‘I’m just a little different’ – Meet Tammi Musumeci, BJJ’s most elusive champion

Get to know Tammi Musumeci ahead of her submission-only match against Bianca Basilio at ONE Fight Night 8.

You might not know it, but Tammi Musumeci is the most accomplished female American jiu-jitsu competitor ever. 

Much more than just the older sister to Mikey Musumeci, she is a five-time IBJJF black belt world champion, a two-time IBJJF Pans champion, and an ADCC bronze medalist. But because she has zero social media presence and has never been one to boast about her achievements, the 28-year-old can easily fly under the radar – and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

On Friday, March 24, Musumeci will square off with 2019 ADCC champion Bianca Basilio in a 10-minute submission-only match at ONE Fight Night 8. Airing live on Prime Video in U.S. primetime, that showdown will necessarily draw plenty of viewers, but for Musumeci, competing in jiu-jitsu has never been about the attention.

“I’m just a little different, I guess, to other people,” she said in an interview with ONE Championship. “I’m just going out there and trying to hit cool stuff, and try to hit cool subs. I’m not really focused so much on titles or any of that stuff.”

Indeed, despite her status as one of the world’s premier BJJ players and a veteran of the professional scene, Musumeci seems to approach competition like a hobbyist. She doesn’t have specific competitive goals or championships she wants to win; she’s simply trying to have fun.

“I like to live my life a certain way. I don’t have Instagram or social media. I’m not doing it for titles or anything, I’m just trying to hit cool stuff.”

Given that mindset, Musumeci is happy to compete under ONE’s submission-only ruleset. Free from the need to worry about scoring points, she’s able to simply chase the submission.

She explained:

“When I compete… I’m not that I’m good with the rules. I’m just not that focused with the rules… I’m better with just submission-only because I feel like I’m always going for the sub. I’ve only done a few matches under submission-only. But I mean, I feel like the first time I did it, I was like, this is weird. There are no points or anything, but I like it because there’s more room to work. And I feel like I could be a little more aggressive and not worry about advantages and different things.”

Attorney by day, professional grappler by night

Musumeci’s seemingly blasé attitude toward competition might seem odd for a professional competitor of her caliber. But it makes much more sense considering that jiu-jitsu is far from her full-time job.

A 2020 graduate of the William S. Boyd School of Law, Musumeci is a practicing attorney who finds time during her busy work schedule to train jiu-jitsu five to six times a week. 

“I enjoy that they’re two separate things because it gives me a break from both,” she said about her simultaneous careers in law and professional grappling. “[Law is] a different thing. It’s more of a mental exhaustion instead of physical, which jiu-jitsu is. But then also it makes your mind keep working, which I think helps you in jiuj-itsu because your mind is continually working.”

Even when she’s competing at the highest levels of the sport – whether it be her 2015 ADCC run, her back-to-back no-gi world championships in 2015 and 2016, or her upcoming ONE Championship debut against Basilio – Musumeci says she’s never once considered taking a break from school or work.

Because while fans might see those incredible accomplishments and assume they are the crowning achievements of Musumeci’s life, there’s much more she wants to do outside of jiu-jitsu:

“I’ve never wanted to take a break from work. The thing is, I feel like I’m the type of person that needs a lot of things going on. Even when I have no work, I need to find stuff to do. That’s probably why I have stuck with jiu-jitsu, because I’m not one of these people that sit still. So I could never train full-time. Even if I had the option, I wouldn’t do it… I also have goals out of jiu-jitsu in my professional life that I want to reach completely separate from jiu-jitsu. I just don’t ever put that as an option for myself to do.”

‘We’ve always been partners’

Throughout her career, Tammi has naturally been linked to her brother, Mikey. With 10 IBJJF world titles between them, they make up arguably the best sibling pairing jiu-jitsu has ever seen. 

“We’ve always been partners, all the way back, even. We’re still training partners,” she said of her brother, who currently holds the ONE flyweight submission grappling world title.

Growing up in New Jersey, then Florida, the Musumecis would regularly train at the jiu-jitsu academy before extra drilling at home.

According to Musuemci, it was Mikey who would introduce her to the more advanced techniques, like the berimbolo, that now make up the centerpiece of their respective games.

“He’d show me all the cool stuff he was working on like berimbolo, 50/50, all those cool things. So it’d be like all those years, it was a lot of like drilling with us. We drill a ton. Intense drilling as well.”

As similar as they are, the Musumeci siblings learn and approach jiu-jitsu in vastly different ways. While Mikey is extremely analytical and detail-oriented, Tammi has a more instinctive, free-flowing style of grappling.

Tammi says she views her younger brother as her coach:

“I learned from him. I feel like we learn differently. I like to do stuff naturally, with more movement. I don’t learn as well, like, if let’s say I go to a seminar. I don’t learn as well. I kind of don’t pick up anything. I learn more by trying to do movements. So if Mikey would say he learned from me more, I’d just be doing something and not even knowing it, and he pointed out.

“But a lot of the time, I mean, he’d be teaching me a lot. Like, teaching me different reactions as well to react to what he’s doing, to help him better learn the moves as well. But yeah, I mean, he taught me a lot of cool tricks… That’s what I always tell him too, I’m like, ‘you created a black belt world champion.’ You have all these coaches out there, I mean, nobody really sees him as a coach. But he helped me and got me to where I am today. But I don’t think he likes to be called coach.”

Tammi Musumeci is honored to face Bianca Basilio

As she prepares for her showdown with Bianca Basilio on March 24, Tammi Musumeci isn’t making bold predictions or talking about the world title she could win in ONE Championship.

Instead, she’s bringing the same attitude that led her to five IBJJF world titles: forget the outcome and just focus on doing good jiu-jitsu.

“She’s one of the best out there, at that weight, or even, I wouldn’t say at the weight, I’d say of all the smaller girls, any of those weights, she’s one of the top girls,” Musumeci said of Basilio. “So I think it’s an honor to fight her. lt’s cool. I have no expectations for this.”

Musumeci is quick to compliment her opponent’s accomplishments and technical ability, and she’s equally quick to compliment her attitude. 

Because like Musumeci, Basilio’s ego doesn’t seem to be wrapped up in winning and losing, and that’s something Musumeci can see and respect:

“I like her attitude. Maybe because I’m getting older, but no matter if she wins or loses, she always looks like she’s having fun out there, and she appreciates being there. I respect her for that as well. It’s one thing to win at what she does and to be good, but I respect her attitude. I’ve seen her win and lose, and she always seems the same no matter what. She’s not one of these people that if they lose, they have an attitude. She seems just thankful to be there, which I feel the same way. I do respect her for that as well.”

How to watch: Tammi Musumeci vs. Bianca Basilio takes place on Friday, March 24 on the lead card of ONE Fight Night 8: Bhullar vs. Malykhin, and will air live in the U.S. on ONE’s YouTube channel. The main card will air on Prime Video (free with Amazon Prime subscription).

Ben Coate

Ben has been involved with grappling, whether through wrestling or Brazilian jiu-jitsu, essentially his entire life. After wrestling throughout his childhood, Ben found Brazilian jiu-jitsu as a young adult and quickly fell in love. He has been training for over ten years and currently holds the rank of brown belt, and remains involved in both the MMA and BJJ scene. Ben has been writing about combat sports since 2017. He has interviewed and profiled some of MMA's biggest stars, including multiple UFC champions.

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