As news swirled around Mackenzie Dern’s first appearance on UFC Fight Pass, another grappling legend is preparing for another entry into his “young” mixed martial arts career. Rafael Lovato Jr. is set to face Chris Honeycutt at Bellator 189. Lovato Jr’s name comes with a lot of admiration and respect in the grappling world, but he’s continued to fly relatively under the radar in the world of MMA.
At 34 years of age, Lovato Jr. steps into the cage for the seventh time in his four-year career. Since debuting for Legacy Fighting Championship back in 2014, Lovato has slowly developed his skills to fit the demands of MMA. His 6-0 record shows a steady progression that’s allowed him to flourish, first in LFC then in Bellator MMA since his debut earlier this year.
MMA is the sport that garners more attention on a mainstream level, but Lovato Jr’s success on the grappling scene is where his legacy was built. As a Carlos Machado black belt, he is the first non-Brazilian competitor to win the Brazilian National Championship, which he did in 2007, and the third American to win the IBJJF World competition, which he achieved that same year. Lovato Jr. would remind everyone of his greatness when he won championships at the Master’s edition of the IBJJF tournament in both 2016 and 2017.
In his six wins, we’ve seen Lovato Jr’s skills transition well. He has four submission victories on his resume including a mix of the armbar, rear -naked chokes and the arm-triangle choke. Lovato Jr’s striking has also improved, as seen by his 13-second demolishing of Charles Hackmann via kick, knees and punches at Bellator 174.
Lovato Jr. faces a tough and experienced opponent in Honeycutt. At 10-1, the 29-year-old is on a four-fight win streak. Since joining Bellator in 2014, he’s put together a 6-1-1 record with the promotion. Honeycutt doesn’t bring Lovato Jr’s Brazilian jiu-jitsu background into the cage, but he is a two-time NCAA Division 1 All-American wrestler. That skill set creates an intriguing matchup for this fight because he has the abilities to keep the fight where he wants, either on the feet or even taking it to the floor where Lovato Jr. is most dangerous. This is the right type of matchup in both of their development to see which man rises up the rankings.
As more high level grapplers make the jump to MMA, Lovato Jr. is one of the names that haven’t seen as much exposure but he’s seen the success that they all desire. His December 1 fight against Honeycutt presents the type of challenge that should interest both fans of MMA and the grappling arts.