Rafael Natal (15-4-1, 3-2-1 UFC) vs. Joao Zeferino (13-4, 0-0 UFC)
Natal and Zeferino had a weird road leading towards their opening main card bout for UFC On FX 8, but both will get a chance to showcase themselves. Natal comes into the fight off of a submission win over Sean Spencer at UFC On FOX 6 in January. Natal is 3-2 over his last five fights. Zeferino makes his UFC debut on the heels of a seven-fight win streak. After starting his career with just a 1-3 mark, Zeferino has gone 12-1 over his last 13 fights to lead to his first appearance inside the Octagon.
Fight Breakdown: Natal and Zeferino had an interesting trip getting to UFC On FX 8. This bout originally started out as a fight between Cezar Ferreira and C.B. Dollaway. Dollaway pulled out, and in stepped Chris Camozzi. Ferreira then bowed out, and Natal stepped in to fight Camozzi. Then, a cut forced Costa Philippou out of his co-main event spot against Ronaldo Souza, and Camozzi moved up the card to fill in, which led to Zeferino being signed to make his debut against Natal. Both are coming in on short notice though Natal has had close to one month more than Zeferino to prepare for this particular fight. Zeferino will come in on roughly two weeks’ notice while Natal had close to six weeks’ notice.
Both men have black belts in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and have won several jiu-jitsu competitions all over the world. In fact, over their 28 combined wins, 17 of them have come by submission. Natal has come on strong as of late in winning three of his last four fights, and in his lone loss over the last four, he was handling Andrew Craig well before being knocked out with a head kick. He showed that he could adjust to sudden changes in opponents just days before a fight when he controlled Sean Spencer in their bout in January. Natal will have an edge on the feet as he has shown improved striking and Zeferino has been knocked out in three of his four losses though it has been close to four years since he has been finished in a fight.
Zeferino should look to control the grappling aspect of the fight. His conditioning may not be at the highest level due to taking the fight on short notice, so a grinding fight will wear both fighters out just as much. Natal may be purely better on the ground, but Zeferino has the skills to control Natal and should be looking to fight off submissions as he looks to notch up a submission himself. Natal has never been controlled on the ground, but he has yet to face a fighter with the jiu-jitsu skills that Zeferino has. Zeferino has also spent time working on his kickboxing under Duke Roufus, so he will be looking to mix it up on the feet. In the end, the fight will come down to the grappling and conditioning. Natal has shown a lot over his last few fights, and Zeferino may fall victim to Octagon jitters. Natal will grind out a decision win.
Why It Matters: It’s a chance for both men to showcase themselves on a bigger stage. Natal has seen all six of his UFC fights be on the preliminary card, and only once has one of his fights been on a televised preliminary card, so the jump up to the main card is his chance to show the UFC viewer why he belongs inside the Octagon. Furthermore, winning four of five fights will only move a fighter up into higher showcased fights, and Natal would love to fight Chris Camozzi, who he was slated to fight.
Zeferino gets the biggest opportunity of his career, and while it may not be the best of notices, win-or-lose, he will be receiving another opportunity. A loss will set him back a little, but a win in a UFC debut sets a fighter up for bigger opportunities down the road. Zeferino needs to avoid the jitters that sometimes come with a first fight in the UFC and show why he would have ended up inside the Octagon at some point during his career anyways.