Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu sure seems to be at a pinnacle of its existence. Currently, more and more professional grappling events allow for grapplers to make more than enough for a living by just training and fighting. Moreover, the DVD instructional scene is also booming, providing an additional income source. Plus, the evolution of the art is seeing it become arguably the best tool you can use in modern MMA fighting. There are plenty of examples of this, but none is more eye-catching than that of Rafel Lovato Jr. The legendary BJJ black belt is an undefeated, undisputed world champion as of this past weekend.
It is not like we weren’t expecting it. Let’s be honest every grappler out there was cheering for Lovato in his first ever pro MMA title match. And it was not an easy match, given that his opponent was Gegard Mousasi and the organization was Bellator. Rafael Lovato Jr. made it to the middleweight title, crowning what seems to be the resurgence of BJJ in mixed martial arts. Looking at all the other high-level grapplers that are dominating cages and the octagon worldwide, the future sure seems bright for Jiu-Jitsu!
Rafael Lovato Jr. – The Face Of American Grappling
Rafael Lovato Jr., for those that might not know, is one of the most legendary American grapplers of all times. In the sport of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, he is a real household name. Rafel Lovato Jr. is also part of BJJ history, not once but twice. First, he conquered the Brazilian National Championship in 2007 as the first American to do so. In 2013, he got his name in the history books again, at the very same tournament, this time as the first American to win the absolute.
Lovato Jr. is no stranger to world titles. He is a BJJ World Champion in both the Gi and No-Gi as well as a Master’s World Champion. In fact, he has pretty much every title that matters in BJJ, including the Pans and Europeans on multiple occasions. The heavyweight’s BJJ journey started at 13, after five years of boxing training. His father, Rafel Lovato Sr. is also an avid martial arts practitioner, and also a BJJ black belt. Rafel Lovato Jr. started training with Carlos Machado, and eventually got his black belt from him in 2004. After that, Lovato went on to train with the Ribeiro brothers, reaching new heights in his Jiu-Jitsu game.
In terms of MMA, Lovato started really slowly and methodically. His first four fights took place under the Legacy Fighting Championship. After three submission victories and one TKO, he moved on to Bellator in 2017. Since then, he had 6 fights, making his way through the middleweight division. Once again, his heavy pressure Jiu-Jitsu game was the foundation for all his strong outings. Along the way, he defeated fighters like Gerald Harris and John Salter before getting the shot at Moussasi’s belt.
The NEW Bellator Middleweight Champion
Rafael Lovato Jr.’s fight against Gegard Mousasi was by far the hardest test of his young MMA career so far. Lovato managed to get to a 10-0 record, but he had to put it all out on the line to do so! As we know, it takes a lot to dethrone a champion via a referees’ decision, but Lovato certainly managed to do so this past weekend in London.
The fight started with Rafel Lovato Jr. very comfortable in his striking, despite his incredible Jiu-Jitsu pedigree. Lovato mixed things up beautifully, connecting some crisp striking with beautiful takedown attempts. However, Mousasi’s experience was enough to stuff all double leg attempts Lovato launched. Lovato didn’t take this lightly and continued to pursue takedowns and subsequently submission attempts throughout the entire fight.
It wasn’t all fun and games though, as Mousasi found his game in the fourth round. he produced some top-grade striking to put Lovato on the defense. Everything seemed set for an amazing action packed fifth round. Well, there was action but not the way many expected. Lovato took momentum away from the experienced Dutchman, hitting an early takedown. From there on, he went for submission after submission, never allowing Mousasi to even think about getting back to the feet.
The judges thought that Rafel Lovato Jr. did enough and awarded him the match, and the Bellator middleweight title with a 47-47, 48-47, and 48-47 majority decision.
The Second Coming Of BJJ In MMA?
When the UFC first started BJJ was the ultimate skill to have in early MMA. From Royce Gracie’s octagon exploits to Rickson’s rule in Pride, BJJ was what everyone was after for a long time. The momentum carried over back to the UFC, with the likes of Anderson Silva, the Nogueira brother and Demian Maia carrying the Jiu-Jitsu torch. However, as the skillset widened and MMA grew to a worldwide phenomenon, the edge BJ Jpractitioners had subsided. During the last decade or so, Demian Maia was the only one to keep BJJ alive in MMA. Well, the tide seems to be turning Jiu-Jitsu’s favor once again.
Currently, there is a number of high-level BJJ world champions making their way through the ranks of MMA. Rafael Lovato Jr. is the first one of those to get a world title, but we can’t imagine the rest are far behind. Similar to Lovato, Kron Gracie and Mackenzie Dern started fighting in Rizin and LFA respectfully. Both are currently at the UFC, Kron with one and Dern with a couple of victories. Both are also still undefeated in MMA. The last huge BJ name to sign with the UFC is Rodolfo Vieira, who is still to fight in the octagon, after a 5-0 record in different promotions.
The new generation of BJJ standouts in the form of Gary Tonon, Michelle Nicolini and Dillon Danis is also doing well. Tonon is currently 5-0 under the ONE banner, with all of his matches ending in stoppage (TKO or submission). Nicolini is also in ONE with a 5-2 record so far, while Danis has a 2-0 record in Bellator. Are we witnessing the second coming of BJJ in MMA? If Lovato is anything to judge by, it certainly seems to be the case!
Rafale Lovato Jr. has one of the most efficient styles of Jiu-Jitsu out there. He is methodical, always looks for pressure and is never far from a submission finish. His take on MMA is pretty much the same, as he prepares for just about any probability. In a sense, he reminds a lot of GSP and his cerebral approach to fighting., One thing is for sure we can’t wait to see more of the undefeated, undisputed Bellator middleweight champion!