Current Bellator middleweight champion Rafael Lovato Jr has revealed the shocking news that his career is currently in limbo after being diagnosed with a hereditary brain condition called Cavernoma, which causes a cluster of abnormal blood vessels.
Lovato Jr. was told the bad news by a doctor following a pre-fight brain scan prior to his fight with Gegard Mousasi last year.
“The radiologist, with really no candor or an easy or soft way of saying it, was like, ‘Dude, have you seen your brain before? There’s some stuff in here you need to see.’” Lovato Jr said on Joe Rogan’s MMA Show podcast yesterday. “He pulls me into the room and shows me on the screen, pointing out what looked like little balls,” Lovato said. “It looked like something was wrong – it didn’t look like a normal scan. But I don’t know – like shades of discoloration. You could see that it wasn’t normal. He didn’t even know what it was at the time.
“I go back and he tells me that he did some research and he believes I have a disease called cavernoma. He hits me with that. I had no idea what cavernoma was. He said, ‘Look, I’m not signing this paper. You need to go see a specialist and get looked at. But as far as I know, you should not fight. You should not be fighting.’”
Lovato Jr went back to training while also seeking out other leading specialists in an attempt to understand more about the condition and try to discover if it was possible he could continue his at-the-time undefeated 9-0 MMA career.
Unfortunately for the 36-year-old most told him that he couldn’t compete, but one specialist did give him some hope.
“He said, ‘There is no studies that say getting hit in your head is going to make your cavernoma worse or cause you to bleed and something is going to happen,’” Lovato said. “He said, ‘You could bleed, you could be oozing blood at any point in time, little by little. It could become an issue at some point in time. But there is no treatment. We’re not going to do surgery. There’s nothing that’s going to happen until you have symptoms, until you show signs. Because I can’t find any studies that say getting hit in the head is going to make it worse, and because you a normal, healthy, functioning person at this point, I think it’s fine for you to fight. You should continuing doing what you do until it becomes a problem. And if it does become a problem, we’ll go in there and take it out.’”
Due to that verdict Lovato Jr was able to get cleared to fight Mousasi back in June of last year, and would go on to win by majority decision to becoming Bellator’s new champion at 185lbs.
However, since then Lovato Jr. has been told by the SAFE MMA organization that he’ll never be approved to fight in Europe again, while a rematch with Mousasi that should have taken place this month in California was also scratched due to his failure to be cleared to fight, and as such he’s now unsure if he’ll ever compete again.
“I’m not officially retiring. I am indefinitely on the sidelines right now. I am actively seeing more doctors and working toward learning more about this. Obviously I want to keep fighting. I still have hope that if I can continue to still see more doctors and get more knowledge.
“This is such a rare and unique thing. No one knows too much. I’m getting some people saying, ‘No. No way.’ Then I’ve got these other specialists and people who have dealt with it that go, ‘Yeah, it’s OK.’ It’s indefinite.
“If it’s really unsafe and I’m not going to get approved, ever, I finally got to a place where I can accept that and I’m going to move forward on with my life. If they have to set up a fight to determine a new champion, [I’m fine with that],” he said. “I’m going to do everything I can to hopefully get approved to come back. But it’s sort of an indefinite time.”
Watch Lovato Jr’s full chat with Joe Rogan below.