OTM and ProElite.com present a LIVE internet PPV of the ADCC Championships! Check out www.proelite.com/home to order right now!This weekend in Trenton, New Jersey – USA, the finest grapplers from around the world will assemble at the Sovereign Bank Arena to partake in the ADCC 2007 – 8th Submission Fighting World Championships. This is the pinnacle of submission grappling and will draw attention from every corner of the planet. In this ensemble of grappling legends and superstars alike, everyone and anyone interested in watching something special should pay close attention to the young American black-belt Rafael Lovato, Jr. of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, who will be making his first appearance at the ADCC World Championships. Arguably the most talented American with a gi, he now has the platform to showcase his no-gi grappling skills against the world’s elite. On the Eve before the ADCC festivities begin, OTM was able to sit down with Lovato, Jr. to discuss ADCC, his jiu-jitsu lineage and training, as well as a look at the sport as a whole.
Bevois: Your father Rafael Lovato, Sr. is black-belt under Carlos Machado. How long has he been involved in jiu-jitsu and MMA?
Rafael: My father has been involved with martial arts pretty much his whole life. He started with traditional martial arts, then he got into boxing, and moved into Jeet Kune Do. When I was young, he was training a lot of Jeet Kune Do, which was kind of like mixed martial arts of that time. It consisted of Kali/Escrima, Boxing, Muay Thai, Trapping, and some basic Grappling. He became a certified JKD instructor and through the instructor conferences in California he was introduced to BJJ. He started traveling to California to learn from the Gracie’s, then eventually the Machado’s, and when Carlos Machado moved to Texas his prayers were answered. My dad would go to Dallas at least one day out of the week to train and do private lessons and he would come home and review everything he learned with me. He received his black-belt in May of 2003 and I got mine in August of 2004.
Bevois: So your father taught you Jeet Kune Do, Boxing, and other forms of stand-up as a kid, before he started teaching you jiu-jitsu when you turned 13. Should we expect to see you competing in MMA someday soon?
Rafael: Probably not soon, but yes one day I do want to compete in MMA. Right now I want to focus on accomplishing some goals in Jiu-Jitsu and Submission Wrestling, but I know there will be a time when I will want to take on a new challenge. When I was a young teenager I was very serious about boxing, it was my first love. I still continue to box and train MMA on occasion.
Bevois: Whom would you consider as some of your favorite MMA fighters?
Rafael: There are a lot of guys I like to watch. I consider myself a big fan and I pretty much watch everything and everyone. I am usually able to pick out a detail from every fight that makes it worth watching for me. Some guys I end up watching a lot are of course Fedor, Shinya Aoki, Matt Lindland, Randy Couture, and B.J. Penn. I also like to watch Joe Stevenson, Jason Miller, and Nick Diaz. The list goes on and on…
Bevois: You live and teach in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Would you say that the popularity of jiu-jitsu due to Oklahoma’s wrestling-rich pedigree is doing pretty good or just OK?
Rafael: I would just say OK. Wrestling out here is very popular, so much so that any guy that grew up here has pretty much wrestled at some point or another in his life. I have quite a few students who used to wrestle, but with as many as there are out here I should have more. I think a lot of wrestlers out here are kind of thick headed when it comes to learning Jiu-Jitsu and they tend to jump into MMA very early. There are a lot of small MMA shows out here that are filled with wrestlers, but very few of them are really working on their Jiu-Jitsu. It is a shame because I love to teach wrestlers Jiu-Jitsu. They are good guys to have on the team, because they usually have a good work ethic and intensity. I like training with them too, because I am always trying to improve my wrestling.
Bevois: Back at UFC 4, Dan Severn made his MMA debut against Anthony Macias of Oklahoma City, OK right down the road from you in Tulsa, OK. That would make you about 10 years old at the time. Did you ever ask your dad to go jump in the mix?
Rafael: No, I never really thought about it. I got to see my dad take care of enough people that came through the academy.
Bevois: You received your black-belt right after your 21st birthday from Carlos Machado, but are now affiliated with Saulo Ribeiro. What caused the change of affiliation?
Rafael: It wasn’t like we ever had any real problem with Carlos or anything like that. It was mainly just to help me find the competitive edge I was looking for. Carlos is a great teacher, his Jiu-Jitsu is still evident in my game, and I will always consider him a friend. Saulo gives me so much more than just Jiu-Jitsu, he helps me with understanding all the mental aspects of competing. His philosophies and ways he breaks down Jiu-Jitsu are unlike anything I had ever experienced. He has helped me fill in a lot of holes and grow as a person and competitor. Between him and his brother Xande are 9 Mundial black-belt gold medals; training doesn’t get much better than that. They have become like brothers to me and I owe them a lot.
Bevois: You are also loosely affiliated with Marc Laimon, where you regularly teach seminars, train, and compete for his Cobra Kai Academy in Las Vegas. How has Marc helped influence your game?
Rafael: Marc is a great guy who has also helped me out a lot. I used to compete against his guys all the time and I looked up to him as a pioneer and competitor. In 2004 he recruited me to help him train for his match with Ryron, I pretty much lived with him for like 3 months. He really helped me elevate my no-gi game. He is a great training partner for me and I really respect him for his dedication to his students and his knowledge. I am friends with many of his students. I love to go out there to train and teach. He has also been to our academy in Oklahoma as well.
Bevois: Speaking of Cobra Kai, Jeff Glover and yourself are two of the youngest and most talented American black-belts, but you’re also good friends and from what I hear, highly skilled freestyle rap artists. So I have got to know, who’s honestly got the tighter flow when you two throw down the gauntlet and battle rap?
Rafael: Highly skilled? Man Jeff is way better than me, but honestly I think Bill the Grill is the best. I mostly just provide the beats and inspiration and let them get after it. They are good at throwing in Jiu-Jitsu metaphors into their rap. Hanging out with them is always a blast.
Bevois: Jeff’s also got some pretty dope dance moves, but you being Latin should be pretty good too. Have you guys ever tried to settle things the only way true gentlemen know how with a dance-off?
Rafael: Not yet, but I can foresee a battle in the future. It’s only a matter of time.
Bevois: So besides yourself and Jeff, who are some of the other top American submission grapplers, we should keep our eyes on this weekend at the ADCC World Championship?
Rafael: All of them, I think we have some great representatives this year.
Bevois: You must be excited to compete in your first ADCC. What did you do to prepare yourself for the biggest no-gi competition of your career?
Rafael: I am very excited; I trained very hard to prepare for this. I started my preparation in Oklahoma right after the Pan Ams. Then I spent 2 weeks in San Diego, training with the Ribeiro’s. Rani Yahya was also training with us, as well as a really tough 225 lb. brown-belt named Leo Santos, who provided us with another great body to train with. We did everything from training, to weights, to conditioning on the beach, yoga, and ginastica natural. I have to thank Alvaro Romano for all the extra time he spent working with us and keeping us motivated even when we were dead tired.
Bevois: Who do you expect to be the toughest competition in your division?
Rafael: In ADCC everyone is tough, so a lot depends on the bracket and who is on that day. There has been some changes in my division, but some guys that I expect to see winning are Demian, Romulo, Tarsys, Cachorrinho, Macauley, Moriarty, David Avellan, and of course myself. I think my division is one of the more interesting ones because besides for Demian who was a finalist, everyone else is pretty much evenly ranked; there are no clear favorites. Anyone can take it and I am confident that it will be me.
Bevois: The new Superfight that was announced will feature Roger Gracie versus a very tough Norwegian grappler in John Olav Einemo, who has a win over Roger and is someone people really should know more about. How do you see this match going?
Rafael: I see Roger taking this. For sure John Olav is really tough and he could make this a close match. I just think that Roger has grown a lot as a competitor since their first match. The other thing is John Olav plays Jiu-Jitsu, he isn’t a wrestler/staller, so this will play into Roger’s game. Although, it is ADCC and there are always surprises, so we’ll see.
Bevois: Saturday night, there will also be another Superfight of epic proportions taking place right here in Las Vegas, Nevada between Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. Who do you pick to win this heavily awaited boxing mega-fight?
Rafael: I am rooting for Oscar, but I don’t know whom I would bet on if I had to. I think this will be Mayweather’s biggest test, but he has to be the favorite.
Bevois: Back to ADCC, who else are you looking forward to seeing compete this weekend?
Rafael: The potential match-ups are crazy. Think about Saulo vs. Marcelo/Galvao, Viera vs. Glover, Rani vs. Viera/Vasquez, Xande vs. Braulio/Cacareco. Then there is the Absolute, so the possibilities are endless. It is going to be crazy.
Bevois: I saw you beat three very tough Gracie Barra black-belts at the Pan Ams a few weeks ago, winning by triangle in the finals. Do you think your Lucky Gi gave you an edge or had anything to do with this?
Rafael: For sure. It has been good to me so far. Hopefully, I will win the Mundials in it this year too.
Bevois: You and Gumby probably know more jiu-jitsu and submission grappling trivia and factoids than anyone in the sport. Would you consider yourself a nerd of the sport, not just a practitioner?
Rafael: I am for sure a nerd. Most Jiu-Jitsu guys are in my opinion. I love watching video and studying everyone’s game. I think you can learn from anyone.
Bevois: Justin Rader is one of your top students and won his purple-belt division at the Pan Ams, the same day you won your second Pan Ams black-belt division. Who else from Team Lovato should we expect to see making a name for himself shortly?
Rafael: I have to say that I was very proud of Rader that day. He had previously won a silver and a bronze at the Pan Ams, so he was really aiming for the gold this year. He trained really hard and he fought like a warrior. We have a lot of great talent out here, some other students of mine who have started to make their mark are Justin Jacobs (2006 Pan Ams purple-belt absolute champion), Robert Harper, Gabe Campbell, Clay Copeland, Logan Gulick, Jason Sampson, Jonathon Combs, plus many other tough up and comers. These guys are whom I train with day in and day out, so they deserve a lot of credit for my success.
Bevois: You along with Rick Macauley and Jeff Glover compete more than any other black-belts I know. It’s great to see the future of our sport not hide behind their belts. Is there anyone out there that you would like to fight or have a rematch against?
Rafael: I just love to compete against the best. Of course I would like to rematch anyone that has ever beat me, but I don’t spend my time thinking about names. There are many important titles I still want to win and I will focus on whoever is standing on the other side of mat along the way.
Bevois: Is there anyone that you would like to thank that we haven’t mentioned yet?
Rafael: I would like to thank my sponsors OTM, TapouT, Lucky Gi, Bill O’Connor with Apex Personal Training, and Tom East with Ronin Promotions. Also, I want to thank my parents and my girlfriend, without their support I wouldn’t be where I am today. I want to thank Saulo & Xande Ribeiro, for treating me like family, there is no one else I would rather sweat and bleed with. Last but not least, I want to thank all my students back home who train with me and push me everyday.
Bevois: How would you sum up the OTM lifestyle that you are living?
Rafael: I don’t think you can say it much better than Train Hard, Fight Hard, Party Hard.
Bevois: Well, Domo Arigato, Mr. Lovato. Good luck this weekend at the ADCC World Championships and with all of your future endeavors!
OTM and ProElite.com present a LIVE internet PPV of the ADCC Championships! Check out http://www.proelite.com/home to order right now!