Lovato:  “I’ve done it once and I know what a great feeling it is”

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Our longtime GMA Rafael Lovato is gearing up for the Worlds and he’s excited about his prospects. One reason may be because of Rodolfo Vieira. Vieira has been in the news a lot these days because of his extraordinary Jiu-Jitsu skills and his potential for winning the Worlds this year, but Lovato met up with him at the Abu Dhabi Pro and beat him in the finals to win the No-Gi division. “That was good,” Lovato says, “I faced Rodolfo in the finals. I was the only person to beat him. He won everything else.”

Lovato sinking a guillotine at Abu Dhabi World Pro / Photos: personal archives

Lovato says it was a good match. The matches were only six minutes long and he started behind on points, but that didn’t sway him. “He took me down with a big takedown,” he says, “That was a little difficult for me because my plan was to take him down first. So I had to battle back from that. I caught him in two guillotine sweeps and won 4-2.”

Lovato says it was a great feeling. Interestingly, he says he trains very little No-Gi and is not focused on his no Gi Jiu-Jitsu game. He says he just competed in it as a warm up for the gi competition the following weekend. Unfortunately, the next weekend didn’t go so well. “I had a few issues with referee calls,” he says, “I managed to take third place in the Gi division, but felt like I should have been in finals.”

Disappointed, Lovato returned to Oklahoma but didn’t stop training in preparation for the Worlds. “I went right back to work,” he says, “I’ve been training with my students and a good friend of mine, Johannes Wieth, who came to Oklahoma from Germany to train with me for the Worlds. He’s really good. He’s a brown belt European Champion.” Lovato says he’s getting good training, doing a lot of drilling, Judo, grip training, and conditioning.

Although Lovato wishes he could have had a better performance at the Abu Dhabis, he says it was good preparation for the Worlds. “It was good to win next to Xande (Ribeiro). He won his No-Gi division as well, but unfortunately he got injured in the gi. He’s out of the Worlds now.”

Rewatch Lovato against Rodolfo Vieira at the Abu Dhabi World Pro:

Although Ribeiro is out of the Worlds, he and Matt Jubera are flying out to Oklahoma to lead Lovato’s last week of training camp in an effort to perfect his and his students’ games for the big event. “He’s going to lead the camp, analyze my performance, and help me with any last minute details that need work,” Lovato says, “That will finish up our training.”

Lovato's team after Dallas Open, laden with medals

Lovato’s team, on the whole, has been doing quite well. “My team took third at the Dallas Open. With 34 competitors, we won 31 medals.” Lovato himself just received his ADCC invitation. “I will be in London in September,” he says, “But my main concern is the Worlds.”

Lovato wants to become world champion again. “I’ve done it once and I know what a great feeling it is,” he says, “It’s all I’m thinking about every day. When you dream about it and work so hard to achieve it, there’s no greater feeling. I want to have the best performance possible. The last twelve years of my life have been about winning the Gi Jiu-Jitsu Worlds.”

Besides his Worlds training, Lovato has some other exciting news to share. “One of my purple belts is making his UFC debut after the Worlds. His name is James Head.”

Head was recently signed by the UFC to fight on the undercard on June 11 in Vancouver. “I’m going up there to corner him,” Lovato says, “I’m really excited about that. He just beat Gerald Harris and now he’s going to face Nick Ring.”

Head started boxing when he was a teenager and has good experience. He had a few fights before he started training with Lovato. “I got him focused on Jiu-Jitsu,” Lovato says, “He’d never formally trained in it before. He got really good really fast. He took second at the Worlds as a blue belt after a year and a half of training. I gave him his purple belt and then he took second at the No-Gi Worlds. Then he defeated Gerald Harris and now he’s ready to go to the big show.”

Lovato’s good friend Mauricio “Veio” Amado, a Chute Box muay thai black belt (along with his brother Dida), has been helping Lovato get Head ready for his fight. “He’s a natural,” Lovato says about Head, “Nick Ring is undefeated. He’s Canadian and the fight will be in his hometown, but I know what James is capable of and I think this is going to be a great matchup.”

Lovato is also happy about the opening of another new academy, this time in Salem, Oregon. “The teachers who run it are very high-level competitors: Ben Baxter and James Puopolo,” he says. Puopolo has been visible on the competition scene recently, having won the ADCC trials in San Diego and his division at the Pan. He came in second in the open.

(from left) Ben Baxter, Rafael and James Puopolo

Lovato says he’s known Baxter and Puopolo for a few years. “We are really close,” he says, “They are great guys. They just opened their academy in March. I went there to officially recognize them as a Lovato Jiu Jitsu Association school. The name of their school is Salem-Keizer Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.”

Things are going well for Lovato. “My academy in Oklahoma is expanding,” he says, “I bought the building next to us and we are doing some remodeling. I will have a total of 6500 sq. feet.” Lovato now has over 200 students at his school and offers Jiu-Jitsu classes to kids and adults, including Gi and No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu, and muay thai and MMA training. For further information, check out www.okbjj.com and  www.facebook.com/lovatojr.

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