UFC Fight Night 31: Tim Kennedy vs. Rafael Natal preview and the prognostication

UFC Fight Night 31 pits Tim Kennedy against Rafael Natal in a middleweight bout. Will Kennedy score victory to get one step closer to being one step away from a title shot, or will Natal spoil the night for the crowd favorite?

TIm Kennedy (16-4) vs. Rafael Natal (17-4-1) Middleweight

When we last left our heroes...I haven't had the opportunity to comment on the quality of this card, which has taken a lot of criticism from fans and observers, to which I have to reply...it's a Fight for the Troops card. Most Fight for the Troops cards involve Americans in squash matches, with zero hope of an Italian from Philadelphia making a big speech about communists and capitalists coexisting.

And that's in addition to the ultra violence that has fallen on these cards. Kennedy should take this fight, but I don't think it's obvious.

Kennedy is your average really good fighter who nobody wants to fight, but that doesn't contend for titles. it's been the narrative his whole career. If you're a prospect, there's a chance he'll make you look bad. If you're a champ, you're gonna have to beat him down all five rounds. He's the ultimate high risk, low reward bout for anyone at MW.

He's coming off a win over Roger Gracie that I inexplicably predicted would be Roger's. As you can see, my "prognostications" are anything but. Unfortunately the title 'Preview and Barely Educated Prediction' doesn't have the same ring to it.

Opposite Kennedy is Rafael Natal. He's on a three fight winning streak, and is 5-2-1 overall in the UFC. He's quietly been a mainstay in the division. This wasn't supposed to be the main event. Natal was slated to face Ed Herman, but the Michael Bisping fallout screwed everything up. So here we are.

There's not much to say about Natal. He's never been a spectacular fighter. In fact, he's been kind of a frustrating fighter at times (see the Andrew Craig bout). But he's a talented pugilist and he'd be wise to consider this bout a great opportunity for him to move beyond the journeyman status fans have of him. I personally think he's a little better than a journeyman, but that assumes he can reach his potential.

What both men can do: Natal is your garden variety modern jiu jitsu black belt. Black belts these days all seem to throw good leg kicks, and Natal has some of the more savage leg kicks in the division. He has a good right hand jab from his southpaw position and solid snapping front kicks.

Not that it means much but he did break Travis Lutter in half with a front kick to the body.

We haven't seen much of his submission game in the UFC, but he favors the top control variety. He's not a guy who works as well off his back, and lately he prefers to just keep it on the feet.

One of the things that always impresses me about Kennedy is his boxing. He reminds me a little of Frankie Edgar, but with more power in the way he keeps his shoulders square, and simply chambers those right hands. No windup. No arm wobbling. Just straight down the middle.

On top of some very good boxing, he's a craftsman on the ground. He doesn't do one thing special, but like the Alpha Male guys, he has a knack for smelling the submission either during a scramble, or when it looks like his opponent is letting in too many strikes on the ground, signaling the invisible white flag.

What both men can't do: What I don't like about Kennedy's boxing is that he never keeps his hands high enough, and it seems like he's always open for the hook. Ronald Souza wasn't even as polished as he is now, and he basically beat Kennedy on the feet by wading in with winging punches in combination that would successfully back Kennedy up. No matter how much Kennedy felt otherwise, he lost that fight that way.

Natal's problem has historically been his gas tank. It hasn't been a problem as of late, but he hasn't had opponents to push him the way Kennedy will.

I guess what I like most about this fight is that the first round should be very interesting. I think Natal will look good in the early going, flashing his kicks, and landing good jabs every now and then. The problem is that Kennedy loses to aggressive specialists, and that just does't describe Natal. Natal will look good for a round, but Kennedy will take over with his superior boxing, and persistence.

X-Factor: The first that don't remember, the first Fight for the Troops card involved a brutal twisting of Razak Al-Hassan's arm. Yoshiyuki Yoshida took a shotgun blast to the face. And two injuries ended another couple of bouts, the most famous of which came from Corey Hill against Dale Hartt; the stomach churning calcium shortage kind where the leg turns into a spaghetti string. All I'm saying is don't be surprised if Kennedy or Natal are suddenly quartered in the middle of the cage.

Prediction: Tim Kennedy by Decision.


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