It's been a long two years for Giacomo Lemos [6-0]. If things had gone according to plan for him, he would be a household name right now. Instead, he's probably one that rings a vague bell that you can't quite locate. Let me help you find it.
Giacomo Lemos was preparing for the biggest break of his MMA career in July 2019 when - with his UFC debut only days away - he received word that a USADA ban was impending. A drug test detected a banned substance in his system. His UFC 240 bout with Tanner Boser was called off, and Lemos was slapped with a two-year ban. Now, with that ban coming to an end and Lemos aiming for a summer debut, we caught up with the Brazilian 'Viking' to find out how he's been and why the heavyweight division should expect to be hit 'by all of his force'.
How Giacomo Lemos got a UFC contract
Giacomo Lemos received a UFC contract off the back of a dominant run across various promotions in Brazil and Asia, primarily Angel's Fighting Championship in South Korea. In his final bout with the Korean organization, Lemos extended his winning streak to six and also picked up their open weight title.
"The UFC became interested after that," Lemos told Sportskeeda. "They looked at my record and gave me a contract for four fights."
I spoke to the big Brazilian over Zoom. He had a nice set-up for media obligations, which he later showed to his Instagram followers in a behind-the-scenes shot of the interview. Early on, he apologizes for his English. It's a little rusty. Two years without a conversation in English will do that. Luckily, his sister, Giulia, is present to help translate when needed, which is frequent.
News of the UFC contract was huge for Lemos.
"I felt very happy. It was a dream that came true. All of my family were excited for my first fight. And so were my community and my city. All of the newspapers covered it."
Giulia chimes in: "The moment he discovered that he had the opportunity to fight in the UFC, everyone was really happy. It's his dream, and he fights so hard not just in the octagon but in life. He was working in another area, and he became a fighter. His whole focus was on this."
Unfortunately for Lemos, a twist in his tale would put the dream on ice. Traces of drostanolone propionate, a banned steroid, were found in his system. He released a statement saying he would investigate where the banned substance came from.
Giacomo Lemos had a theory as to where it originated: "I was surprised. In Seoul, I got an injection from a nurse after a fight to treat a kidney injury." Giulia added: "He thinks that's where it happened, the contamination. He didn't have the support or financial support to investigate further. He would need to contact a lawyer to find out more."
Investigating what caused the ban was expensive and Lemos couldn't afford anything expensive, especially without any guarantee that an appeal would work. Instead, he decided to accept the ban and use it as fuel for a return.
How Giacomo Lemos spent two years out
Giacomo Lemos is sitting in his Florianopolis home when we speak.
There's a map of the world behind Lemos, there to presumably remind him of what the future holds. An open world where he can hopefully travel. America could be circled with invisible ink. Not that Giacomo Lemos needs additional motivation.
He trains hard, three times a day, five times a week. The weekend serves as a break for Lemos - but he still squeezes a session in on Saturday. It's non-stop.
"I return in July for UFC," he tells me. The pandemic disrupted Lemos' training routine. He couldn't practice with his team for three months. "Now I'm training hard. I wait for the UFC, [to] finish the ban and return with all my force." Lemos hears from the UFC through his manager, Marcelo Brigadeiro, who speaks with the promotion on his behalf.
Being banned for two years means that a temporary career change is necessary. When you're not getting paid to feed opponents punches, you have to consider alternative ways to put food on your table. Giacomo Lemos had to take an IT job. He was an 'analyst of systems, a coder.' Although he was looking for sponsorship, the pandemic scared off benefactors. "In this situation in Brazil, there is not so much for athletes," Gulia explains. Brazil has been rocked to the core by Covid. Lemos calls it "terrible" with hospitals collapsing under the toll of rising cases. "But I'm alive, and my family is good. I hope the situation gets better."
For Giacomo Lemos, the UFC is the light at the end of the tunnel. Dark periods are made tolerable if you maintain a sense of purpose. He's focused on 'extending his series of victories' and exhibiting the weapons in his arsenal. Lemos is 6-0 in his professional MMA career, tallying up six knockouts. A bulldozer of a fighter, his highlight reel shows Lemos running through opponents. His raw power is typically displayed through boxing and ground and pound.
But there is more to Giacomo Lemos than untamed energy.
Why Giacomo Lemos could be a UFC success
Pundits in the MMA community cast skepticism in the way of Giacomo Lemos prior to his scheduled bout versus Tanner Boser. The reason was because of the questionable quality of his opponents. A bear can only maul the silly man who tries to pet him. The relatively untested early career of Giacomo Lemos has hidden his martial arts background. This is a heavyweight coming from an effective dynasty.
I asked Lemos about who introduced him to fight, what his background is. He hesitates, taking the time to translate the question in his head. Giulia is off-screen, but it's apparent that she expects a quicker answer. Come on, Giacomo, you know this one. "Your family," she says. "Your mom and dad." She continued: "Our parents are martial arts teachers. So he started when he was four years old." Lemos catches up and enters the story. "My mother was pregnant with me when she won the Brazilian Judo Championship. Two months pregnant. Amazing."
He sent me a picture of his mother winning the tournament. She didn't know she was pregnant at the time. "My father was the sensei of my mother," Giacomo Lemos adds. He casually tells me that he's a black belt in Judo like it's not an achievement that takes years to accomplish. His oldest sister is also a black belt in Judo and a winner of the national championship.
Two years is a long time, but Giacomo Lemos never thought of anything else but his UFC opportunity. He used the time to work on his skillset. His boxing improved, as did his Muay Thai. There was even a professional boxing match during that time. All of this has given Lemos 'good hands' for any upcoming opponent to face.
He hopes to see a brand new generation of heavyweight fighters because he thinks that the best fighters at the moment are too old. He thinks the division needs a renovation. The fans want to see a show, and he can give them a show. "I bring a new show, a new era - the era of the Viking. In Odin, we trust till Valhalla."