Rafael Lovato made some history of his own at the No-Gi Worlds on Sunday, November 6, 2011, and he wants the world to know: he is now a two-time American No-Gi World Champion… but it’s more than just that. He’s the only American to consistently beat out Brazilians to capture the world championship title.
As the world knows, Brazilians dominate Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The record books prove it. Rafael feels his world champion title stands out more because, as an American, he’s beaten the Brazilians at their own game. Rafael won the title in the heavyweight class last year; this year he took gold in the medium heavy division.
Rafael had three matches in his division, winning the first by rear-naked choke, then outpointing GB great Otavio Sousa, and finally fighting for the title with Pablo Popovitch, who Rafael greatly respects and admires. “Most people don’t think of me as a No-Gi guy,” he says, “Pablo is one of the greatest No-Gi guys ever. He hardly ever loses. To beat him in the finals was incredible.”
Rafael says he knew he had to play a really tight game. “He was sitting in my closed guard,” Rafael says, “He got a third warning for stalling and it cost him points and gave me points. He’s a cautious player and has a very tight, slow game.” Rafael says he didn’t want to give Pablo any space at all because he knew he’d use it to his advantage. Pablo went for Rafael’s foot, but Rafael defended. Rafael went on top and got two more points. Pablo tried an arm drag. The two eventually went back to standing.
As the buzzer sounded, Rafael had won the match 4-0, and his second No-Gi World Championship title. Rafael says, “It feels so good! I lost to Pablo at the ADCCs and it made me so hungry. It motivated me to fight him again. I knew I could beat him, but I have so much respect for him. I’ve been walking around at my smallest weight ever,190 lbs, and I lost a few more pounds just to ensure I’d meet up with him again. Now I’ve won the title in two different weight classes. I couldn’t be happier.”
Rafael’s goal for 2012 is to come back and win the Gi Worlds twice as well, too. “I’ve gotten silver and three bronzes since winning in 2007,” he says, “I want to win gold again.”
Rafael’s other goal is to have as many champions on his team as possible. “This is all I do,” he says, referring to his love for Jiu-Jitsu, “This is all I want.” Rafael says his prized black belt, Justin Rader had a good showing at the No Gi Worlds and he was very proud of his student. “Cobrinha is one of the greatest ever,” he says, “Rader went all the way to the end with him. It was a 0-0 match for 9 minutes. I’m very proud of him. He’s made the finals two years in a row.”
As for his personal goals, Rafael says he wants to be an inspiration to others. One of the things that makes Rafael’s accomplishments so amazing is that he never had a black belt instructor growing up. “My dad started training when I was a teenager and I trained with him,” the world champion says, “I got my black belt one year after he got his. We never had black belts teaching us. I just competed as much as I could and never stopped. Now, it’s just me and my students. I live in Oklahoma. I’ve had to travel everywhere for any of the training I’ve ever received. It’s all been worth it in the end. If you’re a good person and you work hard, you’re gonna have your moment. I’ve had hard moments, but I’ve also had days like today. You can’t ever stop trying.”