The brain condition that threatens the mixed martial arts career of Rafael Lovato Jr. has forced him to relinquish the Bellator middleweight championship.
The promotion announced that Lovato Jr.’s decision to vacate the belt in a release on Monday. Bellator will reveal plans for the 185-pound title in the coming days.
“This has been an incredibly challenging time for Lovato Jr., his team and his family at home,” said Bellator president Scott Coker. “He is a true warrior of the sport and I cannot say enough about him for making such a difficult decision. His health is the priority for us and we will continue to work with him on addressing the next steps in his career.”
Prior to facing Gegard Mousasi at Bellator 223 this past June, Lovato Jr. was diagnosed with cavernoma, which is a cluster of abnormal blood vessels generally found in the brain and spinal cord. Despite the condition, Lovato Jr. was able to receive clearance to fight in London, where he claimed the middleweight crown with a majority decision victory against Gegard Mousasi.
Safe MMA, Europe’s regulatory body, later went back on that decision and informed Lovato Jr. that he would not be allowed to fight in the region again. He agreed to give Mousasi a rematch at Bellator 238 on Jan. 25, but the California State Athletic Commission declined to approve the bout. He since revealed that he has been sidelined indefinitely as he attempts to gather more information about the condition.
However, that process will prevent him from holding on to Bellator gold.
“My journey with my team and family to become the Bellator middleweight world champion was incredible and something I will cherish forever,” Lovato Jr said. “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.”