The middleweights try to hold our attention amidst a flurry of all stars this April 23, 2016 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The Match Up
Middleweight Robert Whittaker -325 vs. Rafael Natal +265
3 Things You Should Know
1. Whittaker is who the UFC wishes Stephan Bonnar was.
Every now and then TUF really hits a homerun with their prospect selection. I haven't followed the selection process because the show is only sporadically good (I feel like this is trending up?), and I'm only there for the fights, but Whittaker is the kind of fighter this show is supposed to be built for. He's on a 4 fight win streak, fresh off a win over the enigmatic Uriah Hall. Time for the big payback from Dana right? Like a fight against a solid opponent on a four fight win streak or something? I know just the-
2. Rafael Natal is on a four fight winning streak???
Ok so that happened apparently. Natal is sort of not really but kind of living up to the talented journeyman status he earned as a UFC rookie. Then Andrew Craig knocked him out, and we've been judging his wishy washy approach ever since. Despite the criticism, there's nothing controversial about Natal's recent string of victories. Tom Watson, Hall, and Camozzi are all solid wins, and good competition. However, Whittaker doesn't project to be Natal's next victim.
3. Expect Whittaker to fight like Natal doesn't belong because Natal doesn't belong.
Whittaker, after his losses to Stephen Thompson and Court McGee, really began to step up every part of is striking. His fundamentals never changed, but all of those subtle tweaks fundamentally changed his profile as a striker. One of the biggest changes in Whittaker's game was his setup strategy. Fighters are no different than other professional athletes, relying more on intuition and anticipation than raw speed and reflexes. So setup striking, grappling, and wrestling are critical. The great strikers conceal predictability. Whittaker has slowly developed this philosophy within his arsenal, throwing a variety of strikes to set up a brutal left hook that hits quick with scientific accuracy.
He's also solid on he ground, displaying tight clinch control to keep the bout upright. There, he likes to generate offense instead of letting his opponent dictate the pace. Natal is pretty good himself in the clinch. The Kevin Casey bout was better than I could have possibly predicted, but no switch in Natal's gameplan will change the makeup of the fight. Natal is at his best fighting with good range awareness, using hard leg kicks to control rhythm. He's just rarely committed enough to do so.
Natal will make this a tougher fight than it looks early on because he's kind of a front runner, strategically speaking. Whittaker will probably have some trouble getting in close when he's trying to set up that left hook but once he breaks through, it'll be all Whittaker. Natal can be cracked, and cracked he will be. Robert Whittaker by TKO, round 2.