UFC on FX: Belfort vs. Rockhold opens the main card with a middling middleweight bout that should nonetheless hold our attention while it lasts.
The UFC middleweight division, for as much as Anderson Silva spoils us, often times reveals its lack of depth. I'm not saying this bout is an example, but Natal and Zeferino are the kind of fighters that can find success at 185 precisely because it's so barren (or am I?). It's a top heavy division that's not even particularly top heavy, and so this matchup finds its way onto the main card.
Natal entered the UFC with some moderate hype. I say "moderate" because he garnered UFC interest for two reasons: one, his knockout of Travis Lutter at a Moosin show, and the second (and more theortical), his vague resemblance to Double Dragon/Only the Strong star, Mark Decascos. As you can expect, that win didn't pay dividends with Natal losing to Rich Attonito upon entering the UFC, and then fighting to a draw against Jessie Bongfelt.
However, despite his lackluster record, he's a veritable talent. Natal was given his black belt by Vinicius 'Draculino' Magalhaes. His opponent, Joao Zeferino, is an unknown, but like Natal, his reputation has been reflected by his submission prowess. Of his 13 wins, 9 are by submission.
What both men can do: Despite being a finisher in the small shows, Natal has had trouble closing out his bouts, but he's shown flashes of brilliance. Natal's main asset, more than his jiu jitsu, is his striking. His chambers a very fast, very piercing jab from both hands, and will switch stances to confuse the opposition.
In addition, his leg kicks are equally devastating. Like his jab, his kicks are versatile. He frankly does a great job of landing inside, as well as outside. On paper, he looks like a machine with his ability to land important set-up strikes. Even without the jab, and his leg kicks, he's got good power in his right hand. You'd think he'd be destroying the Bongfeldts, and Attonito's of the world, but we'll get back to that in a minute.
Zeferino is like a lot of the other Brazilians on the card with a strong background in jiu jitsu. By his own admission, Zeferino's favorite move is the closed guard armbar, so you can already tell what he'll be looking to do in this fight.
Zeferino is a versatile grappler, which is his strength. He looks for submissions wherever the fight takes him. If he sees the opening for the heelhook, he'll take it, and so forth. He's an aggressive guard passer, and won't neglect an attempt on the feet either if the guillotine presents itself, for example.
His striking isn't polished, but he doesn't hesitate to use it in order to set up his submissions.
What both men can't do: Unfortunately Zeferino is gonna need to be sharper on the feet to have a chance, as Natal has some sturdy takedown defense, and Joao isn't a dynamic wrestler.
Having said that, Natal has made it difficult on himself in the past. He's improved his cardio, but that's not to say it couldn't be an issue if the pace is high. In addition, he has a tendency to abandon what works, and seems to lose whatever rhythm he's earned himself in the fight. This is why despite being so talented, his record is so spotty. If his performance against Andrew Craig wasn't an indication of his ability to sabotage himself, then nothing is.
Having said that, lameduck taunting, and even a gas tank that's on empty by round 2 should still be enough to get him by Zeferino, who will have trouble getting the takedown while being outmatched on the feet.
Prediction: Rafael Natal by TKO, round 2.