Rafael “Sapo” Natal is hanging up his gloves.
On Monday's edition of “The MMA Hour” with Ariel Helwani, Natal made an in-studio appearance in New York City to announce his retirement from mixed martial arts after over 12 years as a professional, spending the last seven as a middleweight fixture in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The 34-year-old retires with a pro MMA record of 21-9-1.
“It was the toughest walk in today to your studio because it is hard to make this announcement,” Natal told Helwani, “but I talked to my family, my friends, my coaches. That is the time. I have new focus in my career as a coach, so that’s the thing to do in the moment.”
After starting his career 10-1 and winning the Ring of Combat middleweight title, Natal got his breakout win at Moosin's ill-fated “God of Martial Arts” pay-per-view in May 2010, knocking out “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 4 winner Travis Lutter. He debuted in the UFC five months later, losing a unanimous decision to Rich Attonito at UFC Fight Nigtht 22. He would go on to post a 9-7-1 mark in the Octagon, taking wins over the likes of Paul Bradley, Chris Camozzi, Uriah Hall and Tom Watson
The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has lost his last three bouts in the UFC. “Sapo” dropped a unanimous decision to now-interim champion Robert Whittaker in April of last year and was then knocked out by Tim Boetsch last November. In what should stand as his last UFC appearance in July, the Belo Horizonte, Brazil native was set to face Alessio Di Chirico. When Di Chirco was injured, he was replaced by undefeated former University of Alabama linebacker Eryk Anders, who knocked Natal out in less than three minutes.
"I just opened a huge school in Brazil now and plan to open here in New York too. I'm coming from three losses now, the last two were really bad,” said Natal.
“I’ve had some surgeries on my retina, on my eye. I’ve focused on [fighting] 100 percent of my life, during these 15 years,” he continued. “It’s time to step back. My mom’s asked this from me for a long time. It was a hard decision but it’s what we have. I think it was a smart one.”