After viewing FloGrapping’s list on the best American grapplers of all-time and seeing Raphael Lovato Jr topping it considerably with the metrics used by Flo, it made me appreciate just how amazing of a martial artist he is. This given due to his accomplishments in his three forays into martial arts competition: MMA, gi and nogi jiu-jitsu.
Lovato, sadly, was forced to relinquish his Bellator middleweight title in February 2020 due to a diagnosis of the brain condition cavernoma. This cut his MMA career short just as it was taking off. The 37-year-old notched his record to 10-0 after defeating Gegard Mousasi for the championship at Bellator 223, in June of 2019, and seemed set to defend his title for years to come. However, he put his MMA career on hold due to health risks. Finishing up his MMA career undefeated and as a world champion makes him one of if not the most successful jiu-jitsu competitors to transition to MMA in the modern era.
In 2007, Lovato became only the 3rd American ever to win the worlds – in the company of UFC hall of famer BJ Penn. Also, in 2007 he made history after being the first ever to achieve the IBJJF Grand Slam at blackbelt, by also winning the European and Pan American championships in the same year as the worlds. So, as well as his undefeated title winning MMA career Lovato has also won everything there is to win in the gi, now you can add his nogi medals to his tally. It can be easily argued that nogi jiu-jitsu or submission grappling, is a different from gi jiu-jitsu all together, with few competitors being a success in both. Lovato is a three-time nogi world champion and earned an ADCC silver medal at 88kg in 2013.
Given that Lovato is a world champion in three sets of martial arts must one of the most impressive resumes in martial arts. However, there are other fighters that can compare such as former UFC flyweight and bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo. “Triple C” became champion in two weight-classes in the most competitive organization in the world and beat the greatest 125 pounder ever, Demetrious Johnson, exacting revenge for his loss in 2016.
On top of this, Cejudo also managed to defend the bantamweight belt against arguably the best champion the division has seen, Dominick Cruz, even if he was passed his best. Another recent retiree – at the age of just 33 – Cejudo finished up on top announcing his plans after he finished Cruz at UFC 249. In 2008.he become the youngest American wrestler to earn a gold medal, a record that has since been beaten by Kyle Snyder. On top of this he’s also a two-time US national champion.
Another UFC former champion, with remarkably similar achievements to Lovato, who can rival him as one of the greatest combat sports athletes of all time is Fabricio Werdum. Once the UFC heavyweight champion defeating, the seemingly invincible at the time, Cain Velasquez to earn the belt. Werdum is also a mundials champion but two-times, winning back-to-back in 2003 and 2004. Along with this Werdum is also a two-time ADCC gold medalist and consistent podium fixture. “Vai Cavalo” has other significant achievements in MMA ending Fedor Emelianenko’s legendary run submitting him in the first round at Strikeforce back in 2010. However, Werdum’s legacy has been somewhat tainted in recent years due to his suspension from a failed drug test and drop off in performance, which is to be expected of a 43-year-old. Before this he was discussed as the MMA heavyweight GOAT but now seems to have faded from the argument. But now he has signed with the PFL there is a great possibility of him adding to his legacy.
Above all else I favour the longevity and busyness of Lovato as the more impressive. Since his retirement from MMA, he has become an active jiu-jitsu competitor again, testing himself against the very best grapplers of the new generation.
Lovato also recently won his weight-class at master worlds and only missed out on double gold in a controversial loss in the final of the absolute to Gregor Gracie. This ability to jump right back into alternative competition and be successful is no mean feat. Just look at when Ben Askren tried to return to wrestling, he was absolutely mauled by Jordan Burrows. The doggedness of Lovato to still find a way to compete despite his health issues is a testament to his mentality as a true martial artist and I feel one of the best ever.