Year-End Awards: Who Was the Best Female No-Gi Grappler in 2021?

As 2021 winds down, Grappling Insider will be recognizing those athletes that made the biggest impact, had the best performances, and found the most success this year.

The women’s no-gi scene in 2021 saw veterans surpassed by newcomers as a handful of high-level grapplers pulled ahead of the competition. When comparing the levels of competition and number of elite wins, one woman stood out from the pack.

The 2021 female no-gi grappler of the year is Rafaela Guedes.

Guedes was awarded her black belt by Andre Galvao in September 2020, and couldn’t have asked for a better first year of competition as a black belt in 2021. She kicked off her year with a decision win over no-gi world champion Ana Carolina Vieira at Fight To Win 162 and followed that up with a submission win over Fight Sports’ Maggie Grindatti at Who’s Number One (WNO).

In May, Guedes helped carry Team Atos to victory at Subversiv 5, where she earned wins over Gridnatti again, as well as 2020 no-gi world champion Nathalie Ribeiro.

Next, at WNO, Guedes suffered her only loss of the year — an upset against Erin Harpe.

Guedes bounced back to form at the WNO Championships in September. She defeated 2021 Pans double gold medalist Elisabeth Clay, professional MMA fighter Amanda Leve, and 2019 no-gi Worlds double gold medalist Kendall Reusing to capture the WNO heavyweight title.

Guedes’ wins at the WNO Championships did plenty to set her apart from the competition, but it was her performance at the no-gi Worlds that established her as the best in the world. Guedes twice defeated no-gi Pans champion Maria Malyjasiak, Grindatti by submission, and Clay by a score of 10-0 to win both her weight class and the absolute division.

In 2021, Rafaela Guedes established herself a force to be reckoned with, and a competitor that could continue to dominate into 2022 and beyond.

Honorable mentions

A number of other no-gi competitors found plenty of success in 2021. Those include:

  • Mayssa Bastos – IBJJF no-gi Worlds and Pans champion, WNO Champion; notable wins over Jessa Khan, Tammi Musumeci, and Grace Gundrum
  • Elisabeth Clay – IBJJF no-gi Worlds champion and Pans double-gold medalist; notable wins over Kendall Reusing, Maria Malyjasiak, and Gabi McComb
  • Raquel Canuto – IBJJF no-gi Worlds champion; notable wins over Nathalie Ribeiro and Amanda Alequin

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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