Eight years after moving to New York, Rafael Natal will finally fulfill one of his dreams.
"Sapo" left Brazil for New York City in September 2008, and it only took him two years to sign with the UFC after winning the Ring of Combate middleweight title. Way before that, he already thought about fighting mixed martial arts in the "capital of the world." At UFC 205, on Nov. 12, he will have that chance, facing Tim Boetsch.
"Ever since I moved to New York, we dreamed about having MMA legal in the state to fight at Madison Square Garden," Natal told MMA Fighting. "I’m super excited. It’s an historic event that will be remembered forever. I want to thank my manager and the UFC that always gave me fights in cards I wanted, like in Belo Horizonte and Newark.
"MMA is the fastest growing sport in the world, everybody knows that. And we needed this card in New York, the capital of the world, at Madison Square Garden, to put the UFC in a new level. Everywhere I go people talk about it. The city is excited for this event, and happy to have MMA finally legalized here. New York is going to be the new Las Vegas for the UFC."
Natal trains at Renzo Gracie’s gym, a block away from Madison Square Garden, and will feel at home competing at the arena.
"I walk by Madison Square Garden twice a day. It’s an extra motivation," he said. "When I leave the gym, MSG is right there across the street. I’m literally fighting at home. I’m happy."
UFC 205 will be a special night for Natal, but won’t be the first time he enters MSG. In fact, "Sapo" has been to the arena multiple times in the past few years, and always wondered what it would be like to compete in front of the New York crowd.
"Many people don’t know but I love the PBR rodeo, and I go to Madison Square Garden every year for six years to watch it, so I know the arena well," "Sapo" said. "The rodeo is a huge event, and I always wondered how awesome it would be to fight there. If it’s fun already to watch a rodeo, imagine a UFC event.
"I went to that historic UFC 100 in Las Vegas, even before I was a UFC fighter. That was my first live UFC event, and I said ‘brother, I want to be in there one day.’ And now God is giving me this gift. It will be awesome."
"Sapo" is excited about fighting at "home," but is aware of the dangers Boetsch brings to the table. Coming off a unanimous decision loss to Robert Whittaker, which snapped a four-fight winning streak, the Brazilian feels ready to stop "The Barbarian" in New York.
"He’s a tough fighter, a wrestler with heavy hands," he said. "We always joke that it’s the toughest match-up, but we did a great training camp and we have a good game plan. You have to be prepared for everything because you never know what will happen. Tim Boetsch is a tough opponent and he has a good name, too, but I’m prepared to win."
Natal’s last win was a TKO finish over Kevin Casey in January, but the jiu-jitsu black belt hasn’t tapped an opponent since a 2013 victory over Sean Spencer. And even though he calls Boetsch a durable opponent, "Sapo" thinks he has enough power and technique to stop him inside three rounds.
"I’m ready to finish him," Natal said. "I don’t think this fight will to the distance. I’m ready to go three rounds if I need to, but we both have heavy hands, and my jiu-jitsu is good. I would like to get a submission again, it’s been a while. I want to finish him."