Opinion: Two Female ADCC Divisions is not enough

There are currently two weight divisions for women competing at ADCC: -60kg and +60kg. There is no absolute division, but some might argue that the +60kg has become the Female ADCC absolute division by virtue of the size of the competitors in it.

Gabi Garcia took home the women’s +60kg championship this past weekend. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Gabi hater. That woman is strong, competent, talented, and is always one of the hardest workers in the room. 

However, she sits at about 235lb. This photo with Gabi standing right next to Gordon Ryan (who won -99kg and the absolute division) really makes you realize how big this chick is:

Her weight division at ADCC is +60kg. For the Americans among us, that’s 132 pounds. Gabi is 40kg above that 60kg minimum (90 pounds). Carina Santi, who she faced in the finals, weighs in at about 175lbs, or 80kg. Even that is significantly above 60kg, but yet she still gives up 20kg (60 lbs) to face Gabi. 

Sure, Gabi is the four time female ADCC +60kg champ now. But is she winning her division, or has she turned the +60kg division into an absolute division? 

Think about it: When Gordon Ryan (215lbs/99kg) faced Lachlan Giles (170lb/77kg), he was facing a huge weight difference. The difference was, this was the absolute division. Giles had a chance to face people his own size, and then choose to compete against people who outweighed him by 45lbs or more.

That said, the weight difference between Gordon Ryan and Lachlan Giles was less significant than the weight difference between Gabi and the majority of her competitors, and particularly less than Carina Santi, who faced Gabi in the female ADCC +60kg finals.

But what’s the alternative? The women’s brackets were already smaller than every male division. Until there are more females competing in general, there won’t be more females competing on a high level. ADCC, and smaller no gi grappling competitions, should look to the IBJJF for an example of how to grow a competitor base. 

In 1988, the IBJJF saw its first women’s division. There were only two weight divisions. ADCC is currently where IBJJF started; it’s time to grow. It’s time to move forward. 

From 1998 to 2015, the IBJJF saw a 5-10% increase in female competitors, and with the addition of more weight divisions, those numbers continue to grow. It’s a classic “build it, and they will come” situation. There won’t be more competitors until there are more divisions. 

Wouldn’t it be better to watch a few superfights of evenly matched grapplers than watch Gabi manhandle girls half her size? I propose this: start with three, maybe four divisions, and an absolute. If there aren’t enough to flesh out a bracket, set up one or two superfights instead of a bracket. Gabi is welcome to wreck the absolute division, but the smaller girls deserve a chance to fight an opponent their own size as well.

At this point, we all expect Gabi to win. Pit Gordon Ryan against his brother Nicky Ryan and we’d expect Gordon to win just the same. Sure, if someone could pull off the upset, that would be great, but let’s be realistic here. 

Some weight differences are too much to overcome. It is irresponsible, dangerous, and simply not entertaining to only have two divisions and no absolute division for women.

Rachel Dows

Rachel is a 20-something year old writer and martial arts enthusiast. She works at a desk job all day to afford to be able to spend the majority of her free time at the gym, where she is a blue belt in BJJ. She also sometimes goes outside to run, hike, and enjoy living in small town USA.