Rafael Lovato Junior Reviews the 2012 No Gi World Championship

no gi submission grappling
Roberto “Tussa” Alencar (left) faces Rafael Lovato Jr. at the 2012 No Gi World Championship last weekend.

Halley’s comet predictably visits earth every seventy-five years. In the same way certain celestial bodies will regularly meet, the world of black belt jiu-jitsu has two stars whose paths also appear to eternally tangle. Another epic encounter between Oklahoma native and Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Rafael Lovato Jr (Ribeiro Jiu-Jitsu) and Brazilian Roberto “Tussa” Alencar (Gracie Barra) formed the finale of the 2012 No Gi World Championship on Sunday at the Long Beach Pyramid. This time Tussa earned the gold by referee decision after time expired.

The FightWorks Podcast: Rafael, you have medaled again at the highest level in another IBJJF event. The event was nearly perfect for you and even included a submission of CheckMat’s very dangerous Nivaldo de Oliveira. How do you feel about your performance at the 2012 No Gi World Championship?

Rafael Lovato Jr: I’m not happy with it, because I failed to do what I was there to do, become a 3x Champion. I was feeling great en route to the final, but I wasn’t able to complete my mission.

The FightWorks Podcast: You ended up losing in the finals to Roberto “Tussa” Alencar in the finals by referees’ decision. How many times have you faced Tussa in your career and what are your thoughts about how that match played out on Sunday?

Rafael Lovato Jr: I played the strategy I wanted to play with Tussa. I believed that I could sweep him and I had him in many of my sweeping positions, but he did a great job defending and staying heavy. More than half the match was spent with him defending my sweeps and attacks, but they gave the match to him. I knew it could go either way and I was just very angry with myself that I wasn’t able to complete one of my sweeps on him when I had so many opportunities. It really hurts to lose by referee’s decision in the final!

I have now faced Tussa six times, with four matches going in my favor. He is a warrior and we always have great matches that are really close. I respect him a lot and congratulate him on winning his fourth No-Gi title, I just wish it wasn’t over me :)

Rafael Lovato Jr. in a Brazilian jiu-jitsu match
Rafael Lovato Jr. cinches a last-second victory over Tussa at the 2008 Pan Jiu-Jitsu Championship to win the gold medal. Photo credit: Aliciaphotos.com

The FightWorks Podcast: You’ve bounced around in weight divisions over the years at the IBJJF No Gi World Championships. In 2009 you were a super heavyweight and won silver, in 2010 you were heavyweight and won gold, in 2011 you were a medium heavyweight and won gold, and now in 2012 you were a heavyweight and won silver. That’s a lot of success. Do you think this means that there may not be an ideal weight for a jiu-jitsu athlete? Should BJJ competitors experiment over the years with different weight divisions or is there a “sweet spot” they should attempt to find?

Rafael Lovato Jr: Yes, I’ve competed at all four of the highest weight classes over the years, but I don’t know if that is something that every BJJ athlete should do. For me it is much easier, because I have a good guard and I’m flexible so I think my game works well with the bigger guys. Also, I am long and have the ability to put weight on or lean up and compete at a lighter division. Heavyweight is my natural weight and I feel best there, but I experimented cutting down to medium heavyweight this past year and it was a good experience. Earlier in my Black Belt career I was bigger and would compete in heavier divisions to stay out of my teammate, Xande Ribeiro‘s division. I’m happy that I’ve been able to show that my Jiu-Jitsu is effective against all different styles & sizes.

The FightWorks Podcast: You brought family members from Oklahoma to watch you compete. Who’d you bring? Do you get anxious knowing that they’re watching?

Rafael Lovato Jr: Yes, I always bring my wife to the World events. She was there and then I had the surprise of my father showing up at my hotel room the day before the event started. He had just returned from a long trip in Spain where he did the Camino de Santiago and he was gone for 6 weeks. He came home just in time to watch my victory at Metamoris over the internet and he didn’t want to miss me at the No-Gi Worlds. It was great to have him and my wife there. I really wanted to win for them! My father is the reason I do BJJ and my wife has given me incredible support during my whole career.

The FightWorks Podcast: How do you feel about the IBJJF’s new ranking system for black belts? As of this writing, you’re ranked number 50.

Rafael Lovato Jr: I think the ranking system still has some kinks to work out. I mean, guys like Xande Ribeiro and Roger Gracie aren’t even in the top 10 for their weight classes. Cobrinha and Marcelo Garcia aren’t even ranked in the top 7 of their divisions. Some of the veterans have a lot on their plates with their academies and business and are only able to compete at the Worlds or maybe the Worlds and one other event. There are some people who are eligible to compete at the Pro League who have never won or even medaled at the World Championship, but they do a lot of the Open events and medal at the smaller tournaments and they have a lot of points, I don’t think that is right. If you were on the podium at the Worlds this year, you should be able to compete at the Pro League without having to qualify at the regular tournament held that morning.

The FightWorks Podcast: Can we expect to see you in action again on December 8th at the Long Beach Fall International Open Jiu-Jitsu Championship, fighting for a chance to compete for $5,000 in the first ever IBJJF Pro League later that evening?

Rafael Lovato Jr: No, I feel I have done more than enough to earn my shot at the Pro League competition having won 6 World Black Belt medals from 2007-2012 and being the most accomplished American in BJJ. I will be back at the Gi & No-Gi Worlds next year. Now, I am going to get some rest and spend time with my family, focus on my academy and my team. Also, I will be releasing my online coaching program – www.ultimatepressurepassingsystem.com to new members this month and I’m very excited about it! I added a Kimura series to the program that shows exactly what I did at the Metamoris against Kayron Gracie. Everyone is going to love it!

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