There’s a hidden gym in Oklahoma. Actually, more of a crown jewel. The Lovato family is one of the most recognizable names in martial arts. Rafael Lovato senior grew up in Chicago and took to martial arts to avoid gang violence until he saw something that changed his life.
Rafael Lovato, Sr. says, “Bruce Lee, The Green Hornet, one night and decided that was what I had to do. I unfortunately never got to meet him, but I got to do the next best thing. Meet and train with all his old friends and students.”
Lovato senior eventually earned his black belt, met his wife of 38 years and had Rafael Jr. He came to Oklahoma, and opened Lovato’s Brazilian jujitsu and Mixed Martial arts out of his garage. It didn’t take long for Junior to follow dad’s passion.
Rafael Lovato, Jr. says, “I am so fortunate I got to grow up in the martial arts lifestyle and discover that happened to be my passion as well.”
It was also a talent. At 21, Rafael, Jr. became the youngest American to receive a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. In 2007, Rafael, Jr. won every major Brazilian jiu-jitsu title as a black belt making him the most decorated American Brazilin jujitsu black belt of all time.
Senior says, “In that one year he won the American nationals, the Pan-Americans, the European nationals, he won the Braziallo. Which is a feat to this day has not been accomplished.”
But maybe more impressively he and his father are the first American father-son duo to hold black belts in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Rafael, Jr. says, “The fact that we have this thing that we will be able to share forever because he invested so much into me and supported my dreams and getting to this point now where we’ve been able to achieve worldwide recognition.”
The Lovato’s had every opportunity to move anywhere in the world to train, but they’re loyal to Oklahoma. It was their mission to put this state on the martial arts map. Junior’s family was in the land run. So Oklahoma is in their blood.
Junior says, “It is who I am. It’s a big part of our journey that my father and I have been on as martial artists. Being in Oklahoma we’re far from all the top schools. When people think of Oklahoma we’re almost like a landmark. Hey that’s where Lovato’s started. I want to go there and visit and see the history that they’ve created.”
Rafael, Sr. says, “When I see people coming here from all over the world literally. We have affiliate schools in Europe, picking up changing their lives, moving here to OKC just to train with my son, that makes me feel really good.”
With all his success, Rafael senior handed the keys to the family business over to Rafael Junior seven years ago, but junior wanted more, he wanted to get out of his comfort zone again, so he joined the MMA organization Bellator.
Rafael Jr. says, “I wanted to be on edge again and feel like a white belt and be hungry to learn.”
And it didn’t take him long to find success winning the Bellator Middleweight World Championship. He’s also an unbeaten 10-0. So what does the future hold for the current undefeated Bellator middleweight champion?
Junior says, “My goal is to keep that thing as long as possible. That will more or less be how I end my professional career. Cementing my legacy.”
A legacy that includes training the next generation of mixed martial artists at Lovato’s, at their brand new location in OKC, but through all the titles, success, notoriety there’s one thing Rafael Lovato Senior is most proud of.
“People ask me all the time and make the comment oh you have to be so proud because he’s done this and that and this and that. And yes I am, but I am more proud of the man he’s become.”