UFC Fight Night 31's Rafael Natal addresses critics of his headlining status
"We're going to make a good show for the people, and we will see what they say after the fight," Natal told MMAjunkie.com. "UFC, Dana White and Joe Silva know what they're doing to promote a fight, and if they made this the main event, they did it for a reason."
While others may harp on the quality of the Natal (17-4-1 MMA, 5-2-1 UFC) vs. Kennedy (16-4 MMA, 1-0 UFC) matchup, what many seem to forget is the "UFC Fight Night 31: Fight for the Troops 3" card takes place on a military base (where no tickets are sold, and active military personnel received complimentary commission) and is designed to raise funds for charitable causes. The event goes down Wednesday on FOX Sports 1 from Fort Campbell with preliminary card action streaming on MMAjunkie.com.
For Natal, serving as a replacement against a former Marine is not a problem. The Brazilian was able to fight in his home country earlier this year, and he believes that experience will actually be beneficial against Kennedy.
"I fought in Brazil my last fight, and the crowd was for me," Natal said. "It was hard to concentrate because I was so excited. This fight is going to be different. Now I have to focus. … If the crowd is against me, I'm going to be more concentrated, stronger, and I'm going to fight harder and harder."
A victory over Kennedy would move Natal to 4-0 in the UFC this year, a record no other fighter on the roster currently can match. The 30-year-old is thrilled he has the opportunity to compete so often, but he's also looking forward to time off after his most difficult matchup to date.
"I have three wins in a row, four fights this year, and I'm very happy," Natal said. "I always make a fight a fight, and I'm going to do this one more than I'm going to rest, but I'm very happy to get one more fight this year."
While the active schedule has forced Natal to train full-time for essentially the entire year, that's not exactly a bad thing in terms of progressing his skill set.
Several aspects of Natal's game have turned a corner in recent months, he said, and he views the fight with Kennedy as his chance to show off an improved level of concentration inside the cage.
"I can be winning, but they can throw one punch or one kick, and knock you out," he said. "You have to pay attention, stay focused on the fight to the last second. It doesn't matter if I look great in the fight. It doesn't matter if I am in front of my hometown like my last fight. I have to stay focused."
Natal believes his newfound emphasis on focus is something that will be a major factor against Kennedy.
With five wins in his past six octagon appearances, the 30-year-old is starting to build a resume worthy of a top-10 ranking. In taking on a two-time Strikeforce title challenger, Natal believes after three years of hard work in the UFC, he's finally being given a chance to shine.
And whether or not people believe he deserves to be there, Natal sure isn't about to let the opportunity slip through his fingers.
"I'm going to beat Tim then I'm going to be in the top 10 for sure," Natal said. "It's going to be a very good fight for me, and it will be one of the best fights of the year."