Jiu-jitsu is supposed to be about giving people the ability to contend with opponents far larger and stronger than they are using technique, so why don’t we see more lighter competitors enter the absolute divisions? Looking at competitors who compete in absolutes, the lightest guys who do the absolutes are often between 160 and 170lbs, and more often than not, a heavier competitor wins the whole thing.
There are exceptions to this — Rafa Mendes famously had a phenomenal performance at ADCC against Rodolfo Vieira in which he narrowly lost by referee division, and Lachlan Giles won bronze in last year’s ADCC absolute division. And then there was Mikey Musumeci at the European Open this past weekend.
In case you missed it, the lilliputian king stepped onto the mat with the big boys in the absolute division and did exceptionally well, all things considered. Musumeci, who is at present a three-time world champion, won his major titles at roosterweight and light featherweight. And over the weekend at the IBJJF European Open, he entered the absolute division, winning his first two matches before finally losing to ultra-heavyweight colossus Mahamed Aly by advantages. You read that right: the 2018 100kg world champion beat Musumeci, but didn’t score a single point.
Musumeci shared his thoughts on the event with the Jiu-Jitsu Times:
“Two weeks before the event, while I was cutting to rooster, my professor Caio decided that we do absolute and light-feather instead of the rooster for many reasons. One being he wanted to give me a new goal and motivation to train, two he wanted me to get back to be ranked number one in both rooster and light-featherweight so for Worlds, I can fight in both! But yes, absolute is a new goal of mine, and I’m so excited to have something new to work towards!”
When there’s a 100+ pound disparity between competitors, the risk of injury goes up significantly for the smaller competitor, and the strategies and mindset change completely.
“This was my first time doing an absolute ever in any belt!” Musumeci says with a laugh. “I don’t even train with big guys. Only four big guys I have trained with the last four years. My neck got pretty messed up in my second match of the open and all my joints are out also. The day after, which is the day I competed in my division, I couldn’t even invert and walking was very painful.
“My strategy always stays the same. Even with the big guys, I want to keep attacking! Just one thing: I have to be a lot more controlled with the big guys and more cautious of my frames on their bodies monitoring the distance. But everything else, like my body positioning, remains the same!”
Every body type provides its own unique advantages and disadvantages in grappling. I was interested in how Musumeci approached these matches strategically.
“The difference is more that the big guys just have a different style and I get to play more guard. The people in my division, the styles are all double-pull and more of a tactical strategy game.”
Given that Musumeci’s match against Aly was so close, I was interested in what he might do in a future rematch to increase his likelihood of victory.
“First off, Aly has amazing jiu-jitsu, and it was an honor to compete with him! My body was truly wrecked from the match before, and I think this affected my attacking ability and my neck. So I would like to not have a 400 lb guy 30 minutes before fighting someone as great as Aly. Competing with him broke my fear with competing with the big guys, I felt like I was super shaky and timid in the match, but in the second half started getting more comfortable and believing in my jiu-jitsu more. So now I’m excited to get another shot competing with this level of competition.”
Musumeci’s last loss on record was in 2017, so I wondered if he viewed this outing as having any bearing on that, and if that undefeated streak put any psychological pressure on him
“I already accomplished the goals I wanted in the gi. So now the only goals I have are personal goals, and every personal goal I have there is a chance that I can fail in. I literally want to keep putting myself in spots where everything is uncertain what will happen. I want to go into the fire every time. That is where you feel excited to train excited just in general, to me that is living.
“I used to be so afraid and feel so much pressure to compete, and it made me hate jiu-jitsu. Now instead of fighting the pressure, I embrace it, and truly this competition was the first time I had fun again competing because of the fact that I don’t fear losing anymore! I don’t see losing as a thing anymore, because every day is a competition, and a title is just the past that reminds you and motivates you when you’re working towards something else.
“People hold onto these titles and it stops them from doing more because they feel, ‘Ok now I can rest.’ Every day is a new competition with new challenges that we are supposed to fail in, and constantly over and over improve until we accomplish a new goal! Otherwise we aren’t living! Yes I won Euros Sunday, but that is the past! What did I win today? Yesterday? Nothing! Every day is a new competition with new challenges! I feel I finally understand and have the right healthy mindset and I’m just so excited to keep improving and working towards new challenges!”
So should more guys in the lighter weight classes test those absolute waters?
“If there isn’t a 400 lb guy in the division yes it could be fun! But for sure, the risk of injury increases dramatically fighting the big guys, so I recommend the little people focus on winning their divisions first, and then if they want to try open for fun go ahead just be careful please!”
In closing, Musumeci had a few people to thank
“I want to thank my professor Caio for how much he helps me, my parents, who are the best parents in the world. My nutritionist Doctor Capodaglio! My friends and teammates in Vegas! Chris Engle and Evan Dunham This title is all of us together!”