The BJJ competition scene is particularly tough for jiujiteira who fall into the Heavy and Super Heavy divisions. Competition is scarce and the matchmaking is rarely balanced due to limited weight divisions. The Heavy division for Grappling Industries is anyone over 165 pounds. IBJJF has a Heavy division for ladies 163-175 pounds, and a Super Heavy division for everyone 175 plus. Grappler’s Quest caps their female competitors at 160 pounds before lumping them in an absolute category, but the teen category has a 170 division! And the 30 and older divisions have Heavy divisions up to 200 pounds. NAGA is the only grappling competition with individual weight classes for larger ladies, but their Heavyweight division is still everyone over 200 pounds.
So, women over 160-175, are essentially signing up for absolute divisions every time they compete. If any other women even sign up for their divisions, they could face someone significantly heavier. And this discourages a lot of Heavy and Super Heavy women from competing.
Though BJJ is a sport where smaller folks can absolutely be effective against a much larger opponent, it’s still hard to compete against someone larger than you, regardless of your rank. It’s just as difficult for women at the higher end of these divisions. They often feel like they end up smashing their opponents rather than relying on technique, and if they do win, they often hear that they only won because of their size.
To get some insight into the problems the lack of Heavy divisions causes, I reached out to my fellow Mighty Dames. The Mighty Dames Facebook group was founded by pro grappler Torrie O’Neil, a heavyweight purple belt, to bring more visibility to the Heavy BJJ community. The Dames had a lot to say. Their answers give a lot of insight into the Heavyweight competition scene and make a great argument for adding more Heavy divisions.
The most shared sentiment was that women don’t sign up to compete anymore because they never know if they’re going to get a good match, or any match at all. Unless the divisions are posted ahead of time, they pay for the tournament, train, and often travel to compete only to find out they don’t get a match unless they sign up for the Absolutes division.
Even when there are more women at a tournament, their division is still tiny and the matchups are uneven. Many said that they don’t bother competing anymore because of this issue.
Women on the smaller end of the Heavy division said that it’s nerve wracking to be matched up with someone much heavier. Even though they’re confident in their skill level, they often end up getting smashed. A few women mentioned that they feel like there’s more chance of getting injured when they’re competing against someone much larger.
The women on the higher end of the divisions aren’t any happier. A few said that when they defeated much smaller opponents they didn’t feel like they really earned their wins. One woman said that she felt she didn’t have a chance to learn or advance her training through competition because she wasn’t competing against people her size.
The main reason that many tournaments give for not having more Heavy divisions is that there aren’t enough women to fill those brackets. But the Mighty Dames community shows that there are plenty of us who want to compete. We just don’t sign up because the limited divisions lead to bad experiences. Nearly all of the Dames who commented agreed that they would be more likely to compete if there were more Heavy divisions.
So, can we get some more Heavy divisions already? Inquiring Dames want to know.
Robin Zabiegalksi i is a writer and editor from Vermont. Her work has been published in several digital media publications and literary magazines. She’s been training BJJ for several years and she is a 2 stripe blue belt, currently training at at Green Mountain Martial Arts Collaborative in Burlington Vermont. When she’s not writing or training, she can be found playing with her toddler, hiking or snowboarding depending on the season, or bingeing her latest TV obsession.