In a hotly anticipated match-up of grappling experts at Bellator 205, Rafael Lovato Jr. forced John Salter to tap in the third round of their middleweight fight, which came with clear title implications.
Perhaps overlooked with fights like McKee vs. Macapa and Pitbull vs. Huerta at Bellator 205 was the card’s middleweight co-main event. Featuring BJJ ace Rafael Lovato Jr. against another superb grappler in John Salter, the fight was a potential title eliminator, with the victor a possibility to take on the winner of Rory MacDonald and Gegard Mousasi a week later.
Both men entered on impressive winning streaks. Salter had won seven straight, all seven coming via finish. In that run, five came by submission, the remaining two by TKO. Rafael Lovato Jr., meanwhile, was undefeated in his MMA career with eight straight wins, seven via finish. With five submissions of his own, the 4th degree black belt and Jiu-jitsu champ was a serious threat.
Salter pressed the action early, with Lovato relying on kicks upstairs. They stayed standing through the opening minute, with Lovato frequently circling away from Salter’s attacks, then moving in with wild looping punches of his own. As ref-turned-analyst Big John McCarthy pointed out, Lovato had no fear of being on his back, which allowed him to get a little crazy with his standup. Salter, undeterred, would continue to push the pace, and initiated a clinch that Lovato quickly feed himself from. Through the first round, the pair of grappling aces kept things standing.
Round two teased a bit of ground action when Lovato slipped, but Salter opted to let the fight stay standing. Salter seemed to have the upper hand, but Lovato soon cracked him with a right hand, dropping him! He jumped into a guillotine and worked to wrap Salter up, however while Lovato had the choke, he didn’t have position. As Lovato posted up, Salter chose to take him back down, though Lovato held on to the guillotine grip. Salter, however, tried to move to side control, only to wind up in half-guard. They’d wind up back on the feet shortly, but another guillotine attempt, just as explosive, saw them go back down. With a number of guillotine attempts, the round likely belonged to Lovato, and it was anyone’s fight heading into the third.
Lovato opened the third with another kick to the body, and would later try a jump knee. Salter opted to clinch then, working for a trip. Unable to get off any offense or get the fight down, they wound up back in the middle. However, the tide turned shortly after. Lovato Jr. managed to get on top of Salter following a takedown. He’d nearly get mount, and soften Salter up with some ground n’ pound. As Salter rolled away from the strikes, Lovato took the back. It took him a few tries, but he’d sink in a deep rear-naked choke, and force the tap!
Always a class act, Lovato thanked Salter for the war post-fight, and expressed his support for his opponent’s friends, family, and students, as Salter was one of many forced to flee the path of hurricane Florence. Lovato, normally reserved, then called for a title shot, noting he’s not getting any younger.
Rafael Lovato Jr. def. John Salter by submission (rear-naked choke), Round 3, 4:27