In a fight so close one judge ruled it a draw, Rafael Lovato Jr. defeated Gegard Mousasi at Bellator London, capturing the middleweight title in the process.
Gegard Mousasi was back in action Saturday, headlining the Bellator London card, which followed Bellator 223 (but aired prior to it, at least in North America). Challenging for his middleweight title was jiu-jitsu expert Rafael Lovato Jr., an undefeated talent whose mastery on the mat made him a threat to anyone, even the much more experienced Mousasi.
That was certainly the case early. Lovato Jr.’s prowess was on full display. That was key in a fight where the challenger dazzled in the opening rounds, only for the champ to come back, and momentum to shift a final time in the fifth.
In round one, the pair faced off, sizing each other up in the opening minute. Then, Lovato moved immediately to a clinch off the first real exchange. He pressed Mousasi up against the cage, but the champ stayed standing. Lovato, however, would eventually get the fight down, and work from the top. He’d eventually move to side control, at times using knee-on-belly, working toward mount. Mousasi wasn’t taking a ton of damage, but Rafael Lovato Jr was in control through most of the round, and landed enough to keep it from being stood up.
In the second, Lovato had the champ on the ground within a minute. He began landing a few punches, while Mousasi worked to get his back on the cage. Mousasi, however, would make it back to his feet, with Lovato trying to take his back. The BJJ ace would give up on that, but attempt to force Mousasi back down. Mousasi defended with a knee, back to the cage. There had been precious little offense from Gegard to that point. He’d free himself of the challenger, however, and go on the hunt in the dying seconds of the round. Not enough time was left to make anything happen, however.
After two frustrating rounds for the champ, Mousasi was going to need to make something happen in round three. However, early on Lovato caught a leg, then tripped Mousasi. He managed to regain his footing, but Lovato controlled from the back, hands clasped around the champ’s waist. Lovato worked in some knees, then pulled Mousasi down on top of him, deftly transitioning to the top where he landed a handful of elbows. Lovato’s mastery on the ground was evident, and while he wasn’t doing a ton of damage, he was winning the fight to the halfway point. As the round progressed Lovato moved to Mousasi’s back, and secured a body triangle. Mousasi, however, reversed, getting in dominant position for nearly the first time in the fight. Lovato was equally dangerous from the bottom, but Mousasi landed a big punch that opened up a cut by his opponent’s left eye. Lovato was noticably bothered by the cut, touching it several times while still defending. Mousasi then managed to open up a little, landing more punches on Lovato, who was trying to sweep.
Mousasi might have taken the third with that strong finish to the round. In the fourth, Lovato found himself on the outside, circling. Mousasi seemed to have regained his confidence, and he backed the challenger up, forcing him to circle free. Lovato took a big swing in response, then threw a kick, but Mousasi easily caught it. Lovato tried for a takedown, came up short, then laid back in guard position. Mousasi wasn’t interested in that invitation. With the ref allowing Lovato back up, Mousasi was able to re-engage, landing a right hook. He’d then connect with a big uppercut that dropped Lovato by the cage! Lovato was still defending, and Mousasi moved in for some ground and pound, only to have his leg trapped briefly. Mousasi would pull free, Lovato would survive, but on the feet, he was outclassed. He was also tired. He’d make it out of the round, but momentum was on Gegard Mousasi’s side.
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The fifth round saw Lovato get the fight down early, and take Mousasi’s back. After the strong round for the champ in round four, this was a huge turn of events. Lovato controlled, and eventually got both hooks in. He’d throw punches from the back, landing to the side of the head. With time wearing down, it was cruicial that Mousasi escape. He could not. Lovato finished the fight in control, as he had started it. Depending on how the third had been scored, it might be closed, but all indicators were that Rafael Lovato Jr. had dethroned Gegard Mousasi.
That’s exactly what happened, with Lovato thanking Mousasi for the chance afterward. A throwback in this era of MMA, the question will quickly become what’s next for the jiu-jitsu stud.
Rafael Lovato Jr. def. Gegard Mousasi by majority decision (47-47, 48-47, 48-47) – to win the Bellator MMA middleweight championship