Carlos Lemos Jr.: A Gracie Barra black belt’s journey from his roots in Brazil, traveling the world, and fighting in MMA

Carlos “Escorrega” Lemos’ spoke at length to just prior to his departure to Rio de Janeiro where the Gracie Barra third degree black belt will be coaching American Spencer Fisher in his August 27, UFC Rio bout against Brazilian grappling ace Thiago Tavares.

            Long before Lemos was honing Fisher’s jiu-jitsu for his coveted UFC Rio bout against Tavares, Lemos lived the jiu-jitsu fighter’s dream—both in Brazil and abroad.

            It all began in the legendary jiu-jitsu town of Barra da Tijuca, where Lemos began training jiu-jitsu in 1993 under Roberto “Gordo” Correa in the famous Rio suburb of Barra. Lemos said when he joined the school that Ryan Gracie, Ralph Gracie, Gordo and “Soca” were all teaching together, but shortly after, Ralph moved to the U.S. to teach and Ryan left to Sao Paulo. This was when Lemos began his training with Soca at Gordo’s sattelite school in Nova Leblon.

Then in 1998, just before Lemos was to receive his purple belt, Gordo moved to Sao Paulo to teach. Lemos said he was given an invitation to go and train at the famous Gracie Barra academy in Barra da Tijuca. It was with Gordo’s blessing, that he did just that.  Escorrega’s teacher would then and forever become Master Carlos Gracie Jr., son of the late Grand Master Carlos Gracie.

Soon after arriving at Gracie Barra, Lemos entered in the Brazilian Nationals at blue belt, where he submitted all four of his opponents. Master Carlos Gracie Jr. awarded him his purple shortly thereafter. “Many thought it was too quick for me to get promoted, but then after 6 months at purple I won the 1999 World Championships.

“If you were an American who came to Barra in the early 2000’s, you probably stayed with me!” said Lemos in laughter. “I had a house that everyone stayed at—I had Dave Camarillo, Kenny and Keith Florian, and other guys that would all come down to Brazil and they would hang out and stay with me. I was a young guy on a ranch with pitbulls, with no rules, access to wildlife and animals, these guys and I had a great time!” It was during those years that Lemos also trained to compete both in Brazil and the U.S. “For the next three years, I went back and forth to the U.S. to compete and I won the 2002 World Championships at black belt,” he says. 

But Master Carlos Gracie Jr. had other plans for the lightweight jiu-jitsu champion. He saw him in the role of an ambassador of sorts for Gracie Barra’s mission to promote jiu-jitsu throughout the world. Master Carlos envisioned Lemos as an ambassador of Gracie Barra and the man that would go on to open schools worldwide in the years that followed for the iconic academy. “Rolles and Roger, are my master’s nephews, and he said that if he sent some of the larger guys over (to the U.S. and abroad to open schools), then it wouldn’t be as convincing… he wanted to send me over because I was smaller.”

            Yet, Carlos’ decision didn’t happen overnight. “We had a team of 300 guys in Barra Da Tijuca, there were people from all over world coming to train with us. At Barra I trained with good guys like Feitosa, Mariano and Soca.”

It took him (Master Carlos) about 3 visits (from U.S. back to Brazil), to realize me at the academy because there were so many people coming through those doors. Carlos said he looked at me and told me I had survived the “LionsDen” at Gracie Barra. I was like an ordinary guy, but he kept coming back and I accepted the offer to open the first of many Gracie Barra schools worldwide.”

“In 2001 I went to Mexico, where I opened three academies, then I founded Gracie Barra in South Korea in 2003 and was the first Brazilian to teach jiu-jitsu in that country.”

Lemos’ adoration for Master Carlos is unfaltering. “Carlos was a great influence on my life. He taught be to be a man, the most valuable life lessons besides my father and mother. Carlos Gracie Jr. shaped my character.”

            “Yet, I always wanted to come to the U.S.” he says. “Besides Brazil, you have the best competitions, more events and MMA is in this country. USA is a warrior nation and a nation that excels in all skills.”

But Lemos’ plans to come and stay in the U.S. would take a substantial halt when, in 2003, the Brazilian citizen was traveling through the U.S. to South Korea, where he had was to open the first Gracie Barra academy. During his flight connection through New York, Lemos said that unknowingly to him, the U.S. changed their visa restrictions for Brazilians and foreigners due to 9/11. “When I got over to US, I was sent back to Brazil because I didn’t have a visa. “

“When I had the layover on my way to Korea, I didn’t have a visa, the travel agents didn’t know that. Then I was told I couldn’t go back on American soil for 5 years!” he recalled.  “But I had many good connections in US, so with the help of my friends, military help and with Scotty Nelson, I got an invitation to come back to US in 2008. “

“I left Europe and came back to America, where I was busy founding Gracie Barra schools in Lithuania, Sweden, Finland, Italy and England. When I was in Europe, every weekend I had a different country to be in, weekdays in England, weekends teaching seminars throughout Europe. During my time in Italy, I promoted Federico Tisi, who is now one of the most popular instructors in Italy and also head of our federation in Italy.

            Since returning to the U.S. to live in 2008, Lemos has picked up right where he left off, in both his competitive jiu-jitsu and MMA career.

“I always wanted to come to United States. Besides Brazil, you have the best competitions, more events. MMA is in this country. USA is a warrior nation and excel in all skills, so we have access to the best—and the U.S. embraced this art. We sought the best instructors and it was the place to be. “

“When I came to Chicago in early 2009, the school was a Gracie Barra school, and I was asked to come help the school out. Since I came, we are training good jiu-jitsu, but focusing on them to be good individuals. We are having a good impact on the community and teaching self defense to kids and students.”

Along with teaching jiu-jitsu at his Gracie Barra affiliate school; Lemos has actively been competing in jiu-jitsu as well as MMA.

 “I won NAGA in Midwest in weight and absolute and Chicago Open last year (2010). I went into a ref decision with Rafael Mendes at 2009 IBJJF World Championships and I also defeated Jeff Curran the UFC fighter at the 2009 NAGAs. “

“The ratio of medals and achievements for my school in the Midwest in amazing. We have made our mark in the Midwest and people visiting from the throughout the world. I  have every year the visit of a 3x Japanese black belt champion, Ryo Ominami, who comes to train with me at my school,along with so many others from all over the world. Spencer Fisher makes the trip from Iowa from time to time.”

In addition to teaching and competing in jiu-jitsu, Lemos has set his eyes on continuing his MMA career and he’s kicked it off in victorious fashion. Lemos won his MMA debut in January at Total Fight Challenge (TFC) and again in his follow up fight this past July at TFC 17.

“Right now I am fighting at Total Fight Challenge, they have been around 17 years, these events have launched some of the greatest fighters in region and sport: Stephan Bonnar, Pat Militech. Miguel Torres, Matt Hughes, its prestigious in Midwest, best fighters come out of here.”

“I’m so excited I can’t sleep.”

For more on Lemos, find him on Facebook or at his website:

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Christie Sullivan