A new challenge

When this interview takes place, Beatriz has just returned home from the European Championship in Portugal, and of course she returned with the gold medal. She has several big competitions planned this year, starting with Pan Ams in March (which she just won when this is being published. Ed's note.) followed up by Abu Dhabi World Pro and eventually the Worlds in June. After the summer she will put away her jiujitsu gi and start using MMA gloves instead. “I’ve won all titles I’ve aimed for in BJJ, so it’s time for a new challenge. The progression of female MMA has been great over the last couple of years, so it feels like a good time to make the transition. I’ll start training MMA after the Jiujitsu Worlds and by the end of the year I’ll evaluate how I feel.”
Beatriz in the 65kg final match at the Abu Dhabi World professional jiu-jitsu championship, 2015. Photo: Christopher Pike, The National.

”I haven’t been in contact with any promotion yet, it’s too soon. I want to see how the training proceeds first. What if I totally lack skills, haha, get beaten and regret it? MMA is tough, tougher than jiujitsu, people say. When I feel ready, I can start looking for a good event. We’ll see where I’ll train. I know many girls in MMA and the UFC, who trained grappling with me. I will speak to them and see if they can help me. Anyway, I’m very motivated and excited! I love to challenge myself and this is indeed a great challenge!”

Beatriz has mainly competed in 135 lbs (61 kg), but in MMA she expects to go down to 125 lbs (56,7 kg). “The lowest I’ve tried was 129 lbs (58,5 kg), and that was hard, but 135 would be too much in MMA I think. When it comes to BJJ, I know how to train, how to cut weight, how to prepare and so on. But in MMA, everything is new to me, I’m a white belt there. It’s a weird feeling that I haven’t felt since I was a kid!”

A complicated transition

So far Beatriz has not spent much time following the sport of MMA, and she does not know many fighters. The ones she knows of are mainly the Brazilian fighters. “I like Demian Maia and Jacare (Ronaldo Souza), those who have a background in jiujitsu. Maia has a very good jiujitsu and he managed to transfer it to MMA in a great way. I’ve seen many black belts who tried MMA but failed to use their jiujitsu. I believe that pulling of a successful transfer of your jiujutsu, like Maia, is the most difficult challenge.”
Win at the 2018 Pan Ams.

”BJJ is an amazing weapon on the ground in MMA, but every fight starts standing, and it doesn’t work to pull guard like I’m used to. So it might not be the most important martial art to bring into MMA, but it’s needed in combination with others. I will focus on wrestling, muay thai and boxing. However, I won’t let go of jiujitsu; I will still train no-gi. I have three world championship titles in no-gi, but to be honest I haven’t trained it much as my main focus has been gi competitions. Previously I didn’t like it that much, because you get so slippery of all the sweat, but after competing in ADCC and Grappling Pro, I like it much more.”

Two well-known individuals who mvoed over from BJJ to MMA are Mackenzie Dern and Gaby Garcia. Beatriz knows them both very well and has fought them on the tatami several times. “They’re skilled fighters who had good transitions to MMA. Mackenzie has already won five fights (six when this is being published. Ed's note.). I’m so proud of her. It’s impressive how fast she managed to get into the UFC and above all how much she has developed since her first fight. Gabi and I have faced each other at least ten times, in the open weight class, and she has won every time. It’s tough as she weights like twice as much as me! Mackenzie and I have faced each other three times, and I’ve won the last two. We used to train together as blue belts, so we know each other quite well.”

Good and bad in BJJ

In spite of her young age, Beatriz has worked through many tournaments on the highest level, and we wonder if any of her wins sticks out and mean extra much to her. “My first world title was something special to me. I had won Worlds as blue and purple belt but in the brown and black belt category I failed two years in a row, and I started to think that I might never make it. When I eventually won, in 2012, I was very happy! To win the ADCC was also huge, as only eight girls are selected to participate. My coach and mentor Leticia had competed in the ADCC twice without winning, so it felt like I won for both of us!”
Bia with her coach and mentor Leticia Ribeiro.

There are different rule sets in jiujitsu and Beatriz has clear opinions about the rules used by IBJJF in tournaments such as Worlds, Europeans and Pan Ams. “Their set of rules is boring! There are to many rules about what you cannot do, like heel hook for example. You can’t do heel hooks because you might hurt the opponent's knee. Sure, but an armbar can hurt the arm! And if she can’t escape the heel hook she can always tap, and nobody gets hurt. Jiujitsu is primarily for self defence and now they say you can’t do this, you can’t do that. It also becomes boring to watch, can you even imagine watching two people stuck in 50-50 position for ten minutes?”

"Tournaments like ADCC and Grappling Pro have a more liberal rule system, and I like that. If you step outside the mat you lose a point, which leads to people trying to stay in the center, and the fight doesn’t get stopped all the time. Submission only is also a good rule, because the goal should always be submission! Unfortunately, not many go for submissions today but rather focus on points. They might have an opening for an armbar, but they don't go for it out of fear to get swept. I prefer to go in to finish, and to do it fast. I don’t care if the other person gets points. Jiujitsu is not about playing it safe, it should be a dynamic fight. You sweep, get swept, passes the guard, takes back the guard and so on. That’s much more fun!”

Life, money and the future

As a youngster, Bia also trained judo, wrestling and swimming besides jiujitsu. She has always been athletic and seems to be made for sports. The question is what she would have done if jiujitsu didn’t exist, and if she’s enjoying the life as a professional athlete. “When you live this kind of life, you need balance. I’m really just a normal person, and I need to live a normal life for time to time, go out with friends and eat sweets. But I think I handle it well and I really like being a fighter, so I think I would probably have been that even if jiujitsu didn’t exist. I’m very competitive, also outside of martial arts. Like right now I also train crossfit, and I’ve competed twice already. It’s a great way to train strength and conditioning, so I’ll definitely continue with that.”

During this conversation Beatriz has said that her motivation to transition to MMA comes from getting a new challenge. But for many fighters who switch to MMA, the dreams of a thicker wallet is the main reason. We discuss the economy in jiujitsu and it’s not an easy road to wealth, especially not as a woman. "I’ve never done this with money as a source of motivation. I don’t think you go very far in this business if you’re not driven by anything else than money. Not many tournaments in jiujitsu have prize money, and when they have, most of it goes to the men. The same goes for seminars, men make much more than us. The most I’ve won in a competition is 10 000 USD, and a normal seminar pays about 1 500 USD. You can earn some from sponsors but usually they don’t want to pay cash. Instead they offer their products and services as payment."

Towards the end, we discuss her future, how long she wants to compete, what happens after that and if she thinks about having a family. “I might compete for another five years. For sure I want to have a family and kids, and I can’t combine that with a fighting career. On the other hand, I can’t say I won’t be back later on, in some Master tournament, haha! If you look even further ahead, like ten years, I hope I have my own gym, with both jiujitsu and strength & cardio training.”

Who does Beatriz think we should interview next? “Demian Maia!”

We thank Bia for her time and wish her great success in her upcoming transition to MMA!

Photo: Vinicius Agudo, @agudobjj

Text: Pelle Axelsson