For middleweight Rafael Lovato Jr. there’s not much to dislike about his 2017.
After making the successful transition from grappling to MMA in the Legacy FC promotion over the course of the previous couple years, Lovato stepped up into Bellator in 2017 and was able to win all three of his bouts for the promotion.
“It couldn’t have gone much better,” Lovato told MMAWeekly.com. “I would have liked to have gotten the finish in that (Chris) Honeycutt fight, but I’m happy to have that experience and go the distance and see what that feels like.
Having been one of grappling’s most revered champions, Lovato finds himself in the position of underdog in the MMA world, and he couldn’t be happier.
“That’s the one thing I love about MMA so much right now is that I feel like the up and comer, and the target is on everyone else,” said Lovato. “In Jiu-Jitsu it hasn’t been that way in such a long time, so I love the way it makes me feel.
“I don’t feel the weight of pressure or expectation. I’m working my way up and am showing everyone what I can do in there.”
Lovato (7-0) will have his first fight of 2018 when he takes on last-minute replacement Gerald Harris (25-5) on Saturday in a Bellator 198 middleweight main card bout. Lovato had originally been slated to face John Salter (15-3) at Bellator 198, but Salter withdrew from the bout midweek without explanation.
Lovato had expected Salter to be “a tough challenge… the best fighter that I’ve fought thus far.” There is certainly not going to be much, if any, drop-off in him facing Harris instead of Salter.
Harris fought to a 3-1 record in the UFC’s Octagon and has gone 8-1 in his last nine bouts.
With the success he has had in the Bellator cage, Lovato felt like the winner of his original bout with Salter should be the next in line for a middleweight title shot. Even though Harris is stepping in at the last minute, it wouldn’t be surprising if Lovato improving to 8-0 earned him a shot at the belt.
“I wouldn’t be too excited to have any other fights other than a title fight after this,” Lovato told MMAWeekly.com. “I want to end the year as the champion – that’s all I want.”