The year has just started, but already black belt Rafael Lovato is off to a busy and successful 2011. He went to Europe in mid-January to teach some seminars, sightsee, and compete at the Europeans, but his most fruitful endeavor there was to have fought at the Abu Dhabi trials in Poland and won the absolute and came in second in his division.
Lovato left for the U.K. in January. “My first stop was London, where I taught some seminars,” he says, “I went to Eddie Kone’s Jiu-Jitsu school. I taught a two-day gi seminar and the response was really great. I loved the experience. I got to meet some very interesting people and I made some great connections. It was my first seminar in the U.K. and I really enjoyed myself there.”
From there, Lovato moved on to Lisbon for the Europeans. “I made the finals for the second time,” he says, “Unfortunately, I didn’t get gold this time. I lost to Lucio “Lagarto” on points and came in second. It turned out to be a good thing, though, because it made me realize what I wasn’t doing well and it helped me become more successful in Poland at the trials. Sometimes losing is better. It gave me time to make some adjustments to my game.”
Lovato traveled to Germany where he taught some more seminars at Sane Fighting with Johannes Weith, who was a world champion purple belt and is now a brown belt. “Johannes and I trained a lot together. He really helped me get ready for the pro trials in Poland.”
Lovato took a little break after that and he and his wife traveled to Italy for a few days. “We went to Rome,” he says, “It gave my mind and body a little break so I could be strong for Poland.”
The last thing left to cover on Lovato’s to-do list was the Abu Dhabi pro trials in Poland on February 12th. “It was a really tough competition,” he says, “A lot of guys who were at the Europeans and then doing seminars around Europe went to Poland to compete. Cavaca, Faria, Farias, Nogueira, Junior, Madeiras…it was a really tough tournament. There were a lot of current and past world champions on hand to fight.”
Lovato had seven matches in one day. He ended up winning the absolute, and taking 2nd in his weight. “The Absolute was for $4,000,” he says, “In the absolute semi-finals, I fought last year’s world champion, Bernardo Faria. I’ve fought him five times before. He’s won four; this was my first win. This time I had a good strategy for him. I was able to pass his guard and mount and I got him with an ezekiel (forearm) choke.”
The absolute final was against Jose Junior. “I had a tough match against Jose,” Lovato says, “He’s a big guy. He beat a lot of tough guys to get to the finals. It was a stacked division. I felt good to come out on top of that. I won by advantages.”
In his weight class, he had to re-fight Bernardo Faria in the final, but this time Faria modified his strategy. “He’s smart,” Lovato says, “He made some adjustments to his game and beat me. Our matches are really technical and tight. It’s a continuous thing. We make each other better.” So, although Lovato would have liked to have won gold, he was content with his 2nd place finish.
Lovato says it’s one thing to make it to the top of what he calls “the black belt club,” but it’s quite another to try to stay on top. “New guys come in and you don’t have enough history on them to develop a game plan for them, but they know you, so they’re ready for you” he says, “You end up losing to people you know you’re better than because you didn’t have the opportunity to match their games to yours going into the fight. But once you know them, then you’re ready for them. It’s definitely harder to stay on top than it is to get there. That’s what impresses me about guys who win numerous times like Roger Gracie and Xande Ribiero. It’s so hard to do.”
While Lovato was busy trying to stay on top in Poland, that same weekend his team back home was competing in Houston. “They did really well,” Lovato says, “They took 3rd place overall. We had 39 competitors and won 32 medals.”
Lovato says if there was a standout from that weekend in Houston, it was Justin Rader. “He was the MVP,” Lovato says, “He supported the team and led the battle in my absence. He coached when he wasn’t competing and then won both his matches and took 1st place. He won both by submission. It was awesome to be successful myself and for them to be successful as well in two different parts of the world at the same time.”
Since getting home, Lovato is back to training and getting his students ready for the 2011 Pan. He’s decided to take a year off the Pan to coach his students instead. “I’ve done every Pan Am since 1999,” he says, “I’m just going to focus on the Abu Dhabi Pro in April.”
Another accomplishment Lovato’s recently experienced is coaching his student, James Head, to a victory over ex-UFC fighter Gerald Harris in a recent MMA fight. Lovato himself is hoping to start MMA fighting by the end of this year or next. “I just want to experience it,” he says, “It’s a personal thing. I just want to see what I’m capable of.”
Lovato thinks it’s important for him to be involved in MMA because many of his students want to be the next UFC champion one day. “I know stand up well,” he says, “I’ve trained in it since I was little. I have a good understanding of the game. It’s important that I have the tools to help them accomplish that. It’s exciting to think I could have a few guys in the UFC.”
Lovato’s focus right now is 100% on getting ready for the Abu Dhabi Pro in April. “Xande will be competing there with me. He’s coming here in two weeks to train with me. Everything is awesome right now. My Omoplata App is doing really well. It’s selling worldwide. I’m going to release more Omoplata apps in the near future. I have two more volumes. I also hope to do more videos, a documentary, and a book in the future. I’m doing more seminars now for the same reason. I’m trying to spread my Jiu-Jitsu to everybody who doesn’t have easy access to my school and me.”
“I want to thank my sponsors, On the Mat, Lucky Gi and Nutrient Technology. A big special thanks to my wife for all her support during my Europe trip. I was gone for almost a month and that can be pretty difficult running a school by yourself. She was there everyday which allowed me to relax and focus on my work and my competitions there.”
With hopes set high for the future, Lovato is on a roll and has no plans to slow down until he’s met all of his milestones planned for 2011 and beyond.