Jits Magazine sat down for a long and wide ranging interview with ADCC medalist and IBJJF Champion Ffion Davies. The Welsh sensation had just wrapped up a training session from Dublin, where she has set up camp for the duration of the COVID pandemic. We began speaking about her upcoming Polaris bout against Polish grappler Magdalena Loska, but covered everything from the state of the sport to Ffion’s thoughts about purple belts with more Instagram followers than her.
Prepping for Loska on Polaris Squads
We start with the most topical subject, how Ffion Davies is training for her opponent, Magdalena Loska. Ffion seems well studied on Loska, who is a training partner of UFC fighter and former champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk. Ffion has a good sense of what she brings to the fight, but also says she isn’t really game planning.
I ask Ffion how training is going in Ireland. As someone who is proudly Welsh (Ffion even speaks the native Welsh language, which I didn’t even know was a thing), she has trained in Wales most of her career. She says that COIVD restrictions have affected the training in both good and bad ways. He gym cannot hold regular group classes, and Ffion says she enjoys teaching and light training to break up the harder sessions. On the other hand, professional athletes are allowed to train as they please, meaning her gym has become a pros-only camp. Unfortunately, it can only be done once a day, and athletes must train in what Ffion calls “pods” meaning no new training partners during the camp.
Ffion says finding opponents is harder than ever due to travel restrictions. In 2020, BJJ seems like it has regressed back to the regional sport of twenty years ago. She is largely limited to competing against other athletes from the UK or a handful of European countries.
Ffion’s Jiu-Jitsu Bucket List
I ask Ffion Davies what’s on her bucket list for her career. Without missing a beat she says the IBJJF Worlds gold medal. She notes that she won the tournament at the brown belt level but searches for a polite way to say that, frankly, the black belt level is the one that counts. After that, she says ADCC gold is on her list. Ffion experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows at last year’s ADCC, submitting Beatriz Mesquita in a thrilling upset but losing to Bianca Basilio the following round.
It prompts a discussion on the fact that, in tournament jiu-jitsu, Ffion doesn’t have many hills left to climb. I ask her if she’s comfortable fighting on stages like Polaris or continuing on the tournament circuit. Ffion says she competes primarily for the accolades, laughing when I ask her if she could ever make a good living from competing,
“God no. I wouldn’t make enough money. Seminars is how I make money. Or teaching at a gym. Especially where I live in Dublin where the rent is very high.”
She says she is grateful that he sponsors actually pay her (she points out most sponsors simply provide free products), which is helpful. It may be surprising that a pound-for-pound top female grappler has to have so many streams of income to make a decent living. Ffion is living a working class lifestyle, renting a room at a house in Dublin. It’s hard to see how a couple more gold medals will drastically change that.
I ask Ffion about MMA, which she competed in before her jiu-jitsu career took off. Ffion has shot the idea down repeatedly in the past, but she surprised me,
“I haven’t ruled it out. I’ve said that before, that I wouldn’t do it. But now I’m definitely more interested . . . With COVID, everything was shut down, but somehow MMA managed to keep going. So I’ve been watching more MMA, doing more striking classes. So yeah, I might see how it goes if I can tolerate being punched in the face, or learning to dodge.”
In any case, Ffion notes it’s not something to be taken lightly. She says if she competed in MMA, it would be a total shift in her focus, and she would treat it like a career change.
Promoting Women’s Matches in BJJ
“How often do you see women’s fights promoted on certain media platforms? You’ve got a bunch of men running it, so they’re going to promote men. But I’m a woman and I want to see women fight.”
I ask Ffion Davies if she thinks demand is a factor in this, and she acknowledges that it’s a fair question. But she also points out that platforms create demand as much as they respond to it,
“If you’re not hyping it up as media, than people aren’t going to think it’s interesting. Then the cycle continues where women can’t make as much money, because there’s basically one slot for women’s matches per card. That’s what’s great about Polaris having me as the main event. ”
Ffion also says that the women have to meet their end of the bargain as well, by having great fights that generate hype. We both agree that, one the whole, they usually deliver.
On Being a Reluctant Flag-bearer for Women
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As we talk about gender issues in the sport, I ask Ffion Davies if she ever tires of being frequently asked to weigh in on women in BJJ:
“There is a fine line. If you don’t talk about it at all, you’re [accused of] ignoring the problem or not fighting for women. If you talk about it too much, you’re a feminazi. So I’m not bothered by the questions, but I have more to talk about than that. Like all the questions you asked me before, I appreciate you not just following this line of questioning.”
Ffion says the last thing she wants is for people to perceive her as simply attacking men or tearing people down. She admits she makes mistakes and doesn’t always get it right, laughing that she’s not always the best authority on equality in sports. You get the feeling that Ffion mostly wants to compete and be happy, and isn’t trying to be anyone’s role model.
With that massive disclaimer out there, I invite Ffion to wade into some controversy with my next question: How does she feel about female athletes sexualizing themselves to advance their career? I point her to the deluge of women blue, purple, and brown belts who’s social media is more modeling and photo shoots than jiu-jitsu, yet they get sponsors and huge amounts of opportunities without any competitive resume to speak of.
To my relief, Ffion says it’s a interesting question, and one that her answer might have been very different a couple years ago:
“If you give girls that card to play, you can’t yell at them for playing it. If you want to get your tits out and your butt out and you have a fantastic body, fair enough! People sexualize me with a rashguard on, or a bloody giant hoodie. People will make weird comments anyway. If you want to go down that route, then go for it. As long as you’re comfortable with it and not sacrificing some part of yourself.”
Ffion says that personally, it’s not something she’s interested in but is nonetheless accused of for something as minor as wearing fake lashes when she wants to feel feminine. I point out that most reasonable people wouldn’t think of Ffion as trading on her looks to advance her career, her talent speaks for itself. Ffion laughs off the compliment, but also says she appreciates that most of my questions are about her as an athlete and not her as a woman.
I close with the obligatory question if she has any predictions for Saturday. Ffion’s answer showcases a bit about why she is so well liked in the community:
“Um, I predict I will win? Maybe? Hopefully?”
It’s not that she isn’t confident, she’s just too genuine for callouts and promos. But with a record like hers, she doesn’t need to.