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Timeline, The Development Of The Female Division In The IBJJF World Championships

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Since 1996, we have had the opportunity to see the top-level athletes of our sport face off at the World Championship. From Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to California, United States, the “Worlds” has been produced every year to showcase the best jiu-jitsu has to offer to the athletes and fans.

This article will talk about the development of the women’s division from the start, first in the CBJJ World Championships (until 2007) and later, as the federation changed its name, with the IBJJF.

Although the Worlds Championship started in 1996, the women’s first appearance on that stage took place two years later, in 1998 – at the event’s 3rd edition. That year, the federation produced only 2 female divisions, in contrast with the 50 male ones on offer.

As the years progressed, the federation started separating the belts and slowly introducing more weight classes in accordance with the growth of its sign-ups. Only in 2014 did the female division grow up to its current 9 weight classes, from rooster to super-heavyweight.

The first women’s open class was in 2007. For 9 years, women in purple, brown and black belts competed in one combined division and only in the 17th edition did they have single belt divisions. Today, the number of women training and competing has increased, but let us remember what happened from 1998 until now as well as each division champ.

1998 – WELCOME: the doors were open to the Women’s division

1998 was the third edition of the World Championship and the first with women competing. The women’s division had only two weight classes: Light (up to 60kg) and Heavy (above 60kg), and it amassed all athletes, blue to black belt.

The first champion in the lightweight division was Thaís Ramos (Brigadeiro), a purple belt at the time who later became a black belt under Professor Eduardo Venâncio. In 1998, Thaís beat a black belt Danielle Figueiredo (Alliance) in the final.

Rosângela “Zanza” Conceição (UGF), also a purple belt at the time became the first heavyweight champion and history was made.

1999 – More divisions for Women

Now split into 6 divisions, the blue belt rank was separated from the pack while purple, brown, and black remained merged. Another novel measure was the addition of more weight classes (feather, middle, and heavy).

This year produced the first female black belt to become a world champion: The pioneer Alessandra “Leka” Vieira (Dojo/Machado) who won in the featherweight division.

In the middleweight, the champion was Alessandra Oliveira (Alliance) and in the heavyweight, Cristina Pereira (Nova União).

2000 – 10 divisions and counting

The 2000s started news of further expansion: 10 divisions for the female athletes. In its 5th edition, the Mundial added the light featherweight and medium-heavy weight divisions. Belts were still mixed between purple, brown, and black.

The gold went to Daniela Figueiredo (Alliance) in the light-feather weight; the legend Leticia Ribeiro (Gracie Humaita) in the featherweight; Alessandra repeated the last year’s feat becoming a two time World Champion – now in the lightweight; Renata Pimentel (Ricardo Pinho) in the middleweight; and the MMA fighter Erika Paes (Osvaldo Paes) was the champion in the medium-heavy division.

From 2001 to 2004 – Nothing New

Over the next four editions, we didn’t see any significant changes to the female divisions.

Note: 2001 was the first World Championship where Kyra Gracie competed – as a young blue belt in the adult division. She got 3rd place.

The champions – purple/brown/black

2001
Lightfeather: Anna Michele (Nova União)
Feather: Bianca Andrade (Diojone J-J)
Light: Claudia Oliveira (Gracie Barra)
Middle: Juliana Vieira (Nova União)
Medium-heavy: Ana Carolina Ferreira (Gracie Barra)

2002
Lightfeather: Virginia Maria (Breda)
Feather: Leticia Ribeiro (Gracie Humaita)
Light: Alessandra Vieira (Machado JJ)
Middle: Hannette Staack (UGF)
Medium-heavy: Mirela Cortez (UGF)

2003
Lightfeather: Daniele Permatei (Leão Dourado)
Feather: Andrezza Pinho (Oswaldo Alves)
Light: Hannette Staack (Carlson Gracie UGF)
Middle: Polyana Lago (Gracie Barra)
Medium-heavy: Rosângela Conceição (Behring)

2004
Lightfeather: Daniele Silva (Leão Dourado)
Feather: Bianca Andrade (Gracie Barra/Alagoas)
Light: Hannette Staack (UGF)
Middle: Polyana Lago (Gracie Barra)
Medium-heavy: Mirela Cortez (UGF)

2005 – A notable division arrived: Purple belts

After 7 editions, the purple belts finally got their own division. Brown and black belts were still together. The female athletes had 15 divisions.

The first champion in the new purple belt division was light-featherweight Michelle Nicolini.

The brown/black belt champions were:
Lightfeather: Daniele Permatei (Leão Dourado)
Feather: Bianca Andrade (Gracie Barra)
Light: Leka Vieira (Gracie Humaitá)
Middle: Polyana Lago (Gracie Barra)
Medium-heavy: Rosângela Conceição (Behring)

2006
Lightfeather: Michelle Nicolini (Brasa)
Feather: Leticia Ribeiro (Gracie Humaita)
Light: Kyra Gracie (Gracie Barra)
Middle: Caroline de Lazzerok (FGJJ)
Medium-heavy: Luzia Fernandes (Gracie Barra)

2007 – Finally the Open class

Finally, 11 years after the inception of the female category in the World Championship, the open class arrived. This was also the first year of juvenile division for women, taking the division’s category tally up to 19.

This year Mackenzie Dern (Gracie Humaita) had her first appearance as a juvenile achieving her first gold medal in the tournament. In the blue belt featherweight, Beatriz Mesquita (Gracie Humaita) also won her first gold medal.

The inclusion of the open-weight class produced the first absolute champion in the history of female jiu-jitsu: Michelle Nicolini.

Brown/black belt champions were:
Lightfeather: Michelle Nicolini (Brasa)
Feather: Laurence Cousin (Behring)
Light: Hannette Staack (Carlson Gracie)
Middle: Emily Kwok (Renzo Gracie)
Medium-heavy: Penny Thomas (Rickson)

2008 to 2011 – The number of weight classes increased.

In 2008, the Heavyweight division was added. It is also worth mentioning that in 2011, the juvenile blue belt division was spread into Juvenile 1 and 2.

The champions – purple/brown/black

2008
Lightfeather: Mirian Cerqueira (UGF)
Feather: Bianca Andrade (Gracie Barra)
Light: Kyra Gracie (Gracie Barra)
Middle: Hannette Staack (Carlson Gracie)
Medium-heavy: Ana Laura Cordeiro (Gracie Barra)
Heavy: Gabi Garcia (Triumph)
Open class: Kyra Gracie

2009
Lightfeather: Leticia Ribeiro (Gracie Humaitá)
Feather: Bianca Andrade (Gracie Barra)
Light: Luanna Alzugir (Alliance)
Middle: Hannette Staack (André Negão)
Medium-heavy: Penny Thomas (Gracie Humaita)
Heavy: Lana Stefanac (Trinity BJJ)
Open class: Lana Stefanac

2010
Lightfeather: Leticia Ribeiro (Gracie Humaitá)
Feather: Bianca Andrade (Gracie Barra)
Light: Kyra Gracie (Gracie Elite Team)
Middle: Hillary Williams (Westside MMA)
Medium-heavy: Michelle Nicolini (Checkmat)
Heavy: Gabi Garcia (Alliance)
Open class: Luanna Alzuguir (Alliance)

2011
Lightfeather: Leticia Ribeiro (Gracie Humaitá)
Feather: Michelle Nicolini (Checkmat)
Light: Luanna Alzuguir (Alliance)
Middle: Hannete Staack (Brazil 021)
Medium-heavy: Talita Treta (Gracie Elite)
Heavy: Gabi Garcia (Alliance)
Open class: Gabi Garcia

2012 – Splitting the brown and black belts

Fourteen years later, the women could finally compete in their own belts – from blue to black. Now the women had 37 divisions, 11 more than 2011.

The brown belt champions:
Lightfeather: Gezari Matuda (American Top Team)
Feather: Mackenzie Dern (Gracie Humaita)
Light: Ana Carolina Lebre (Gracie Humaita)
Middle: Charlene Marie Coats (Raul Castillo BJJ)
Medium-heavy: Nicole Lee Horton (Checkmat)
Heavy: Andresa Correa (Alliance)
Open class: Mackenzie Dern

The black belt champions:
Lightfeather: Leticia Ribeiro (Gracie Humaita)
Feather: Michelle Nicolini (Checkmat)
Light: Bia Mesquita (Gracie Humaita)
Middle: Luanna Alzugir (Alliance)
Medium-heavy: Fernanda Mazzelli (Striker)
Heavy: Gabi Garcia (Alliance)
Open class: Gabi Garcia

2013
The brown belt champions
Lightfeather: Tammi Musumeci (Alliance)
Feather: Yasmine Clarisa Wilson (Gracie Elite Team)
Light: Jena Bishop (Gracie Humaita)
Middle: Janni Margareta Larsson (Checkmat)
Medium-heavy: Dominyka Obelenyte (Alliance)
Heavy: Venla Orvokki Luukkonen (Hilti BJJ Jyvaskyla)
Open class: Janni Margareta Larsson

The black belt champions
Lightfeather: Gezari Matuda (American Top Team)
Feather: Marina Ribeiro (Checkmat)
Light: Bia Mesquita (Gracie Humaita)
Middle: Luanna Alzugir (Alliance)
Medium-heavy: Michelle Nicolini (Checkmat)
Heavy: Andresa Correa (Alliance)
Open class: Bia Mesquita

2014 – Two more new weight classes

Until the 18ª, we had not seen the rooster and superheavyweight divisions. But now, in 2014, the women’s divisions were even fairer with both of these added. Now, it was possible to see 9 world champions per belt. Women were finally being seen as professionals and they had 46 divisions.

The brown belt champions
Rooster: –
Lightfeather: Rikako Yuasa (Paraestra Shinagawa)
Feather: Chelsea Leah (Atos Jiu-Jitsu)
Light: Angélica Galvão (Atos Jiu-Jitsu)
Middle: Monique Elias (Alliance)
Medium-heavy: Sijara Jihan Eubanks (Team Lloyd Irvin)
Heavy: Dominyka Obelenyte (Alliance)
Super-heavy: Alison Victoria Tremblay (BTT)
Open class: Janni Margareta Larsson

The black belt champions
Rooster: Shiho Yaginuma (Nexusense)
Lightfeather: Gezari Matuda (American Top Team)
Feather: Michelle Nicolini (Checkmat)
Light: Bia Mesquita (Gracie Humaita)
Middle: Janni Margareta Lersson (Checkmat)
Medium-heavy: Ana Laura Cordeiro (Gracie Barra)
Heavy: Andresa Correa (Alliance)
Super-heavy: Venla Orvokki Luukkonen (Hilti BJJ Jyvaskyla)
Open class: Bia Mesquita

2015
The black belt champions
Lightfeather: Rikako Yuasa (Paraestra Shinagawa)
Feather: Mackenzie Dern (Gracie Humaita)
Light: Bia Mesquita (Gracie Humaita)
Middle: Luiza Monteiro (Cícero Costha)
Medium-heavy: Ana Laura Cordeiro (Gracie Barra)
Heavy: Dominyka Obelenyte (Alliance)
Super-heavy: Fernanda Mazzelli (Striker)
Open class: Dominyka Obelenyte

2016 – No more empty divisions

Throughout the years we saw a few empty female divisions or with one single athlete, that did not happen from 2016, albeit, with a few athletes still conquering default medals.

Rooster: Rikako Yuasa (Paraestra Shinagawa)
Lightfeather: Gezary Matuda (American Top Team)
Feather: Mackenzie Dern (Gracie Humaita)
Light: Bia Mesquita (Gracie Humaita)
Middle: Monique Elias (Alliance)
Medium-heavy: Andresa Correa (Alliance)
Heavy: Fernanda Mazzelli (Striker)
Super-heavy: Dominyka Obelenyte (Alliance)
Open class: Dominyka Obelenyte

2017 to 2019 – Women on the mainstream

From 2017 to 2021, we finally started hearing fans talking and discussing the female divisions and the female athletes. This caused professional events to start paying more attention to these categories, which ultimately led women to have bigger opportunities in super-fight-style events and seminars.

2017
The black belt champions
Rooster: Rikako Yuasa (Paraestra Shinagawa)
Lightfeather: Talita Alencar (Alliance)
Feather: Emilie Maxine Thylin (Gracie Humaita)
Light: Luiza Monteiro (Brotherhood)
Middle: Ana Carolina Vieira (GFTeam)
Medium-heavy: Nathiely de Jesus (Cícero Costha)
Heavy: Claudia do Val (DLR)
Super-heavy: Tayane Porfírio (Alliance)
Open class: Tayane Porfírio

2018
Rooster: Rikako Yuasa (Paraestra Shinagawa)
Lightfeather: Amanda Monteiro (GFTeam)
Feather: Karen Antunes (Checkmat)
Light: Bia Mesquita (Gracie Humaita)
Middle: Ana Carolina Vieira (GFTeam)
Medium-heavy: Claudia do Val (DLR)
Heavy: Nathiely de Jesus (Cícero Costha)
Super-heavy: Venla Orvokki Luukkonen (Hilti BJJ Jyvaskyla)
Open class: Nathiely de Jesus

2019
Rooster: Maysa Bastos (GFTeam)
Lightfeather: Tammi Musumeci (Brasa CTA)
Feather: Ana Schmitt (Nova União)
Light: Bia Mesquita (Gracie Humaita)
Middle: Ana Carolina Vieira (GFTeam)
Medium-heavy: Andressa Cintra (Gracie Barra)
Heavy: Nathiely de Jesus (Cícero Costha)
Super-heavy: Claudia do Val (DLR)
Open class: Nathiely de Jesus

2020 – The first year since 1996 without the World Championship because of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

2021 – The Worlds is back!

After one year, the World Championship is back. What should we expect? Nothing less than a great show. In past events picking a favorite was easy in comparison with today’s competitiveness.

This year we have 447 women registered (28,2% of the total) divided into 53 divisions. There are 67 female black belts.

From 2019, the IBJJF started providing cash prizes for the top male and female athletes, equally, with a few caveats depending on registration numbers. From rooster to super-heavyweight, the prize is $3,000 from 2-8 athletes, $4,000 from 9-16, and +17 athletes received $5,000. In the open class division, no matter how many athletes enter, the prize money is $10,000.

Women will earn a maximum of $4,000 per weight class. The busiest division is the heavyweight with 11 athletes.

Are you ready to watch the women put on a show?

This study is based on the IBJJF official website as a research source.

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