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 began studying martial arts when he first started 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, Rafael 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.