Rafael was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in June of 1983 and he has lived in Oklahoma City since he was 8 years old. Following the influence of his father, Rafael was studying martial arts by the time he was walking.
Rafael’s path began by studying Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do Concepts, Escrima, Boxing, and Thai Boxing under his father and Richard Bustillo. Rafael was very competitive, and he soon held titles in Escrima and was well on his way to a promising boxing career. At the early of age of thirteen, Rafael found his passion when his father introduced him to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu after learning about it through a JKD instructor's conference. Rafael made a serious commitment to BJJ at the age of fifteen, after early competition success. At 16 years of age, he won the 2000 Pan-American Championships in the Juvenile, Blue Belt division. Later that year, after turning 17, Rafael won 2 medals at the World Championships, in the Juvenile, Blue Belt division, including the Bronze medal in his weight class and the Silver medal in the Juvenile absolute division. Rafael was among the first generation of Americans to win in the Juvenile division in Brazil, and his 2000 campaign included wins over some of Brazil's future stars including: Augusto "Tanquinho" Mendes, Ricardo "Demente" Abreu, and Vinny "Pezao" Magalhaes.
In August of 2004, shortly after turning 21, Rafael became the youngest American to receive a black belt in BJJ at that time. In receiving his black belt Rafael also helped accomplish another feat, as he and his father became the first American father and son BJJ Black Belts. Rafael has continued to make history in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, becoming the most decorated American BJJ competitor today. In 2007, Rafael became the first person ever to win the European Open Championships, Pan-American Championships, Brazilian National Championships (Brasileiro), and World Championships (Mundials) at the Black Belt level all in the same year! These accomplishments earned Rafael the prestigious BJJ competitor of the year award for 2007. Currently, Rafael is the first American to have won the European Open Championships, and only American to have won the Pan-American Championships and Brazilian National Championships (Brasileiro) at the adult Black Belt level and he is the 2nd American, after BJ Penn, to win the World Championships as a Black Belt. In 2009, Rafael was honored for his accomplishments when he was inducted into the prestigious Grapplers Quest Hall of Fame. In 2010, Rafael became part of an elite group of competitors to ever win Black Belt World titles with and without the gi, when Rafael won the No-Gi World Championships in the Black Belt Heavyweight division. On that same day, Rafael achieved another amazing feat, but this time as a teacher, when his student and first Black Belt won his Black Belt division at the No-Gi World Championships as well. The duo made history that day as teacher and student Black Belt No-Gi World Champions and Rafael became the first American to produce a Black Belt No-Gi World Champion.
Rafael has gone on to win two more No-Gi World titles (2011 & 2013), winning his third on the same day as his 2nd Black Belt, James Puopolo, who won his first Black Belt No-Gi World title. In 2012, Rafael was a part of Professional Jiu-Jitsu history when he was victorious in the first ever Metamoris event. Rafael defeated Kayron Gracie with his famous Kimura technique earning him the submission of the night award. In 2013, Rafael made history in Brazil once again, this time winning the prestigious Black Belt Absolute division at the Brazilian Nationals, crowning him the best in Brazil. Rafael won 3 of his 5 matches in the absolute by submission, with a Kimura in the semi-finals and finals. At that moment, not only did Rafael become a 2-time Brazilian National Champion, but he achieved a much greater accomplishment as the first non-Brazilian to ever win a major Black Belt Absolute title. Later in 2013, Rafael led the largest team of Americans to ever compete at the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championships. Rafael, along with his team, made history at the event as an American team with a member in 4 of the 5 weight classes. Three of them were able to reach the final four in their categories with Lovato earning the Silver medal. It was a performance that will never be forgotten.
Being a True Martial Artist is something Rafael has always felt strongly about, which took his journey to the MMA cage. In his first three years, Rafael amassed a perfect 10-0 record and became the Bellator Middleweight World Champion in 2019 after defeating Gegard Mousasi for the belt.
Rafael has managed to achieve all of these great accomplishments while living in Oklahoma City, without a Black Belt instructor in his hometown and being far away from all of the major BJJ competitions and high-level competitors, during his whole Jiu-Jitsu training career. These hardships have helped Rafael understand even more what it takes to become a champion.
Now, Rafael is the full-time owner, operator, and head instructor of Lovato's Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts, which is one of the top schools in the country, producing BJJ Pan & World Champions, ADCC competitors, and UFC fighters. Rafael is also very passionate about sharing his Jiu-Jitsu knowledge through his online training site, helping those who do not have access to a high-level instructor just as he did. Rafael has trained, taught, and competed all over the world and he is an inspiration to many BJJ competitors today. Despite his success in life Rafael has managed to remain humble and respectful of all people. He praises his excellent coach, the legendary Saulo Ribeiro and his incredible training partner, Saulo’s brother, Xande Ribeiro. Rafael also gives thanks to his family, friends, students, and sponsors for all their support. Rafael is still an active competitor, but now some of his greatest joys come from the success of his students.