Rafael Lovato Jr. took part in a historic foursome of submission finishes, all in a row on Bellator 198’s main card. Next, he’s looking for a title fight, or to finally get to share the cage with John Salter.
Chicago, IL — Rafael Lovato Jr. remains one of the most feared jiu-jitsu practitioners in all of MMA. That’s saying a lot, with the submission ace having competed on a card alongside Dillon Danis and Neiman Gracie. Yet he held his own, improving to 8-0 in the process, with a middleweight title shot closer than ever before. It wasn’t quite how Lovato envisioned the fight going, he admitted at the post-fight press conference following the event on Saturday, but that said, years of Jiu-jitsu once again paid off.
“I didn’t really want to win off my back,” he said of the arm-bar finish, “and I trained so much stand-up. I definitely wanted to show a little more.” That having been said, he worked with what he was given. “I went for a flying knee, he kind of hit my shoulder and I fell, lost my balance, and when he came into my guard I was like ‘okay, lets work a little bit from here.'”
Work he did, finishing the fight just past a minute into the very first round. The transition to the arm-bar was a work of art, something Lovato Jr. sees as years of jiu-jitsu paying off.
“I can pretty much throw whatever I want and not have to be scared of a takedown,” he explained on Saturday. “My last fight, I did a lot of front kicks, jumping knees and things like that because I’m not worried about getting taken down, and if they engage with me on the ground, I’m very confident that I can make something happen there. That’s just all the years of jiu-jitsu paying off.”
The late notice change in opponent, from fellow grappler John Salter to Gerald Harris, threw him for a loop, but only briefly. “Gerald also being a wrestler, being a southpaw really helped a lot,” Lovato explained. “If I had of fought a conventional fighter after training two months for a southpaw, it definitely would have kind of thrown off my preparation.”
Ultimately, he was thankful to Harris for taking the fight, and it all worked out in the end. “Great name, tons of experience, and like I said kind of fell into what I was training for really well.”
What’s next is the big question. Lovato Jr. vs. Salter was looking like a title eliminator. The middleweight strap is on the line at Bellator 200 in London later this year. Rafael Lovato Jr. would seem to be a lock to meet the winner, but time will tell. “I just want to do whatever it takes to get to the title,” he said following his win at Bellator 198. “If that can be the next fight, that’d be great. That’s what I was under the impression of, with the fight with Salter, that that was the number one contender’s [bout]. No one else. At this point, I don’t think anything really makes sense other than fighting for the title, or trying to redo the Salter fight.”
He conceded that rebooking the Salter fight is a possibility. “He’s 5-0 in Bellator, I’m now 4-0 in Bellator. So either the title or Salter, I think that’s all that makes sense.”
The championship remains the goal. Lovato got a late start in MMA, and knows his window is limited. “That’s what I want, my goal for 2018 was to be the Bellator middleweight world champion,” he explained. “That’s all I’m dreaming about, that’s what inspires me and motivates me, and I’m working very hard to achieve it.”
But is he ready for the likes of Gegard Mousasi, a much more experienced fighter with over five times as many fights? Well, as Lovato pointed out, Gerald Harris had never been submitted before, in thirty fights.
“I think I am. I totally believe I am,” he said of his readiness to face a fighter like Mousasi. “Even though I’ve only had eight fights now, this is a lifetime of work.”
“I’ve been competing my whole life,” he continued. “I’m kind of getting used to being the underdog, and going against guys that have a lot more fights than me. So now is my time. I’m coming into my prime physically, mentally, technically, and I’m not here to mess around.”