Bellator middleweight champion Rafael Lovato, Jr., one of the greatest American jiu jitsu practitioners of all-time, revealed on Wednesday that he suffers from cavernous malformations, an abnormality in the brain.
Cavernous malformations, also known as cavernomas, are described by Johns Hopkins University to be “an abnormal cluster of capillaries and venules (tiny blood vessels) that periodically bleed and give rise to a “popcorn-like” lesion in the brain or spinal cord with very thin walls that contains blood of different ages.”
Lovato Jr. announced the news on a Wednesday episode of the JRE MMA Show with UFC commentator and renowned podcast host Joe Rogan.
“I go get my brain scan done to get that done before I went to Brazil,” began Lovato Jr. “and I’m in there, and we get through the whole process. The machine is done, you know, it’s not operating anymore, but they haven’t called me out of the room yet.”
“I could kind of just sense that something was going on.”
“Finally, [the doctors and staff] say, ‘Okay, come on out.’ The radiologist, with really no candor or an easy, soft way of saying it was like, ‘Dude, have you seen your brain before? There’s some stuff in here that you need to see,'” recalled Lovato Jr.
“He pulls me into the room and shows me on the screen; he’s pointing out these… they look like little balls. Obviously, it looked like something was wrong; it didn’t look like a normal scan, but I don’t know.”
Lovato Jr., 36, received the brain scan prior to his championship challenge against then-titlist Gegard Mousasi. A sizeable underdog heading into the bout, the undefeated Lovato Jr. emerged victorious by majority decision after five rounds to become the Bellator middleweight champion.
“[The radiologist] didn’t even know what it was at the time,” lamented Lovato Jr. A day later, however, the doctor spoke to Lovato Jr. and provided him with more information.
“He believes that I have a disease called cavernoma, and he kind of hits me with that. I had no idea what cavernoma was, and he says, ‘Look, I’m not signing [your pre-fight check]. You need to go see a specialist and get this looked at, but as far as I know, you should not fight, and you should not be fighting.’
Lovato Jr. proceeded to explain the basics of the disease to Rogan, adding that the condition is thought to be hereditary.
Since defeating Mousasi, Lovato Jr. has yet to defend his title inside the Bellator cage. He has competed in professional grappling competition, however, defeating 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu standout Richie “Boogeyman” Martinez by kimura in the pair’s highly-anticipated clash on Day 1 of the World Jiu Jitsu Festival in Long Beach, California.
“The extreme ends are, you live with this and it’s never a problem in your whole life. The other side is, it’s a problem, right from the beginning and you have to have multiple surgeries and bad things happen,” said Lovato Jr. of the cavernous malformations.
As for what the diagnosis means for his fighting future, Lovato Jr. was simultaneously optimistic and non-committal.
“I’m not officially retiring. I am, sort of, I guess indefinitely on the sidelines right now. I am actively seeing more doctors and working more towards learning more about this. Obviously, I want to keep fighting.”
Michael Fiedel is The Body Lock's deputy editor, a staff writer for FloCombat, and a Russell-Rice scholarship recipient at Vanderbilt University.