Shortly after winning the 2013 Mundials women's absolute division as a black belt, Gabi Garcia made an announcement to Tatame, regarding her future in competitive Jiu Jitsu:
"I want to figh MMA now. I don't know when I will fight on a GI again. I'm unmotivated, not because I think I'm invincible, but we need to find another challenge. Many people is not fighting the absolute class, focusing on the weight classes, and I need another goal in life. If I am able to get down my weight, and if UFC or other events begin to have bigger weight classes, I will get down my weight as much as possible. Now I am going to train to defend my titlle in the ADCC."
For those unfamiliar with Garcia this is fascinating news in the world of women's MMA. Garcia is an 8-time Mundials champion, 4-time Pan Am champion, and ADCC and World No-Gi champion. She competes at women's heavyweight and absolute in Jiu Jitsu, and while her category ranges from 57+ kgs (125 lbs) to 69+ kgs (152 +), she herself is reported to be at around 235 lbs. In Jiu Jitsu she's in something of a class all to herself, but in MMA she might be even more so.
It's not a problem she's missed and she's trying to take the steps to increase her competitive opportunities:
"I want to get down to 90 kgs (around 199 lbs), and in the fight day get to 85 kg (around 188 lbs). My nutritionist told me I can get, but we would have to see it before, because of the risk of losing my strength. I don't think I will lose my strength, but I've been with less body fat before."
It seems like a practically impossible cut, especially for a woman, who truthfully does not appear (at around 6' 2") to be carrying around a lot of extra weight. That may in part be that she's already started the transition, she's certainly looked smaller lately. But it begs the question, even at 185 lbs, what possibilities exist for her in MMA? Some organizations are running a 145 lbs+, openweight, division and I know there are a few women in the world competing as high as 155 (and I'm assuming a few more in the mid 160s). But she may quickly find herself relegated to a handful "feature fights" until public interest wains and she's forced out, if she could even get that far.
For her sake, I hope she makes a good run at it. The barriers to her having a combat sports career will be many. Rumblings of unfair competitive advantage and potential genetic advantages have followed her through her Jiu Jitsu career (although they've decreased as she continued to compete and develop as a martial artist). That scrutiny will likely resume with an increased vigor if she wants a lasting career in MMA. And these criticisms raise a series of questions about how open and accepting fans are of Women's MMA? How quickly do fans step in to cry foul, with a worrisome paternalism? These are questions that WMMA has to face, constantly, and if an athlete like Garcia is willing to face up to it its a discussion she could help evolve.
She already appears to have a few good inroads to the fight game, and maybe those connections will make the potential for a long-term career brighter.
"I was invited to train in Curitiba, Miami, at Blackzilians and even Demian Maia opened his gym doors to me. I've already trained a lot of boxing, but I've got no basis on Muay Thai. So, the day I decide (to move to MMA), I'll focus on the best person an team. With four absolute world championships I can spend some years resting and no one will pass me (laughter). I don't know if I'll be back next year. What I did to women's jiu-jitsu is marked on the sport's history and these titles no one can take from me."
Eventually, like many athletes who came to be on the cusp of a transition, her MMA move is still just talk. But I, for one, will be interested to see if she can make good on the plans she's laid out, and would be fascinated with her potential to make an impact on women's MMA.
Thanks to Ruda Alessi for the translations, and you can follow Garcia on twitter @gabijiu.
Just for fun here's some video of her rolling with Marcelo Garcia: