The Engineer: Italo Lima

By Matthew Gioia

Born in Mossoró, Italo Lima grew up in Areia Branca, a small town in Brazil that did not have a hospital. While many of today’s current champions were able to focus on jiu-jitsu full time as adolescents, Lima prioritized his education after promising his parents that he would obtain his engineering degree.

“At first I had to study so that my parents would let me train and compete in jiu-jitsu, because coming from a very small town and continuing to train there, there wasn’t anyone who had gained anything in life through jiu-jitsu, so my parents they only saw it as a hobby, but that the sport was not going to give me some quality of life. So I studied to have a plan B up my sleeve, but what I really knew was that I wanted to live through sport, contributing to its growth and among the biggest athletes and events. I also used college as a way to facilitate my visa when I went for an interview at the consulate. Nowadays I see that it was a different path than most, but that it was very worthwhile, I learned a lot about other areas of life and I still have my diploma so that I can use it in the future, who knows here in the United States.”

Training under Talison Soares, Lima’s jiu jitsu flourished  as he dominated the grappling scene at the color belt level, notably winning the IBJJF World Championship at blue belt.

As Lima continued to gain notoriety due to his submission oriented style, he left his homeland to seek a better opportunity under the tutelage of Professor Osveldo Moizinho, otherwise known as  “Queixinho”. This gamble paid immediate dividends, as soon after he captured the Brown Belt Heavyweight and Open Class CBJJE Title.

“2018 when I finished my studies I came to the United States to spend a season to see if that was really what I wanted, now I was trying to be a professional and not an amateur anymore, I was still a purple belt when I got here I went through some difficulties and then I met Chininho who gave me a lot of opportunity to live and train, so I started training there in the area in California with Chininho and Samir Chantre, both of them helped me a lot to adapt to Ibjjf competitions and to be more professional, they gave me support very big and also had the other training partners and everyone shared the same dream of being champion so it was a little easier for you to have that mentality, in fact we were there in the season and that was all we had to do, train and compete.”

A submission oriented fighter, Lima stands out from other fighters of his ilk by relying on fundamental jiu jitsu, appropriate for any age or division. His weapon of choice is the triangle which he uses from both the shallow lasso and closed guard.

“Since I was 14 when I started training jiu I was already elongated for my age, I was big but thin and at the gym where I started people used to do a lot of guarding, it was hard to see a passer in the mid-2008s so I did a lot closed guard and open guard, endless specifics. I remember I trained 2…3 times a day and at the end of the day I had done arm bar, triangle and omoplata drills at least 300 times that over 5 years and I didn’t like to take the armbar because it hurt and I was very nice I knew that if I hurt my teammates in training I would run out of people to train so I went to the gentle side of the gentle art, I started to improve the chokes and as my legs were big I was easy to attack triangle so I I specialize in triangles and the closed guard is the best guard to do because you have total control of your opponent after he manages to open the closed  guard he still goes into the open guard which can also be easily turned into a lasso and if you manage to tire your opponent with closed guard attacks when he gets to open guard he will be more vulnerable to the triangle attack.”

Both shallow lasso and closed guard work effectively off one another because they allow the user to isolate one of their opponents arms while being defensively sound. Both guards’ primary function is to minimize a player’s exposure to athletic, explosive movements. This allows the guard player to dictate the pace of the match, keeping the passer on the defensive, therefore allowing the guard player to attack with minimal consequences. Lima takes full advantage of this principle as he uses his shallow lasso guard to bewilder opponents before seizing any small opening.

When playing his shallow lasso, Lima’s strategy depends on whether or not his opponents are trying to elevate his hips. If his opponents are playing with their hips back, Lima will try to off-balance them with a spider-hook by extending the far elbows away from their body, forcing them to compensate on the lasso side in order to maintain their balance, thereby opening up the triangle opportunity. This works even more effectively if his opponent tries to kneel as Lima can use an additional shin to shin attack to further stretch out his opponent’s base.

If his opponent attempts to crowd Lima with either an over-under or double under pass, Lima continuously pushes shoulders back on the mat and even secedes advantageous positioning in order to keep his hips glued to the mat. Keeping his hips on the mat is Lima’s top priority as it allows him to shoot his triangle as all he needs is a slight extension in order to finish his opponent.

In the rare cases Lima loses the proper leverage on his shallow lasso, Lima is able to reset his position by transitioning to his closed guard, allowing him to re-take control of the tempo of the match.

Once Lima secures his closed guard, his opponent is at his mercy as he relentlessly hunts for both triangles and armbars, the classic jiu-jitsu submission chain, if they attempt to base off of his upper body.

If his opponent is able to stand, Lima once again employs classic jiu jitsu by underhooking his opponent’s leg and elevating his hips to sweep them, in the same manner Gilbert “Durinho” Burns did to Kron Gracie to win the 2011 IBJJF World Championship.

Despite numerous victories in competitions such as ADCC Trials, IBJJF Opens, and Fight2Win Lima continued to fly under the radar until this past World Championships. Matched up against Adam Wardzinski, Lima wasted no time trapping the reigning Pan-American champion in his vaunted lasso guard before launching into his signature triangle.

Italo Lima is a perfect encapsulation of how classic, fundamentally sound jiu jitsu still works today at the highest of levels.

“I think my jiu-jitsu is effective because I don’t need to use extravagant techniques to win fights, I already used it in the beginning at blue and purple belt I did lapel guard, berimbolo and stuff, I’m not saying they aren’t effective on the contrary if you do it well they are very effective techniques too, the fact is that nowadays people want to learn these techniques first which however are quite advanced for the beginner belts and forget the basics, whenever I saw Rodolfo Vieira fight I was amazed because he used twisting passes that are very basic and finished his opponents with a choke from the back, armbar or chokes from the mount, just like Roger Gracie did and still does today using simple jiu-jitsu and with total dominance over his opponents.”