Facing scrutiny from athletic commissions and questions regarding the viability of fighting with a brain condition, Rafael Lovato Jr. has vacated Bellator MMA’s middleweight title.
After going public with a brain condition that has put his fighting career on hold, Bellator middleweight champion Rafael Lovato Jr. has opted to relinquish the title. The promotion announced the news in a press release Monday, bringing an end to Lovato’s time as champion — and possibly signaling the end of his career.
Lovato Jr. (10-0), also a former Legacy FC middleweight champion, revealed less than two weeks ago that his career was in limbo due to a routine brain scan finding what’s known as a cavernoma. A cavernoma is “a cluster of abnormal blood vessels, usually found in the brain and spinal cord.” While generally a genetic condition and frequently one that doesn’t present symptoms, when they do appear, they can include headaches, seizures, and even lead to a hemorrhagic stroke.
As a result, while Lovato Jr. may have unknowingly had the condition for years, athletic commissions aren’t about to fall over themselves licensing him. Which no doubt factored into his decision. Not to mention the legitimate concern over his long term health and well-being.
“My journey with my team and family to become the Bellator middleweight world champion was incredible and something I will cherish forever,” Lovato Jr. was quoted as saying in Monday’s press release. “I dreamed of having a long reign as champion, but sometimes life has another plan. Bellator has been very supportive during this difficult process, a situation that has never really happened before in our sport. I know the division must move on while I am on the sidelines and I wish everyone great fights on their way to that belt. I will be working to come back if it is possible – and if not, life will continue to be amazing for me and I look forward to working with Bellator in another fashion.”
Lovato captured the middleweight title in June 2019 with a majority decision victory over Gegard Mousasi, himself one of the top middleweights in the sport. Prior to that, he had picked up wins over dangerous grappler John Salter, UFC/TUF 7 veteran Gerald Harris, and longtime Bellator competitor Chris Honeycutt.
The American is also one of the most decorated Brazilian Jiu-jitsu competitors ever to be born stateside. He was the second man from the U.S., after B.J. Penn, to win the World Jiu Jitsu Championship as a black belt. He has also won medals in numerous other world-class grappling competitions over the years.
Bellator CEO Scott Coker recognized that the past weeks and months had been a severely trying time for Rafael Lovato Jr. and his family. “He is a true warrior of the sport and I cannot say enough about him for making such a difficult decision. His health is the priority for us and we will continue to work with him on addressing the next steps in his career.”
Bellator MMA has indicated they will announce plans regarding the vacant 185lb title shortly.