takes place this Saturday night (February 4) from the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada. The interim welterweight championship is up for grabs in the main event between : Diaz vs. ConditNick Diaz and Carlos Condit and heavyweight Fabricio Werdum returns to the Octagon against Roy Nelson in the co-main.
The pay-per-view event consists of five match ups in all and will be supplemented by a double dose of preliminary fights. The show kicks off with two bouts streaming live on the UFC's Facebook page and will be followed by a four-fight ensemble on the FX network. The Facebook broadcast is punctuated by fresh talent, as three of the four participants will be making their promotional debuts.
More UFC 143 Dissections
"Sapo", meaning "Frog" in Portuguese, is a decorated black belt in BJJ under the legendary Vinicius "Draculino" Magalhaes of the Gracie Fusion team in Brazil. In the states, he's affiliated with Renzo Gracie and is an instructor at Renzo's academy in New York. Before MMA, Natal broke into martial arts with Capoeira and then gravitated to BJJ "because when someone took me down I didn't know what to do."
Natal won eight of his first nine fights on the Brazilian circuit, including a noteworthy TKO over one-time UFCer Danillo Villefort, before venturing stateside to compete in the Ring of Combat promotion. There, he finished three of his four opponents with the sole remainder being a head-kick loss to Bellator middleweight Victor O'Donnell, but Natal's subsequent first-round KO over Travis Lutter on the Moosin card caught the UFC's attention. Natal is even in the UFC after three outings that all ended by decision: he debuted with a unanimous defeat to Rich Attonito, then won the first two rounds against Jesse Bongfeldt but got clobbered in the third -- resulting in a 10-8 score on two of the judges' cards -- for a majority draw, and last defeated Paul Bradley unanimously at UFC 133.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Having already established his submission grappling prowess with his sport Jiu Jitsu accolades, Natal's footwork, striking and takedown defense have come along nicely during his UFC stint.
Developing his standing arsenal has given Natal the freedom to make ground-oriented opponents stand up with him and vice-versa. Such was the case with wrestler Paul Bradley, who was unable to score takedowns consistently and couldn't hang with Natal's kickboxing activity.
Striking-wise, Natal is at his best when he keeps it simple. His one-two is nice and straight and he mixes in an occasional low or front kick effectively. Attacking in short, controlled bursts allows him to react defensively to counter strikes and takedown attempts. As we see to the left, even though Bradley ducks his spinning back-fist and times his shot well, Natal has the balance and composure to sprawl out. He does, however, get a little over-extended and hangs his chin out on some of his hooks and higher volume combinations.
Michael Kuiper brings in an undefeated record after eleven performances, most of which took place on the European circuit, and has finished ten (6 TKOs, 4 subs) with six of those stoppages occurring in the first frame. The Dutch fighter holds a black belt in Judo and a purple belt in BJJ, but rounds out his skill set with decent striking and big power in his right hand and kicks.
And that punching power and the clinch savvy of a high level Judoka are the two areas where he has the edge on Natal. The Brazilian doesn't have a notable pedigree to facilitate his phase-shifting -- he's just developed a sound ability to resist and impose takedowns in order to work either his striking or BJJ acumen. Since bringing Natal to the mat is unlikely to yield any benefits, Kuiper will probably test the waters in open space and try to check his chin with heavy leather, and could fall back on tangling up in the clinch and wearing him down with dirty boxing.
Natal, as long as he remains vigilant in protecting his chin and respecting Kuiper's power, should be able to cruise to a commanding decision or snare a submission here. Though he's yet to encounter anything close to A-level opposition, Kuiper looks pretty slick on the ground for a purple belt, fights aggressively, has a lot of confidence in his striking and could blossom into a legit prospect.
My Prediction: Rafael Natal by submission.
Both fighters will be introducing themselves for the first time, so let's start with Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson and why he could make a splash with fans.
Thompson is undefeated as an amateur (37-0) and professional (56-0) kickboxer with a pile of knockouts (40) and random karate and kickboxing championships. He's been studying kickboxing, karate and traditional Jiu Jitsu for twenty-four years and has been working on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with Carlos Machado, who is his brother-in-law.
Now twenty-seven years old, Thompson just made the switch to MMA and has compiled an undefeated five-fight record in one year, finishing his first three opponents (2 TKOs, 1 sub) and beating the last two by unanimous decision. Plus, it can't hurt to have the endorsement of welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre.
Dan "The Anvil" Stittgen is a member of the Midwest Training Center alongside Clay Guida. His only loss was to former TUF competitor Justin Edwards, who was originally slated to face Mike Stumpf on this card; both dropped out. Stittgen annihilated six foes in the first round (5 subs, 1 TKO) and only recently went past the first five minutes with a decision victory in his latest. He tried out for TUF himself and made it the final round of interviews. Though he didn't make the cut, he obviously left a good enough impression to get the call for this late-notice bout. By all accounts, Stittgen seems pretty mean and confident with excellent submission skills. He's also a strong cat with good power in his boxing and competent wrestling.
Neither have tasted top-level competition and, on paper, the match up seems to favor the burly Stittgen avoiding Thompson's sick stand up taking things to the mat. Thompson's takedown defense and the way he's attuned his defensive footwork will be key in staying upright, where he gets excellent extension on the wide variety of kicks he throws effortlessly with either leg. Stittgen might be the safer bet due to the style match up, but I'll go with Thompson in the hopes that he can light off some of his stellar kickboxing.
My Prediction: Stephen Thompson by TKO.
All gifs via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com
Thompson promo video via the Pitch Black MMA team's website