If you follow the sport of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or Submission Grappling, then Rafael Lovato Jr. is a name you will be familiar with. One of the most successful American Jiu Jitsu players to date, Lovato made the transition to MMA and has quickly made inroads into the sport. Lovato secured the Legacy Fighting Championship middleweight title at LFC 54 when he handed the previously undefeated Brazilian fighter, Marcelo Nunes (5-1) his first defeat. Some people believe that you are truly a champion after you have defended your title, and Lovato promises to demonstrate his mettle at LFC 62. Lovato will be facing Strikeforce and Bellator veteran Cortez ‘The Crazy Cowboy’ Coleman (13-6) who is riding a three-fight winning streak and looking to claim the belt for his own.
Lovato himself has just returned from Curitiba, Brazil where he has been preparing for his upcoming fight.
“I was training with Andre Dida at Evolucao. It was awesome, my fourth time going there. I have a good relationship with everyone now. It’s life or death there every day, they train really hard. As far as differences this time to the times before, Dida has a larger academy right now. He just got a new place. There’s a full Octagon in there, and a lot more room to battle it out.
“He’s getting a reputation in Brazil, so a lot of guys are making the move to his team. There are a lot more larger guys now, my size or bigger; so I had a lot of training partners. It gets me out of my comfort zone, the sparring is intense. They do sparring every day, we would also work on some technical aspects and Andre would oversee it.”
Lovato showed how dangerous an opponent he is in his fight against Nunes. It was his performance that demonstrated exactly why he deserved a title shot with only his third MMA fight.
“He was really good. He’s a really tough guy. He’s technical with great striking and good on the ground. It was a good test, there were a lot of things that I can learn from in that fight, and so it was a good learning experience. I didn’t really get in trouble. I wasn’t in danger, but I had to work for the win.
“He did defend himself well on the ground. He got under me in half guard and was able to stand up one time and I lost the back one time. He’s a good black belt, that’s the first time I’ve fought a black belt in MMA. He was long. I was happy I showed a wide array of skills, moving between striking, takedowns and Jiu Jitsu.”
After the fight Lovato, was very emotional.
“I felt overwhelmed. The title was nice, icing on the cake. It’s a fight, I worked so hard to prepare. With MMA you never know what really will happen. I was a little upset with some of the mistakes I made like slipping on the kick, so I was thinking about that. Then I had my father in there with me. I’d been dreaming about that so much, I’d been visualizing dedicating the belt to him. Having that moment in the cage was great.
“The fight happened so fast, but also so slow. Afterwards, I was processing the fight at the same time as being in there with my dad. It was awesome after the fight celebrating with my dad, students, friends and family.”
Once again Lovato is fighting close to home, and to him that feels like a plus.
“It’s nice to not have to travel far away, and I like having the love and support. There’s a little extra pressure and stress. You don’t want to lose and have all your people there and not celebrate, but I don’t worry about that too much. Competing in Jiu Jitsu, I’m always travelling 99% of the time. I get to walk out of the cage and into people’s arms. That’s a good experience.”
Cortez Coleman, Lovato’s opponent, is someone he is familiar with.
“I know about him more or less. He’s from Oklahoma. I’ve seen him on the scene, mostly at Jiu Jitsu or grappling tournaments. He doesn’t have too much online as he has fought a lot smaller shows and on the undercard of bigger shows. He has great hands, heavy strikes, likes to bang, very strong, a good defense and has a lot of experience. He brings a lot to the table, but I’m a much more complete martial artist.
“He reminds me of Canaan Grigsby, but Cortez is a better version. He has more experience. I have a pretty good feeling Cortez will come right at me.”
Some fighters don’t have much of a game plan, but a lot of the best have clear ideas as to what they want to do in a fight.
“I definitely have a game plan, but generally speaking it’s the same. I aim to take it to the ground. I have some specific strategies and set ups to get it to the ground that differ, but the basic idea is similar. Opponents have their strengths to be wary of, but I definitely develop a good game plan with my coaches.”
This fight comes as the year moves towards the holidays.
“This is my last Legacy fight for the year. Mostly after this I will think about resting, relaxing and enjoying the holidays. This year has been extremely busy. I’ve had two MMA fights and done grappling competitions and super fights. I’m happy with my performance this year.
I plan to continue my MMA career, but this will be my last fight with Legacy, so I’ll see what comes along next year. First things first, I have to take care of what is in front of me and that’s this fight.”
There has been a rising interest in professional grappling competitions which see two opponents square off in front of a crowd and Lovato has been heavily involved in this scene.
“I’ve done years and years of tournaments, you sit in a gym all day long. You compete, wait, compete, wait, and compete. I’ve spent so much of my life in that setting. It’s nice to compete at a professional level more frequently. There are now some really solid events that have established themselves and have done great things for the sport. I have a lot more motivation going up against a top-level competitor. You put your all into that match. It has that MMA vibe and is good for doing MMA.
“Jiu Jitsu competition was stressful for me. Now MMA has that stress attached. It used to be hard to flip that switch for Jiu Jitsu competitions, but with my new found perspective, I’m even better at Jiu Jitsu competition. It’s fun for me again now, it makes me happy, which makes me do better.
“In most pro events you are getting a lot of local talent, lots of friends, family and students, they aren’t going to boo. On TV or stream people want to see action, I think that is why you see a lot of rule sets.
“Jiu Jitsu is huge now with FloGrappling and UFC Fight Pass. I’m happy to see where it is, and would like to see it get on a TV channel or maybe FloGrappling become a TV channel. That would be really exciting for me to see the sport make it to that level.
“I’d like to thank my coaches and training partners, the people I have already mentioned Saulo, Alexandre (Ribeiro), Dida and Mauricio and everyone from Evolucao. Also my dad and my wife, the list could go on. I’d like to thank all my students and supporters. Thanks to my sponsors Venom, On The Mat, Onnit, PR2 Systems and Brookover Enterprises.”