WNO Championships Preview: Who Can Beat Gabi Garcia at Heavyweight?

The Who’s Number One (WNO) Championships on September 25-26 will feature five eight-person brackets with many of the best grapplers in the world competing in 15-minute submission-only matches. In the days leading up to this event, Grappling Insider will be previewing each of the five divisions.

In the women’s heavyweight division at the WNO Championships, there’s no question who the woman to beat is: Gabi Garcia. Garcia is the most decorated female grappler ever, and it’s not particularly close. She is a four-time ADCC champion, a three-time double-gold IBJJF world champion, and has lost just a handful of times in major competition. Garcia is understandably the favorite to win the division.

With that said, Garcia comes into this competition following a loss under WNO rules to Nathiely De Jesus. And while De Jesus is not competing in the WNO Championships, she did lay a blueprint to defeating Garcia over the course of a 15-minute submission-only match, and each of the other competitors in the bracket possess the skills to duplicate that strategy. The key to defeating the massive Garcia, showed De Jesus, is applying a consistent pace, opportunistic attacks, and ironclad submission defense. Of course, implementing that strategy against a grappler of Garcia’s caliber is much easier said than done.

Perhaps the biggest threat to Garcia is Ana Carolina Vieira. Known largely for her accomplishments in the gi, Vieira is an excellent guard passer and top control artist. She showed off that guard passing when she defeated fellow competitor Elisabeth Clay at The Road to ADCC in July. Vieira has met Garcia twice before, once in the gi and once in no-gi, and lost both times. However, if she’s able to play on top against Garcia, Vieira would likely have the upper hand, particularly the longer the match goes on.

Another top contender is Elisabeth Clay. In late 2020, Clay lost a close and competitive decision to Garcia in a WNO match. In that match, Clay showed off her ultra-aggressive guard, which might be the best in the division. The longer the match lasted, the more success Clay was able to find attacking from her back, indicating that with some minor adjustments, she could defeat Garcia — or any other woman in the bracket, for that matter.

One dark horse to keep an eye on is relative newcomer Erin Harpe. In June, Harpe announced herself as an elite competitor when she soundly defeated top Atos representative Rafaela Guedes at a WNO event. Perhaps owing to her experience in MMA, Harpe sets a relentless pace that lends itself well to the WNO ruleset, and if she squares off with Garcia, she’ll certainly look to use that pace as a weapon.

The remainder of the field stands a chance to make it deep into the tournament or even upset Garcia; there are no weak competitors in this division. Despite the recent loss to Harpe, Rafaela Guedes is supremely talented and still considered one of the top female grapplers in the world. Long-reigning Submission Underground champion Amanda Loewen will look to use her control-based jiu-jitsu to upset more established WNO competitors. Kendall Reusing likely has the best pure wrestling in the division, which should help her to wear down opponents over the course of multiple 15-minute matches. And finally, Amanda Leve is an ADCC trials winner that just made her professional MMA debut, winning by first-round submission.

WNO Championships women’s heavyweight division:

  • Gabi Garcia
  • Rafaela Guedes
  • Ana Carolina Vieira
  • Elisabeth Clay
  • Amanda Leve
  • Amanda Loewen
  • Kendall Reusing
  • Erin Harpe

How to watch: The WNO Championships take place on September 25-26, and will air live on FloGrappling (subscription required).

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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