Rafael Natal needed an impressive performance at UFC 143 Saturday to stay relevant in the UFC's middleweight division and did just that, earning an entertaining unanimous decision victory over UFC newcomer Michael Kuiper in the evening's second fight.
Natal (14-3-1, 2-1-1 UFC) won his second straight and showed significant aggression in the fight's opening round, securing several takedowns and working for submissions. Kuiper (11-1, 0-1 UFC) didn't look completely comfortable working from his back, but did enough to survive.
Both men showed a lot of wear in the second as they struggled to keep up the fervent pace with some sloppy striking, but Natal got a takedown late to edge out a close round. Kuiper opened the window in the third round with a big right hand that dropped Natal to his knees and continued to ground and pound.
However, Natal's superior ground game took over and he held tight to Kuiper, eventually reversing position and getting to a standing position. He secured a big takedown with two minutes to go and used that same ground game to control Kuiper while going for head and arm choke submissions.
What was the high spot of the fight?
Kuiper's right hand in the third round that dropped Natal to his knees was visually pleasing, while Natal's takedown in the third was also a big move.
Where do these guys go from here?
Even with his second straight win, Natal hasn't done anything yet to earn himself bigger promotion. He's gone the distance in four straight fights and until he starts finishing opponents again, Natal will remain in the first or second spot in most cards. Expect a fight against another middle-of-the-road middleweight in May or June.
Kuiper will get another shot as he's just 22 years old and made a decent accounting of himself in his biggest fight to date. He does need to work on conditioning, which hurt him in this fight.
Watch it now, later or never?
With the glut of fights out there, there's no rush or necessity to watch Natal/Kuiper.
More Bloody Elbow coverage of UFC 143: Diaz vs. Condit in the full entry.
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- UFC 143 Results: Mike Pierce Tolls A Warning Bell For Josh Koscheck Like He Did For Jon Fitch - Kid Nate
- UFC 143 Results: Nick Diaz Vs. Carlos Condit Event Fight Video Highlights - Anton Tabuena
- UFC 143 Results: The Career Of UFC Welterweight Champion Carlos Condit - Fraser Coffeen
- UFC 143 Results: Sunday Morning Perspective - T.P. Grant
- UFC 143 Results: Does Fabricio Werdum's Mauling Of Roy Nelson Mean He's Ready To Contend In The UFC? - Kid Nate
- UFC 143 Results Video: Dana White Talks Condit Vs. Diaz, Koscheck Vs. Fitch, More At Post-Fight Scrum - Kid Nate
- UFC 143 Results: Carlos Condit, Gameplanning And The MMA Fan - Brent Brookhouse
- UFC 143 Results: Carlos Condit And Greg Jackson Solved Nick Diaz - Kid Nate
- UFC 143 Results: Winners, Losers, And Other Thoughts - Matthew Roth
- UFC 143 Results: Thompson, Poirier, Werdum And Nelson Take Home $65,000 Fight Night Bonuses - Kid Nate
- UFC 143: Condit vs. Diaz Full Fight Video Highlights - Brent Brookhouse
- UFC 143: Diaz Vs. Condit Results And Post-Fight Analysis - Brent Brookhouse
- UFC 143 Results: Judges' Score Cards From Carlos Condit Vs. Nick Diaz - Kid Nate
- Nick Diaz: 'I'm Outta This S**t', Retires From MMA After UFC 143 Loss To Carlos Condit - Kid Nate
- UFC 143 Results: Carlos Condit Wins Interim Welterweight Title Over Nick Diaz In Thrilling Affair - Tim Burke
- Bad Boy Presents Bloody Elbow Radio - Episode 132: UFC 143 Results Review - Matt Bishop
- UFC 143 Post-Fight Press Conference Video And Coverage - Tim Burke
- UFC 143 Results: Fabricio Werdum Beats Up Roy Nelson, Takes Unanimous Decision - Tim Burke
- UFC 143 Results: Josh Koscheck Picks Up Razor-Thin Split Decision Victory Over Mike Pierce - Tim Burke
- UFC 143 Results: Renan Barao Takes Unanimous Decision Over Scott Jorgensen - Tim Burke
- UFC 143 Results: Ed Herman Submits Clifford Starks In Round Two - Tim Burke
- UFC 143 Results: Dustin Poirier Submits Max Holloway - Tim Burke
- UFC 143 Results: Edwin Figueroa Beats Alex Cacares By Split Decision In Weird Fight - Tim Burke
- UFC 143 Results: Matt Brown Stops Chris Cope In The Second Round - Tim Burke
- UFC 143 Results: Matt Riddle Picks Up Split Decision Victory Over Henry Martinez - Tim Burke
- UFC 143 Results: Rafael Natal Wins Unanimous Decision Over Michael Kuiper - Tim Burke
- UFC 143 Results: Stephen Thompson Knocks Out Dan Stittgen With Deadly Head Kick - Tim Burke
- UFC 143: Diaz Vs. Condit - Live Results And Play-By-Play For PPV Main Card - Brent Brookhouse
- UFC 143: Diaz Vs. Condit - Live Results And Play-By-Play For Undercard Fights - Brent Brookhouse