Photo by Esther Lin for MMA Fighting.
Rafael Natal looked quite impressive in picking up his second straight UFC victory, winning a unanimous decision on the preliminary card of UFC 143. Sapo controlled most of the fight with solid takedowns, despite a major scare early in the third where Kuiper had him hurt and curled up against the cage. The judges had it 30-27, 30-27, and 29-28.
After exchanging kicks early in the first, Sapo immediately got a takedown and jumped into mount. It only lasted about two seconds though, and Kuiper was back on his feet. Sapo got three more takedowns over the next couple of minutes, but Kuiper was able to get up again and again. Natal worked hard to pass when it was on the ground, but Kuiper was able to stifle him. A fifth Sapo takedown led to a Kuiper sweep, but Natal latched on an armbar. Kuiper popped out though, and the round ended back on the feet.
The second round opened with some solid exchanges on the feet, and Natal looked a little tired. Sapo's takedown attempts were coming in slower, and Kuiper was controlling Natal against the cage. Natal landed two huge right hands, but Kuiper didn't even blink. Sapo then took control against the cage, landing knees and some punches but still couldn't get the takedown. Natal threw two spinning back fists, both of which glanced off Kuiper's head. Kuiper responded by continually walking down Natal, shrugging off his takedown attempts, and trying to land punches. Natal finally got a takedown with 20 seconds to go in the round.
Kuiper turned it around in the third round though, coming out and dropping Natal with a huge uppercut. Sapo was pushed up against the fence, eating many big shots from Kuiper. Sapo tried to curl up around Kuiper's leg, but Kuiper switched to big body shots and more solid punches to the head. Natal managed to weather the storm though, and got to his feet. Then he took Kuiper down with a big slam. Natal worked from side control and elbowed the side of Kuiper's head, then moved to mount. Natal locked on an arm triangle, but Kuiper managed to hold on until the final bell.
Kuiper was making his UFC debut tonight, after going 11-0 on the European circuit. He is a judo black belt and BJJ purple belt under Carlos Machado. This was Natal's fourth bout in the UFC, and he held a 1-1-1 record coming in. He was coming off a broken hand suffered in his win over Paul Bradley at UFC 133 in August.