(Natal vs. Travis Lutter, 5/21/10. Props: FightReloaded)
Though you won’t see any new faces on the televised main card, UFC Fight Night: Marquardt vs. Palhares will feature three fighters in the prelims who will be stepping into the Octagon for the first time. No pressure, guys. They’ve got the talent, but can they overcome the dreaded Jitters? Get to know these men below, and keep an eye out.
RAFAEL NATAL (MW)
Experience: 12-2 record (10 wins by stoppage within the first two rounds), with multiple appearances in Ring of Combat and various Brazilian promotions. Most recently knocked out Travis Lutter at Moosin: God of Martial Arts in May. Also holds a win over UFC/WEC vet Danillo Villefort.
Will be facing: Rich Attonito (8-3, 1-0 UFC)
Lowdown: Not to be confused with the King of Clay, Rafael "Sapo" Natal is a BJJ black belt under Draculino Magalhaes, and works as an instructor at Renzo Gracie‘s in New York. His nickname means "Toad"; he picked it up as a 14-year-old during his first capoeira class in Brazil, and like all unflattering Brazilian nicknames, it stuck. Though grappling is Natal’s strong suit — and carried him to a gold medal at the Mundials as a blue belt in 2005 — Rafael loves a good brawl. As he told UFC.com, "Sometimes in the academy I’ll call a teammate to spar in that style (laughs) – no technique, only brawling, closed eyes, landing fists. This is excellent to take off the stress."
Natal was formerly the middleweight champion of Ring of Combat, but lost his title to Victor O’Donnell last year in unfortunate fashion: "I opted to trade strikes and the first round wasn’t going good for me. At the end of the first round the fight was on the ground and I was on the top, the round finished and I helped him up and went to my corner. The doctor asked me something and I didn’t answer because I didn’t speak English, so he stopped the fight! I tried to complain and nothing changed. Hey, don’t worry I improved my English and I won’t lose this way anymore."
DAVID MITCHELL (WW)
Experience: 11-0 (9 wins by submission), with multiple appearances in Cage Combat Fighting Championships and Tachi Palace Fights. Holds notable victories over War Machine, Bobby Green, and UFC/WEC vet Tim McKenzie.
Will be facing: Anthony Waldburger (see below)
Lowdown: You may remember Mitchell from his fight last year where he scored a questionable decision over War Machine, who paid the price for not taking him seriously. Mitchell is a product of the Nor Cal Fighting Alliance, and holds a purple belt in jiu-jitsu under David Terrell. The son of hippie world-travelers, Mitchell grew up on a commune known as the Hog Farm. Though his peacenik parents initially struggled to accept his violent career path, Mitchell doesn’t see it as a contradiction: "In some ways, (MMA) is like the ultimate peace. You go in there to war, but then you give the guy a hug afterward, and no one has to die or anything. I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, this is how it’s supposed to be.’"
ANTHONY "TJ" WALDBURGER (WW)
Experience: 13-5 record (10 wins by submission), competing primarily in Texas and Oklahoma. Hasn’t fought since last September, when he won a decision against Pat Healy in a defense of his Shark Fights welterweight title; Waldburger won the belt last May by submitting Shannon Ritch.
Will be facing: David Mitchell
Lowdown: Though his record might not seem so impressive, keep in mind that the 22-year-old Grapplers Lair product made his MMA debut as a 17-year-old high school junior, and he suffered four of his five career losses before the age of 20. Before the aforementioned wins against Healy and Ritch, he defeated UFC vets Brian Foster and Pete Spratt while still a teenager. In other words, he’s a prospect with tremendous upside. His year-long layoff was the product of a three-month break due to a rib injury, followed by a lack of attractive opportunities. Waldburger will be the only Texan competing on the Fight Night card in Austin. When not training for his own fights, he helps train soldiers at Fort Hood for Army combatives tournaments. Notable quote from his UFC.com profile: “My coaches are like parents to me, and in a literal sense too, because I’m about to marry my coach’s daughter."