It’s been a rocky road for Rafael “Sapo” Natal since coming to the UFC in 2010.
Just coming off a knockout win over former UFC title contender Travis Lutter, Natal was excited to showcase his growing skill set in the Octagon and make waves at 185 pounds.
Unfortunately, Natal fell short in his first bout, losing by decision to former “Ultimate Fighter” competitor Rich Attonito. In his next trip to the cage, Natal fought to a draw with Jesse Bongfeldt, in a fight he took with a severe knee injury hampering him throughout.
Now with some forced time off after suffering another knee injury, Natal is ready to show the world what he’s really about when he steps into the cage on Aug. 6 at UFC 133.
“In the UFC, I haven’t shown who is Rafael Sapo yet,” Natal told MMAWeekly.com. “This time I don’t have any injuries because the last time I hurt my eye, I had stitches in my eye. This time I’m training hard, I don’t have any injuries. This is really going to be the Rafael ‘Sapo’ Natal you want, I’m 100-percent.”
Natal was supposed to step back into action in March against Alessio Sakara at UFC on Versus 3, but his recurring knee injury sidelined him. The time off was tough to swallow, but Natal soldiered on and realizes now that he’s going to be a much improved version of himself when he returns this weekend in Philadelphia.
“I was supposed to fight Alessio Sakara on the main card and it was going to be a big opportunity, but I hurt my knee. I stayed off for like 20 days and then I got back to training Muay Thai and boxing and after that I started training jiu-jitsu, but I feel good cause I have a lot of time to prepare for this fight. In eight months I can improve my game in a lot of ways,” Natal stated.
With his UFC career currently standing at 0-1-1, Natal doesn’t want to put too much pressure on himself heading into this third fight coming up this weekend at UFC 133, but he understands a win is crucial for his future with the organization.
It’s something a lot of fighters don’t like to talk about, but all of them understand that winning is the only way to guarantee employment in the UFC.
“I can’t say I don’t care because you can get cut,” said Natal. “But don’t think about that, I want this victory because I’ve never had two fights and got no win, but then I had one loss and one draw, now I really need this victory.
“It’s for me, for my family, for my coach Renzo (Gracie), all of these guys believe in me a lot. I need this victory for the UFC, I need this to show I’ve improved to everybody.”
Natal has gone through injuries himself several times in the past, so it was no surprise when two opponent changes happened on his way to UFC 133. Now he’s facing former “Ultimate Fighter” competitor Paul Bradley who stepped into the fight on two weeks notice.
The switch is just part of fighting according to Natal, who didn’t go into panic mode or feel that he need to make any dramatic changes ahead of the fight this Saturday.
“I can’t change my plan because my opponent changed,” said Natal. “I can’t change my plan just for this fight, because if you want to box, I change my plan. If you want to wrestle, it’s another plan. This guy I’m going to fight, Paul Bradley, he doesn’t have very good stand-up, and I’m continuing to train hard. Phil Nurse has improved a lot my Muay Thai, and he’s improved my boxing, so I’m going to try to keep the fight standing up and I’m going to try to put my Muay Thai in my game and we’re going to see what’s going to happen.”
Natal will look to implement that strategy when he takes on Paul Bradley at UFC 133 this weekend in Philadelphia.