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Rafael Lovato Jr. announced yesterday that he has officially stepped away from MMA and relinquished his Bellator middleweight title. Medical experts believe Lovato has a brain disease known as "cavernoma." Although Rafael is experiencing no symptoms, doctors have found clusters of abnormal blood vessels in his brain. It's difficult for this lifelong martial artist to step away from pursuing his ultimate dream but sometimes life has other plans. After stepping away from MMA, Lovato took to social media saying,
"[It's] one of the hardest things I've ever had to do...Fortunately, my life of martial arts has taught me how to have an unbreakable spirit. I will never stop moving forward with a positive mindset. Thank you all so much for the love, prayers and support, it means so much. this isn't the end, just a new beginning."
After an undefeated record in the cage, Lovato will put his 10-0 MMA career to bed. However, Lovato can retire with his head held high after a final victory over one of the most seasoned Bellator contenders inside the cage today, Gegard Mousasi.
After finding out about his brain disease, Lovato remained quiet in hopes of remaining in MMA. However, recently he opened up while appearing as a special guest on the Joe Rogan podcast.
"My journey with my team and family to become the Bellator middleweight world champion was incredible and something I will cherish forever. I dreamed of having a long reign as champion, but sometimes life has another plan. Bellator has been very supportive during this difficult process, a situation that has never really happened before in our sport. I know the division must move on while I am on the sidelines and I wish everyone great fights on their way to that belt. I will be working to come back if it is possible - and if not, life will continue to be amazing for me and I look forward to working with Bellator in another fashion."
While it is unclear whether Rafael will ever make a return to the cage, this will not stop him from competing. As Lovato steps into this new chapter of life, he is still scheduled to compete in jiu-jitsu. Also, Rafael recently cut the ribbon on a brand new jiu-jitsu academy in his hometown of Oklahoma City.
Although this brain disease might take him out of the cage, Lovato is adamant about remaining a life-long student of the martial arts. We look forward to seeing Lovato recommit himself to being a teacher and jiu-jitsu competitor. Be sure to tune in on February 28 to watch Rafael Lovato take the jiu-jitsu stage for the first time since breaking the news.