Rafael Lovato Jr. In Career Limbo Due to Brain Condition, Bellator Issues Statement

Rafael Lovato Jr.
Rafael Lovato Jr. vs Chris Honeycutt. Credit: Bellator MMA

Bellator middleweight champion Rafael Lovato Jr. is a fighter in limbo. Lovato, appearing on the Joe Rogan Experience MMA Show this week, revealed that he was dealing with a brain condition that had his fighting career in jeopardy.

Lovato (10-0) had undergone a routine brain scan ahead of Bellator 223 in London last year, the fight at which he captured the 185lb title against Gegard Mousasi. That scan revealed a condition known as a cavernoma. While Lovato was cleared to fight at the event, Safe MMA, a medical body operating out of the U.K. and Ireland focused on protecting the health and safety of mixed martial arts athletes, then got involved. An Irish doctor with the group contacted Lovato, he said, saying that “it was a mistake that I was able to fight in London and moving forward I will not be approved in Europe again. At this point, Europe is a no.”

The U.K.’s National Health Services describes a cavernoma as “a cluster of abnormal blood vessels, usually found in the brain and spinal cord.” The condition can be genetic and often times does not present symptoms. Roughly 1 in 600 people in the U.K. are reported to have the condition, without symptoms. When symptoms do present, they can include headaches, seizures, memory problems, and haemorrhagic stroke.

Essentially, the condition is one that Lovato has potentially had for a long time, but it wasn’t until the London card that it was caught, as other locales didn’t require the brain scan. Lovato intends to pursue the matter further, but right now it’s all up in the air. “I’m not officially retiring. I am indefinitely on the sidelines right now,” he said. “I am actively seeing more doctors and working toward learning more about this. Obviously I want to keep fighting.”

That said, Lovato also sounds as if he’s at peace with the idea that he might be done fighting. “If it’s really unsafe and I’m not going to get approved, ever, I finally got to a place where I can accept that and I’m going to move forward on with my life,” he told Joe Rogan.

Bellator has now released a response to the situation. In a statement provided to MMA Junkie, the promotion wrote that

“We are working with Rafael Lovato Jr. and his team to assess potential next steps, following the medical issues that he discussed on the ‘JRE MMA Show’ podcast with Joe Rogan today. We commend him for his courage in speaking openly during a trying time in his career, as well as his patience in dealing with a very difficult personal and professional matter. At this time, Lovato Jr. remains the Bellator middleweight champion, and no decision has been made regarding the title or the future of the 185-pound division, until more details about this situation can be gathered.”

Lovato has said he’ll continue to compete in the grappling realm while he seeks more information about the condition. Lovato was a dominant force in the jiu-jitsu world prior to transitioning to MMA.


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