Rafael Lovato Jr. used his jiu-jitsu expertise to pull off the upset and take the Bellator middleweight championship from Gegard Mousasi.
Going into the fight, it was largely billed as an old-school style grappler vs. strike match-up, although the days of pure grappler vs. pure striker are largely behind us. Lovato showed that with enough of a striking game to open up Mousasi for takedown attempts at Saturday’s Bellator London event.
Mousasi, of course, is no slouch on the canvas, having learned a thing or two about grappling in his 16 years as a professional mixed martial artist. He didn’t make it easy for the challenger to take the belt.
Lovato opened strong, patiently working for the takedown, getting it, and then moving to side control. Couldn’t apply a finishing hold, but landed a few elbows and kept Mousasi on the defensive for the last half the round or more.
Round two was another good one for Lovato, who continually put pressure on Mousasi, but wasn’t nearly as successful in getting the fight to the canvas and keeping it there. He used a lot of energy trying, but Mousasi started to put his jab in order in the waning minute of the round, as Lovato looked a little sluggish before the bell.
Lovato was again successful with the takedowns and looked to be dominating the early part of the round, taking Mousasi’s back and searching for a submission. Mousasi turned the tables, literally, turning inside of Lovato’s guard and putting the BJJ expert on his back, where he proceeded to pummel Lovato for more than the last minute of the round. He opened a cut around Lovato’s left eye and kept attacking with punches for the remainder of the round.
The tide turned and Mousasi kept the pressure on in round four. He didn’t do massive amounts of damage, but was continually peppering Lovato with shots. Midway through the round, Mousasi landed a combination that finished with an uppercut that put Lovato on the canvas. He followed, but as Lovato attacked his legs, Mousasi played it smart and backed off, forcing Lovato to stand.
Mousasi kept peppering Lovato for the remainder of the round, as the jiu-jitsu man’s takedown attempts lacked the confidence they had earlier in the fight.
With the fight likely even going into the final frame, Lovato seemed to sense some desperation, as he scored a quick takedown to start the round and immediately went to work from Mousasi’s butterfly guard. Lovato worked his way to Mousasi’s back, attacking the neck with a body triangle wrapped around Mousasi’s waist.
The champion remained calm, defending all of Lovato’s attacks, but he couldn’t escape his anaconda-like grip. Unable to secure the submission, Lovato punched and hammerfisted Mousasi in the final minute, if not opening him up for a submission, at least scoring points in the eyes of the judges. Mousasi could not escape his clutches and the fight closed with Lovato dominating Mousasi for the final five minutes of the bout.
There were some moments of nervousness when the first judge’s scorecard marked the fight a draw at 47-47, but when the other two judges saw it 48-47 for Lovato, handing the Brazilian jiu-jitsu expert a majority decision and the Bellator middleweight championship belt.
“I want to thank Mousasi for the opportunity. He is a warrior, a legend, it was an honor to fight him,” Lovato said after the fight. “I’m just inspired by love, my family… this is a dream come true.”
Melvin Manhoef defeated Kent Kauppinen in a back-and-forth slugfest in their Bellator London co-main event bout, as the 43-year-old earned a unanimous decision.
In a unique split-broadcast event, Brit Paul Daley also earned a unanimous decision over Erick Silva in the main event of Bellator 223 in London.
While Silva had his moments, taking Daley down in the first round and landing a hard knee in the second, as well as holding his own in many of the exchanges, it was Daley that mounted the most damage. He ripped shots to Silva's body, sapping his energy, while unloading with his patented head-hunting shots, but unable to land the knockout blow.
Bellator London Full Results
Rafael Lovato Jr. def. Gegard Mousasi via majority decision (47-47, 48-47, 48-47)
Melvin Manhoef def. Kent Kauppinen via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Aaron Chalmers def. Fred Freeman via submission (triangle choke) at 4:05, R2
Bellator 223 Full Results
Paul Daley def. Erick Silva via unanimous decision (29-27, 29-27, 29-27)
James Gallagher def. Jeremiah Labiano via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Fabian Edwards def. Jonathan Bosuku via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Costello van Steenis def. Mike Shipman via KO (punches) at 1:34, R2
Charlie Ward def. Justin Moore via TKO (punches) at 3:23, R2
Denise Kielholtz def. Bryony Tyrell via TKO (strikes) at 2:48, R3
Charlie Leary def. Chris Bungard via unanimous decision (30-25, 30-25, 30-25)
Kate Jackson def. Lena Ovchynnikova via TKO (doctor’s stoppage) at 4:20, R1
Terry Brazier def. Alessandro Botti via submission (Americana) at 2:17, R3
Luke Ord def. Nathan Rose via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 30-25)
Alfie Davis def. Jorge Kanella via unanimous decision (29-27, 29-27, 29-27)
Justin Burlinson def. Wendle Lewis via verbal submission (injury) at 0:09, R1
Galore Bofando def. Keith McCabe via unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)
Kevin Fryer def. John Redmond via split decision (29-28, 28-29 29-28)
Frans Mlambo def. Nathan Greyson via submission (D’Arce choke) at 4:22, R2
Oliver Enkamp def. Walter Gahadza via submission (rear-naked choke), R1