fully focused and dangerous Natal that is backed by the full support of his homeland fans.
It's going to be an intimidating experience for Troeng, and he'll need to avoid the Octagon jitters that could arise from fighting only your second UFC bout in such hostile territory.
Troeng has the game to pull off an upset of Natal in Brazil, but it's going to depend largely on two things: his mental preparedness and his ability to keep the fight standing. If he can be successful in those two important areas of MMA, a huge statement win could be in the making for "Hammer."
Rafael Natal looks to make a statement against "Hammer" in Belo Horizonte. Will it be an easy win for the experience Brazilian? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!