BEST FEMALE BJJ FIGHTERS
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has become one of the most popular forms of Martial Arts in the modern era. The rise of mainstream grappling has become prominent all over the world, and this is due to the hard work of many innovators within the sport. High level athletes like Marcelo Garcia, Gordon Ryan, Gabbi Garcia, and Beatriz Mesquita have become emphatically successful competing on the world circuit of BJJ. Nowadays the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has become more than just a sport for male athletes, as women are now showcasing their abilities on the prime time platform of prestigious BJJ events like Who's Number One, subversiv bjj, Fight 2 Win, the ADCC, and the IBJJF world stage.
What This Article Covers:
- How the Women's Division Started in BJJ
- The Most Influential Female BJJ Athletes of All Time
- The Most Successful Female BJJ Athletes in History
- The Future of Women's BJJ
HOW THE WOMEN'S DIVISION STARTED IN BJJ
When Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was first developed by Helio Gracie it became a high profile self defense system. As the Gracie clan began dominating the landscape throughout the streets of Brazil, the art was purely only taught to the males. This went on for a long time, as Helio Gracie became known as a man who valued his pride over the traditional values of a family. Helio, and Carlos Gracie had many children with different women, and as they grew their clan, so did their ideology of a male dominated combat sport. The Gracie clan would make a controversial decision not to teach Gracie females the art of BJJ, as this depicted Gracie Jiu Jitsu in a negative way.
The next generation of Gracie members began to shine through, as jiu jitsu legends like Rickson, Renzo, and Royce Gracie were born into the sport. Rickson was heavily influenced by his father, as he wore the Gracie pride like a shield of armour. Over time Rickson would have his own family, and his love for his children far outweighed the ideology that governed his father, and his uncle. Rickson became an important part of helping women become influential within the art, as he helped facilitate the first ever women's division. Rickson would meet a young female athlete named Yvonne Duarte, who was a star student under Osvaldo Alves, one of Carlos Gracie Senior's black belts. In 1985 the trio launched the first ever women's division at a BJJ tournament, where Yvonne came out the winner. By 1990 Yvonne made the history books, and became the first ever BJJ women's black belt athlete.
By the turn of the century, women's divisions were added to the IBJJF competition schedule. This new concept was hard to swallow for Helio Gracie, but the evolution of the art was beginning to outgrow the old traditional ways. The women's divisions started off slowly, as the art was struggling to entice women into a male dominated sport. The divisions were split into two weight categories, and consisted of all belt levels. As the art evolved even further, many female athletes began earning black belts within the art. This started an irreversible trend, as women would start to feature in many IBJJF tournaments. The significant rise in female competitors spurred on a change in the divisions, as more categories were added to accommodate the influx of women competitors. Over the years the popularity of women's Jiu Jitsu became indispensable, as the acceptance of women in a previously male dominated art, became irrefutable.
THE MOST INFLUENTIAL FEMALE BJJ ATHLETES OF ALL TIME
There have been a handful of influential female athletes that have added significant innovations to the art of BJJ. The most iconic female innovator was Yvonne Duarte who became the first female black belt in the history of the art. Yvonne was the younger sister of the famous Pascoal Duarte, who was a student of Osvaldo Alves. From a young age Yvonne began training in BJJ alongside her brother, as she dreamed of competing in youth jiu jitsu tournaments. Yvonne was highly competitive throughout her younger years, as she strived towards becoming a famous Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt. In 1990 all of her dreams came true, as she was crowned the first ever female Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt by her coach Osvaldo Alves. Yvonne's innovation didn't stop there, as she was a huge driving force towards having a women's division scheduled in the competition scene, in 1985. Yvonne has also been credited for becoming the first female pioneer of BJJ to open an academy. Yvonne was also one of the founding members that helped establish the Federation of Jiu Jitsu in Brasilia. Yvonne's dedication to the art of BJJ has been exceptional, as she has paved the way for many young up and coming female athletes.
Rosangela Conceicao has etched her named into the BJJ history books, as she has become the first women to ever win a world title. Rosangela grew up with the love of judo and during her quest to become even more seasoned in the ancient Japanese Martial Art she found BJJ. Rosangela began training with Ricardo Murgel purely to improve the ground fighting aspect of her judo. In 1998 Rosangela would discover the bjj comp system for women was a combined belt ranking division, and as a purple belt she became the first female athlete to win a world championship title. On top of all of Rosangela's BJJ and judo achievements, she also became an avid wrestler winning the first ever Pan American medal for Brazil. Rosangela fast became Brazil's most recognisable, and talented wrestler in the country.
Leka Vieira grew up in the south eastern town of Minas Gerais, a place that wasn't huge for Jiu Jitsu. Leka grew up as a competitive young lady, and as she discovered Brazilian Jiu Jitsu she became a superstar. Leka was an outstanding competitor, winning three pan am brazilian jiu jitsu titles, and three world championship titles. Leka's contribution to BJJ went far beyond competition gold, as she became the first ever female black belt to award another female to the rank of black belt. Under the guidance of Rigan Machado, Leka Vieira awarded Cindy Omatsu her black belt, as she became the first female black belt outside of Brazil. Another exceptional grappler that has become synonymous with innovation within the art, is Leticia Ribeiro. The 4th degree Brazilian athlete has become one of the faces of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, as her famous women's camps have breeded some of the best female athletes in the world. Along with her seven world titles, Leticia hails from one of the best bjj teams in Gracie Humaita, where she has trained with some of the world's best athletes like Saulo Ribeiro, Xande Ribeiro, Vinicius Aieta, and Royler Gracie.
Another extremely influential female athlete is Deborah Gracie, who is one of only two Gracie females to wear the black belt rank. Deborah is the daughter of the famous Marcio Stambowsky, who in turn is married to Robson Gracie's daughter, Carla Gracie. Deborah has trained with some of the great BJJ practitioners of all time like Jefferson Moura, Roberto Correa, Vinicius Aieta, Renzo Gracie and Royler Gracie. Deborah's claim to innovation came when she heard about the great pro BJJ work that was being done in the United Arab Emirates. The Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed, was an avid lover of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, who initiated BJJ to become a part of the school curriculum in all of his countries schools. Deborah applied to become an instructor and was assigned to a girls only school named Um Al Fadhel. Deborah's impact on many of her young athletes was quite influential, as 5 of her students medalled at the Abu Dhabi World Pro. Her team was also ranked number 1 on the country’s famous female ranking board. Deborah Gracie has become synonymous for teaching, and developing her students to an exemplary high standard.
THE MOST SUCCESSFUL FEMALE BJJ ATHLETES IN HISTORY
Beatriz Mesquita has solidified herself as one of the most iconic BJJ athletes of all time. Known as Bia, the 2nd degree Brazilian black belt trains under the famous Leticia Ribeiro. At the age of ten, Bia became a Brazilian National champion, as her coaches could see something special rising inside of her. Bia's rise up the BJJ ladder has been astonishing, as she boasts an incredible record of 10 IBJJF World Championship titles, 5 No Gi World Championship titles, 8 Pan Am Championships, 4 European Championships, and 10 Brazilian National Championships, making her one of the most successful female grapplers on the planet.
Hannette Staack is another Brazilian champion, who has won 7 World Championship titles, and 3 ADCC Championship titles. Hannette became one of the world's most prominent grapplers, as her traditional style of foundational BJJ has been revered as a no nonsense style of grappling. Hannette has worked extensively with the development of many young Brazilians from Rio de Janeiro, as her Brazil Team 021 has become pioneering towards the art of BJJ. Michelle Nicolini is another innovator of the sport, as her positional changes have become extremely prolific in the game style of many young female grapplers. Michelle has won a stunning 8 World Championship titles, 3 Pan American titles, and an ADCC Championship title. Training under Robert Drysdale, Michelle has become one of the world's most dangerous finishers, as she boats an extremely high submission accuracy rate.
Gabi Garcia is another exceptional female grappler, that has a record of 6 World Championship titles, 4 ADCC titles, and 11 Pan Championship titles. Gabi has become an icon of the sport, training under the famous Fabio Gurgel at Alliance team. Along with all of her successes in BJJ, Gabi has also dominated the Mixed Martial Arts platform, with an unbeaten 6 - 0 record. Kyra Gracie is another highly decorated Brazilian Jiu Jitsu grappler, and with a name like Gracie it was always enevitable. Kyra faced a tough upbringing, as she battled to be noticed in a male dominated family. Many of her family members tried to talk her out of training, but her determination, and attitude has made her one of the most formidable female grapplers of all time. Kyra is a 4th degree hall of fame black belt, who has won 4 World Championship titles, 3 ADCC Championship titles, along with many other highly prestigious title wins. Kyra, along with Deborah Gracie, is one of only two Gracie females to ever achieve a black belt within the art.
Ffion Davies has become another high profile female grappler, as the Welsh national is threatening to become one of the world's best. The young athlete has yet to dominate multiple titles like some of the other iconic legends of the sport, however she has won a World title in 2022, and two No Gi World titles in 2018, and 2021. Ffion Davies has won multiple European Championships, and Abu Dhabi World Pro titles, as well as becoming the first European to win a Brazilian National Championship, she was also the first UK black belt to win a World Championship title. The extremely talented athlete has trained under expert coaches in JT Torrres, and Darragh O'Conaill. Along with her black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the young Welsh athlete is also a black belt in judo.
Another extremely successful female athlete is Ronda Rousey. Even though she is not a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, her extraordinary grappling skills inside the Mixed Martial Arts platform has become iconic. Ronda has achieved an outstanding MMA career, which includes 12 wins and only 2 losses, including 9 submission victories. Her victories include athletes like Miesha Tate, Cat Zigano, Bethe Correia, Alexis Davis, and Sarah McMann. Along with becoming the Strikeforce champion, she was also a UFC Bantamweight champion with 6 title defenses. Ronda is a black belt in judo who represented the United States of America in the Beijing Olympics, where she won the bronze medal. Ronda has also won multiple Pan American titles, which has made her one of the most formidable grapplers to ever enter the Mixed Martial Arts platform.
THE FUTURE OF WOMEN'S BJJ
The future of women's BJJ is fast becoming as dynamic, and exciting as the men's divisions. Many of these iconic female grapplers have driven the art into brave new heights, as the acceptance of Women's Jiu Jitsu is now global. With the innovation, and success of female athletes like Leticia Ribeiro, Yvonne Duarte, Gabi Garcia, Beatriz Mesquita, Michelle Nicolini, and Kyra Gracie, many young up and coming female athletes are extremely inspired. Many of these female athletes are running programs that are specifically designed to combat problems that young women face in their day to day lives. Through many of the camps, academies, and online courses, women are beginning to feel empowered in what has mainly been a male dominated world. With the tough road that female athletes have walked since the birth of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, many of these ladies are now brimming with confidence, as they continue to evolve exponentially within the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
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