A few days after Amy Campo was crowned the new queen of ADCC’s +60kg women’s division, she received a voice message over text from Gabi Garcia. In the message, Garcia congratulated Campo on the new champion’s hard-won victory. “Enjoy this title,” Garcia told Campo. “You deserve it. I know a lot of people didn’t believe in you, but I always kept my eye on you, and I just wanted to say congratulations. I hope a lot of the younger generation is more like you, and cares about respect.”
“It was so satisfying – because it was an honor to roll against Gabi,” a beaming Campo tells the Jiu-Jitsu Times. “I’m now a part of her legacy, and she’s a part of mine. It was an honor to share that experience, and I have a lot of respect for her.” Campo’s grin widens. “And what a compliment, to say that future generations should be like you! So hearing that from her felt awesome, and just made the whole experience so much better.”
That heartfelt message from Garcia to Campo represents a lot of things: sportsmanship, camaraderie, but above perhaps all else, a true passing of the torch from a legendary former champion to her successor.
Let’s take a moment to remember that Garcia versus Campo wasn’t even a finals match at ADCC 2022. It’s an easy detail to forget, when so many assumed that a showdown against Gabi in the finals of the women’s +60kg division would be inevitable for anyone scrappy enough to get that far. After all, Garcia owns ADCC gold several times over, towers above most of her bracket-mates, and weighs in at north of 200 pounds.
Yet Amy Campo of Utah’s Zenith Team – an ADCC newcomer who normally competes as a modest medium-heavyweight in IBJJF tournaments – not only knocked Garcia out of the finals; she did so in tremendously dominant fashion, scoring a massive takedown in the final minutes of the match, and nearly finishing the bigger athlete with a brutal armbar attempt.
The big question is, how did she do it? The answer has more layers than you might expect.
On a purely physical level, Campo chalks up much of her victory to a strong knowledge of takedown mechanics. She likens her preferred grappling style to that of an MMA fighter, constantly pushing the pace with a brawler’s aggression, but a wrestler’s finesse. “When I first started training in martial arts, I started training everything at the same time – jiu-jitsu, MMA, and Muay Thai,” says Campo. “So I like the aggression that comes with MMA training, and the wrestling base you develop. The more similar a jiu-jitsu match gets to an MMA fight, the more excited I get. I feel like I make this switch, where I get really aggressive.”
“I know the match [against Gabi] didn’t look so great [in the first half],” admits Campo. “It wasn’t pushing the pace for the full ten minutes, but I knew I was dealing with somebody who was bigger, stronger, and way more experienced – and I’m talking about experience competing at ADCC before I even started training. That’s the experience I’m dealing with. And I can’t make a mistake. Jiu-jitsu is so authentic, in that you win for two reasons: one, you’ve worked so much faster or harder than the other person, and you’ve covered more ground. Or two, you make a mistake – and I think that’s what Gabi did.
“I knew I didn’t want to be on bottom – and I knew she wanted me to shoot, so she could sprawl. And I wasn’t going to do that, because that feeds into her game, and it’s worked so well on so many other people. So I stayed up, I tried to get her to move to tire her out, but I knew what takedown I was going to use. It’s the takedown I do best, and it’s one that’s most effective against people who are bigger than you, and driving forward.”
The mechanics of Campo’s chosen takedown technique are pretty straightforward. Like most good grappling setups, it capitalizes on an opponent’s mistake – in this case, an attacker who gets overly focused on driving forward. “That’s all it was,” says Campo. “You step back, one, two, three, you hit an arm drag, and you try to trip the far foot – if you can’t reach the far foot, you scoop the near foot, like you’re going to do a single-leg. So I went ‘one, two, three,’ I pulled [Gabi’s] arm across, I twisted my body so that her body moved out of the way, and I tripped her foot, just slightly, so that she fell over.
Simple enough, conceptually. But, as Campo demonstrated to great effect against Garcia, it’s a technique that can be applied at the highest levels. “It felt graceful, in the moment,” says Campo. “It really reminds me of bullfighting. She was ready to see the flag, I waved the flag, and when she came charging, I moved out of the way. Common sense says to move yourself – you move out of the way when the bull charges. And that’s literally all I did.”
“I knew what I wanted, and I couldn’t show it too much in the last five minutes, because I didn’t want her to be prepared for it,” Campo adds. “So I was still trying to move, limited as I was. Then, as she was driving forward, I literally remember going, ‘One, two, three, go!’ I timed the steps.”
That timing was perfect. Garcia went down, off the mats, and on to the concrete. Campo, smelling blood, immediately followed her to the ground. “As soon as she fell, I knew I needed to get on top right away. I didn’t even realize we were off the mat at first – I just knew I had to get on top. And when I got there, I knew I had to keep going, so I went for an arm.”
Trying to finish that armbar was a surreal experience for Campo, who was so deep into her fight for a submission that she wasn’t even fully aware of their surroundings: “I was trying to lay back [for the armbar], and I was wondering, ‘Why can’t I lie back any further? I know I’m not flat, so why can’t I lie back further?’” She bursts into laughter. “Turns out, the ramp was right behind me! But I just remember, at the time, thinking to myself that the physics of this experience was not making sense.”
Campo didn’t finish the armbar, but she got awfully close. “I remember I finally separated her hands, and then time went, and I realized, ‘Wow, this was possible.’ I was – I shouldn’t say surprised, exactly, but I didn’t know it was going to go like this. But I knew that I was going to go in, be myself, and do what I needed to do. And when I believed in myself, I found more success than I could have imagined.”
According to Campo, it helped that Garcia – for all that she cuts an imposing figure – wasn’t quite as brutally strong as Campo originally expected. “She’s really strong, but she’s not as strong as she looks,” explains Campo. “And sure, when I got in there with her, I was a little like, ‘Whoa, the boat’s getting rocked a little bit!’ I had to keep a good posture, but it was manageable.”
Mindset also played a major role in Campo’s performance. “I don’t think I’d call it confidence,” says Campo. “I think I’d call it determination. Before going out to fight Gabi Garcia, I was definitely a little anxious – I wasn’t fearful at all, I’ve never been really intimidated by her. I think [intimidation] is why a lot of girls lose against her.
“But I had this perspective that hit me in the Trials earlier this year, where I just understood myself as a fighter, and why I was fighting. And then there was so much more power behind everything I was doing, and so much more enjoyment. I just remembered that, and made that switch in my brain before fighting her. I was a little anticipatory, coming out, and I remember thinking to myself, ‘You are exactly where you want to be, doing exactly what you want to do. This is where you are most comfortable, this is where you do your best work, and you are going to have the best match ever.’”
That mindset shift flipped a switch in Campo’s brain. “I no longer had any anxiety – after that, I was purely excited,” she remembers with a smile. “You can see it in my face! I’m walking down the ramp and taking off my jacket like, ‘I just want to do this! I’m ready to go!’ So I rolled with that same excitement to compete, and to do what I’m here to do.”
Turning the tables on Garcia in such spectacular fashion also gave Campo the extra mental push she needed in the finals against Atos star Rafaela Guedes – a daunting opponent in her own right.
“After fighting Gabi Garcia, you ain’t scared of no one,” Campo emphasizes with a laugh. “None of the girls are stronger than Gabi.” Though Guedes was certainly no slouch in the strength department, after facing down Garcia, Campo was ready for anything Guedes could throw at her. “I saw in Rafaela’s other fights that she has a really heavy collar tie. And then I felt her pressure myself.” Slowly, a grin unfurls across Campo’s face. It’s a mischievous expression. “And that’s when I realized, ‘Oh, I got this.’”
“I remember [Rafaela] was trying to collar tie one time, and be really heavy, and I think I might have chuckled out loud by accident,” confesses Campo. “And I heard her audibly gasp, and walk back a little, when she realized it wasn’t working.”
Campo knew from the start that Rafaela Guedes’ grappling style would create an exhilarating scrap for them both. “I was excited because I knew that [Rafaela] liked to do takedowns – there’s a lot of girls who like to pull guard – and sometimes, as a strategy, that works really well. But I also like to stand up, and I knew she did too. So I was like, ‘Cool! We’ll get to have this awesome match on our feet, where I’m going to see what I can do, where I get to feel her out, and we get to have this experience together.’”
“I loved it,” says Campo. “I just absolutely enjoyed myself, and I let it show one hundred percent. I smiled when I wanted to, and I always felt comfortable – not passive, but I felt comfortable and ready to be aggressive.”
As the freshly-crowned queen of ADCC, the grappling world is now Campo’s oyster. So, what’s next for her? “We’re looking at jumping into PanAms and Worlds, maybe getting some superfights, and maybe getting into Who’s Number One,” she says. “I’d also love to jump into ONE Championship.”
Outside of the competition circuit, Campo hopes to do more teaching – which she views as a wonderful way to connect with others. “I’m looking to start teaching seminars,” she says. “I want to enjoy the experience of sharing jiu-jitsu with people, and through that experience, learning about people, and learning about culture, and becoming a more well-rounded, less ignorant person.”
“I really care about people, and I really care about helping them enhance their lives,” Campo emphasizes. “I want to help them enhance themselves, their skills, and their quality of life. I also really care about families, and I hope I can do something with jiu-jitsu [and families] in the future, because that made all the difference to me and my life: my coach stepping up to be someone important in my life when I was having family problems. He stepped in when he didn’t have to. He stepped in, and gave me an opportunity to have another kind of future – and I want, more than anything, to give that to other people.”
“I always believed in that, and somehow, I found people like that.” Campo smiles. “They’re super rare, but I’m going to be somebody who does that for everyone else too.”
To keep up with Amy Campo’s career, follow her on Instagram.