Tim Kennedy has won eight of his last 10 bouts. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
It has been nearly three years since the Ultimate Fighting Championship touched down on a United States military base for an event. The promotion will hold its third such show on Wednesday, when UFC Fight Night 31 “Fight for the Troops 3” heads to Fort Campbell in Hopkinsville, Ky.
Headlined by a middleweight duel between U.S. Army Green Beret Tim Kennedy and Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Rafael Natal, UFC Fight Night 31 might not be the most loaded lineup the Las Vegas-based organization has ever compiled, but that does not figure to dampen the enthusiasm of those in attendance. “Fight for the Troops” events always make for a spine-tingling atmosphere, and this figures to be no exception.
Here is a closer look at the UFC Fight Night 31 card, with analysis and picks:
Sherdog Fantasy MMA: UFC Fight Night 31 Free Fan Pick’Em
MiddleweightsTim Kennedy (16-4, 1-0 UFC) vs. Rafael Natal (17-4-1, 5-2-1 UFC)
While Natal is a step down in terms of prestige, Kennedy still has plenty of incentive. In addition to wanting to improve upon his UFC debut, a dominant yet largely uneventful unanimous verdict over Roger Gracie, the former U.S. Army Special Forces member will be fighting in front of thousands of his military brethren. The scene is guaranteed to be electric when Kennedy hits the cage.
Natal is not showing up simply as main-event fodder, however. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has quietly won five of his last six fights, most recently outpointing “The Ultimate Fighter 17” alum Tor Troeng at UFC Fight Night 28. Natal obviously has momentum, but none of his victories -- Troeng, Joao Zeferino, Sean Spencer, Michael Kuiper and Paul Bradley -- really moves the needle. Kennedy, meanwhile, has established himself as one the toughest outs in the sport, going the distance in failed Strikeforce title bids against Luke Rockhold and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza.
Kennedy’s ability to dictate the tempo and location of the fight against Gracie, a 10-time world jiu-jitsu champion, bodes well for his hopes against Natal, who is known for a heavy top game. The Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts product survived having Gracie on his back in the opening frame, eventually moving to top position. From there, Kennedy landed the occasional takedown and drained his opponent in the clinch. It is a performance that could be repeated against Natal. Kennedy’s blend of determined wrestling, active clinch work, toughness and submission defense makes him a difficult matchup for the 30-year-old Brazilian.
Natal has decent power in his hands but can be prone to fits of wildness. He is better off when he stays with his jab consistently while mixing in leg kicks. Kennedy will apply pressure from the opening bell, taxing Natal’s cardio. While Natal has solid takedown defense, Kennedy is dogged in his approach and will stay busy with offense against the fence until he gets the fight where he wants it.
The Pick: Natal is not versatile enough to offer a significantly different look from previous fights, so once he finds out he cannot outpunch Kennedy or impose his will from above, it will be all downhill from there. Kennedy wins by decision.
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