Rafael Lovato, Jr. continues to be a dominant force in the world of competitive Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Recently he headlined the Fight to Win card in Denver and did not disappoint. He faced off against a game opponent in Tim Spriggs and finished the match with a choke from the back. Now with his primary focus on MMA, Mr. Lovato sat down with War Tribe Gear to reflect on his decorated past in the sport of BJJ and what his future may hold.
Reflecting back on the early days of your Jiu Jitsu journey would you have changed anything? Would you have tried to seek out the high level instruction earlier?
I believe that everything happened the way it should have. I had a really great instructor as a child and teen under Carlos Machado. Carlos was the very first legitimist Black Belt that came to my area. He had moved to Dallas, Texas around the time I had turned 13 years old and my father was one of his first students. My dad had actually trained with him in California and when he arrived in Texas he called my dad to come train. Carlos had move to the area to teach Chuck Norris. When he moved to Texas that changed our lives forever, we now had access to high-level instruction only a couple hours away. Carlos was not into the competition scene at that time since he had just moved to the area. He really was more focused on building his academy and spending time with his family by the time I had reached Brown Belt, somewhere around 18 or 19. I was hungry and want to train hard and compete every chance I had. When the opportunity came with Saulo I jumped on it and fortunately Carlos gave me his blessing.
If there was one thing I would change it might be to have been more selective on all the competitions that I did. I believe that I over competed especially toward my “Jiu Jitsu focused” competition career. Toward the end I wasn’t always inspired every time and I was really just competing because it was what I knew, just physically going thru the motions. In the end it gave me a ton of experience and memories that I am extremely grateful for.
This last year you competed at Master Worlds and had a great performance. Do you have any plans to compete at Adult Worlds?
Not right now, 2014 was my last Adult worlds. Later in that year I was seriously injured which required surgery; I wasn’t even ready for worlds 2015. At that point I had decided to put much more energy into MMA, so I have not been focused on that type of high-level competition. In the back of my mind I still want to do one or two more Adult World Championships. I feel like my Jiu Jitsu is getting better and I am still learning. I still train with several high level black belts, travel to do seminars and I feel like I still have it. Right now I am so close to a title shot in Bellator that being a world champion in Jiu Jitsu is not on my radar. I see guys like Xande and Cobrinha still competing in the adult division and they inspire me to get back out there and compete. I will be competing in Master Worlds every chance I get but I still have at least one more Adult Worlds in me.
You were 31 when you had your first MMA fight and you have remained pretty active in the sport ever since. Do you feel like it is your time to shine and become a World Champion?
I believe that I have not yet hit my peak and I really feel like I’m tapping into my full potential. I’m just 7 fights into my career but the experience that I have gained has been substantial. I have not experienced it all yet; I haven’t been dropped or had to come back from behind to win. I have been thru a lot of great training camps and have faced some tough opponents and this has helped me to find my game in the way that I like to attack. I recently received some news from Bellator and I can’t really disclose yet but let’s just say they agree with me about a title shot. My ultimate goal is to be a Bellator Champion and to continue challenging myself; I already know this is going to be a big year for me.
Why did you decided to start competing in MMA?
I always knew at some point that I would want to put all of my Martial Arts training to a test. I have basically been doing Mixed Martial Arts my whole life. Bruce Lee’s philosophy was to take the best of all martial arts and make them your own; it was never to follow one specific system. This is exactly how I grew up training so it was a natural transition for me to make. I had been competing for so long in Jiu Jitsu I felt like I needed a new challenge to bring out that feeling of fear from the unknown, something to force me out of my comfort zone. Perhaps my start in MMA was later than I had anticipated but I wanted to show that I was one of the best in Jiu Jitsu and I was able to do that for more than a decade. I feel like my Jiu Jitsu has gotten better since I have been competing in MMA because now I have face the ultimate challenge of real combat. I have noticed that I am able to flip the switch to be more aggressive and I see things differently.
If there were a young athlete that is reading this, what would you have to say to them if they aspire to be where you are?
It definitely won’t be easy. At some point your motivation will have to become deeper than the gold medal or the belt around your waist. You need to use Martial Arts to grow as a person in order to find your purpose. It is a privilege to step into the cage or onto the mat and do what you love in front of people. These are things that I have learned in the last few years. Appreciate the journey; take in every moment and the people around you.