Art of The Upset: How Jansen Gomes Authored the Greatest Victory in Jiu Jitsu History

By Matthew Gioia

Three consecutive victories at the Pan American Championships. 60-0. A two-time IBJJF World Champion and on the verge of capturing his third straight title, Tainan Dalpra was on the cusp of achieving the signature feat associated with dominance within a sport, the three peat.

Going into the finals, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Tainan would be victorious. He completely dominated his two opponents leading into the finals, the biggest threat in the division, ATOS stand out Tye Ruotolo had just been dispatched, hell he had not lost in IBJJF since he was a purple belt. It was a foregone conclusion that the status quo would remain and Tainan Dalpra would once reign supreme and why wouldn’t he?

The prodigy of legendary grapplers Rafa and Gui Mendes, Tainan has exemplified the sweep and submit style that has helped AOJ dominate the gi scene over the past few years.

To perfect this system, Tainan has primarily relied on his expert gripping sequences to get to his favored position, his modified X-guard. When looking at the most dominant guard players in jiu jitsu the commonality they all share is that they are experts at controlling the inside space. Whether it be Gordon Ryan’s butterfly half guard, Leandro Lo’s De La Riva Spider combination, or Marcelo Garcia’s butterfly and X guard, controlling the inside position  severely compromises the base of opponents while limiting their attacking possibilities.

Once a grappler is fully underneath their opponent, their opponent has to deal with constant destabilization from various off-balancing attacks while having severely limited mobility as their legs are completely controlled. The only course of action available to them is to strip the grips that are controlling their lower body while the guard player is able to constantly off balance, change positions, and attack with almost no consequences. 

Using these principles Tainan has been able to routinely sweep his opponents and get to his real bread and butter, his passing. Using a combination of knee cuts, long steps, and leg weaves, Tainan puts an extraordinary amount of pressure on his opponents in a manner not seen since his idol, Fernando Terere.

With Tainan’s unprecedented dominance, it was a foregone conclusion that Tainan would obtain his third world title at just 22 years of age, yet standing in his way was the man who handed Tainan his last loss as across the mat was none other than Jansen Gomes.

In any other division, Gomes would have been considered a tremendous threat. A second generation black belt with unworldly athleticism, Gomes dominated the color belt ranks winning IBJJF Worlds in the gi at both the purple and brown belt levels, a no-gi World Championship at brown belt, and two World Championships at the juvenile level. This is the level of prospect that jiu jitsu fans have been salivating over, an athlete who has been born and bred for one thing, grappling supremacy. Yet despite that and a previous dominant win over Tainan, no one gave him a shot at unseating the defending champion. 

From the opening salvo it was clear that this would not be an ordinary Tainan match as Gomes’s base and grips on the far leg of Tainan made it impossible for Dalpra to enter his legendary X guard forcing him to switch to a K-Guard-esque position. Since Gomes was expertly controlling the far side of Tainan, he was able to backstep into open space, and thus for the first time in IBJJF Tainan was vulnerable.

In a split second, Gomes was able to secure the underhook from the front headlock position, preventing Tainan from tethering himself before seemingly teleporting to Tainan’s back. The fact Tainan was able to regain half-guard in this sequence is a testament to his greatness.

With this sequence Gomes path to victory was firmly established. In a pure technique for technique battle, Tainan most likely defeats him, yet as the much better pure athlete if Gomes can force Tainan to compete in space, he can exploit seemingly the only chink in Tainan’s armor, his lack of wrestling.

The only criticism that could viably be levied against AOJ over the past few years is the lack of wrestling, a weakness we coincidentally saw come to fruition in his semi-final match against Rolondo Samson.

Tainan’s modified X guard minimizes this weakness as his need to explode is greatly diminished as he is completely in control of his opponents base. Yet since Gomes focused on disengaging Tainan’s grips, it became increasingly difficult for Tainan to mount any offense as once there was any open space Gomes would attempt to explosively pass to the outside.

Even when Tainan was able to get underneath Gomes, Gomes refused to allow him to get to the full X position, pulling his far leg back so that no grip could be made. Gomes was able to focus only on stripping the grips as the normal metagame Tainan plays was completely flipped as Tainan was not willing to attack unless he had complete control, giving Gomes control of both the initiative and pace, leading to periodic explosions with Tainan completely defensive.

The ending sequence between these two great champions perfectly illustrated the dynamic between them. Tainan was finally able to get underneath Gomes in K-Guard and had complete control of the right side of Gomes, yet was unable to capitalize on an advantageous position with Gomes overpowering him.

Jansen Gomes’s victory over Tainan Dalpra at the 2023 IBJJF World Championships is a defining moment not only in his career but in jiu jitsu history. With the odds completely stacked against him, facing the most dominant jiu jitsu competitor in history, from the unquestioned best team, headed by two all time great competitors in Rafa and Gui Mendes Jansen successfully leveraged his two greatest assets, his athleticism and more importantly his tactical genius achieve the greatest victory in jiu jitsu history and a spot in immortality.