Female competitors weren’t always included at the IBJJF World Championship and in fact, the very first champions were only crowned in 1998. The promotion was actually known as the CBJJ at this point, a name that it would continue using until 2007. The first male champions were crowned two years before that in 1996 and they had 9 weight classes as well as an absolute division from the very start. Although it took two years for them to provide opportunities for women, the promotion was ahead of the curve and ADCC did not introduce women’s divisions until 2005. There were still nowhere near the amount of women involved in the sport at any level as there are today of course, so naturally there were smaller divisions back when they were first introduced in 1998.
First Female IBJJF World Champions Crowned In 1998
Smaller divisions might be an understatement, as there were only two female champions crowned at the IBJJF World Championship 1998. This wasn’t two adult black belt world champions either, as all colored belt levels and age brackets imaginable were combined into just two options. Women were only given the choice between a lightweight and a heavyweight division, competing at either under or over 60kg. Not every woman competing was a black belt and although they were the obvious favorites, there were plenty of surprises by the time that the dust had settled.
Women’s Lightweight World Championship 1998
There were only three black belts competing to be one of the first female IBJJF World Champions in the lightweight division and the rest of the bracket was made of blue, purple, and brown belts. The favorite coming into the tournament was Alliance Jiu-Jitsu black belt Danielle Figueiredo and she performed exactly as expected all the way up to the final match. On the opposite side of the bracket, a practically unknown purple belt had stormed through the opposite to book her place opposite Figueiredo. That woman was Thais Ramos, a talented young competitor who had only taken up BJJ just 3 years earlier when she was 17.
Ramos was only at the tournament through sheer chance, as she trained in Brasilia and often had to travel around the country in order to get any matches against female competitors. She had traveled to Rio de Janeiro just a few weeks earlier to compete at another tournament, ‘Circuito do Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu’ and Carlos Gracie Jr announced that women’s divisions would be available at the World Championship for the very first time. Ramos made the decision to stay in Rio de Janeiro in order to compete in it and not only did she make it to the final, she defeated Figueiredo and became one the first female IBJJF World Champions.
Women’s Heavyweight World Championship 1998
The other woman who made up the first two female IBJJF World Champions had a very different story leading into the event. Rosangela ‘Zanza’ Conceicao was an incredible grappler for many years before 1998, although she had actually spent the majority of her life focusing on Judo instead. She was 23 years old when she made it as a reserve in the Brazilian Olympic squad for Judo in 1996, and she had already had plenty of experience in BJJ as she used it to improve her groundwork for her primary sport. She was still just a purple belt when 1998 came around, but she used her fantastic standing grappling skills to take home a gold medal from the event.
Although both of the first female IBJJF World Champions hold a special place in history, Conceicao went on to become a true pioneer of female grappling in the modern era. She returned to the IBJJF World Championship and won another two gold medals in 2003 and 2005, before transitioning to freestyle wrestling. She found success there as well, winning a bronze medal at the Pan American Games and finally achieving her dream of reaching the Olympics in 2008.
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