Not many rookie jiu-jitsu players would step on to the talent-stacked mats of the ADCC Trials just days after recovering from an overseas MMA debut – but Victoria “Vortex” Anthony is made of sterner stuff. One of the most decorated female wrestlers to have competed on Team USA, and owner of Pan-American wrestling gold three times over, when it comes to grappling, Anthony is as tough as they come.
“[My dad] happened to be doing judo when I was six,” Anthony tells the Jiu-Jitsu Times. “So I’d have to go watch the practices, and I don’t remember this, but apparently, I was like, ‘Well, if I have to be here, I’m going to do it!’ And I would just annoy my parents and annoy the senseis until they’d let me practice. So it was judo first, and then as soon as I started, I got crazy about it.” Her obsession with the sport translated into success; Anthony grew up training alongside Olympic judo medalist and former UFC star Ronda Rousey, and wound up competing in judo nationals herself at age fourteen.
Judo eventually gave way to wrestling when Anthony was in recovery from wrist and knee surgery, and looking for a ticket out of her high school PE class as a freshman. “I saw a wrestling demonstration in PE class, and I literally just did wrestling to get out of PE,” she admits with a laugh. “I didn’t actually want to wrestle – in fact, my parents had suggested that I do it, because I was just sitting around, and I was like, ‘no, that’s a horrible idea, it’s social suicide to be a girl on the boys’ wrestling team.’”
However, Anthony’s teenage hatred of PE eventually proved more powerful than her teenage fear of social ostracism – which, according to Anthony, wasn’t actually as bad as she’d assumed it would be. “I think my perception of everything wasn’t what was happening – you know, you perceive things so differently sometimes, especially as a fourteen-year-old-girl,” she explains. “It felt to me like I didn’t fit in anywhere, being a girl on the boys’ wrestling team. And then, at school at large, I had my friend groups, but the wrestling team wasn’t ‘cool.’” She laughs. “And here I am, just trying to figure it out! I was uncomfortable all the time, but wrestling is uncomfortable all the time, so that’s just part of it, you know?”
When she reflects back on her high school wrestling days, though, Anthony believes that her misfit feelings were more of an internalized sensation than anything to do with how her peers treated her. “I mean, I was one of the few Black people at my school,” she says. “Like one of maybe five, so I was always an anomaly, and that was always being mentioned, you know?” She chuckles. “So it is what it is. And [as a teen], I was kind of just like” – here, Anthony playfully mimes screaming – “and I kind of just wanted to be normal! Normalcy was what I wanted.”
The social growing pains of adolescence aside, Anthony’s competitive judo background immediately turned her into a standout compared to the other freshmen on the wrestling team. “My freshman year, I didn’t know wrestling, but I knew judo, so I could throw and trip [the boys],” she explains. “So there was immediate respect there, especially among the freshman boys, because they didn’t know what the hell they were doing yet.” She laughs again. “So my first two years of wrestling, I was really just doing judo – which didn’t turn out to be the best thing in the end, because my fundamentals were all off. I was out of position, because I was going for big maneuvers, and opening things up. So the second half of my career was tightening everything up.”
Eventually, Anthony hit a point where wrestling became more exciting for her than judo. “I did try to go back to judo for a bit when I was fifteen or sixteen,” she remembers. “I competed in my first senior-level international tournament, and I ended up taking second. I did end up getting beat in the finals by a really accomplished female Olympian, but I was like, ‘This is slow now, compared to wrestling.’ Wrestling is so fast-paced.” That, for Anthony, was a sign that she was ready to commit wholeheartedly to her wrestling career.
How did she feel about moving into the higher levels of wrestling training and competition? “It was a pretty fluid transition,” says Anthony. “Because really, my goals have only ever been to get to the highest level I’m capable of. My dad was a big part of that, helping me find national tournaments for girls – and a coach saw me [at one of those tournaments] that was a coach for the Olympic program, like the junior program, the feeder into the senior level. So I got invited to Colorado Springs to train, and won Cadets – which is the age group from fourteen to sixteen – but there was no Cadet Worlds at the time, so I just started competing internationally as a cadet. Sweden was my first international trip, and I won that tournament, so I just kept going from there.”
Her dedication to the sport paid off – and her numerous competitive wrestling accolades as an adult speak for themselves. Despite a relative dearth of formal jiu-jitsu experience, her world class wrestling pedigree inspired her to try her hand at submission grappling. Competition-wise, she dove straight into the deep end of the pool on that front – with ADCC Trials. What was she thinking at the time?
“It was a few things. One was that I started watching Nicky Rod’s podcast during covid,” she recalls. “So I found out his story, but I didn’t know what the ADCCs were, up until the f***ing week of!” She grins, shaking her head. “But people would randomly message me and be like, ‘You should do ADCC Trials’ throughout the year prior. And I was kind of like, ‘Meh, I don’t even know what it is.’”
Anthony’s eventual entry in 2022’s ADCC Trials was a last-minute whim – enabled by Anthony’s friends, fellow Team USA alum Kendall Reusing, as well as decorated grappler and MMA fighter Mason Fowler: “My friends Kendall Reusing and Mason Fowler both separately said, ‘You should do ADCC Trials.’ So then I was like, ‘Okay, if you guys both think so – but guys, I don’t know jiu-jitsu, I really don’t.’”
On top of that, Anthony had recently gotten an opportunity for an MMA fight – only to have it rescheduled for four days before the ADCC Trials. “That completely washed the idea – I was like, ‘I’m not even going to think about this,’ because I had no idea what was going to happen in the fight, if I’d be injured or whatever.”
Fortunately, Anthony came out of her fight relatively unscathed. “[The fight] was in Europe, and I’m flying home from Amsterdam on a Monday, and I bought the Internet on the plane, and I’m like, ‘I’m not hurt, nothing’s wrong, but I’m not sure I’m going to feel like competing either – I’ve been in this fight camp for basically six months.’ But I’d bought the Internet on the plane so that I could text Kendall [Reusing], and I was like, ‘Hey, you think I should still do that tournament? I don’t know, I’m flying home now, and I feel fine.’”
Reusing, fresh off her own victory at ADCC East Coast Trials, encouraged Anthony to jump into the fray – particularly because she already had a room booked and an extra bed where Anthony could crash. Anthony, encouraged by the prospect of a free room and a quick drive to Vegas, agreed.
“It was so ridiculous, though,” Anthony reflects. “Because I touched down in San Diego on a Monday, repacked my ****, [went to] Denver, Tuesday, Wednesday, and then I flew back on I think Wednesday or Thursday, and then I drove to Vegas on Thursday. And I’m watching the rules meeting in the car!” She laughs, almost incredulously, at herself. “I don’t know the rules, I don’t know anything about this s**t!”
Upon hitting the mats, the most challenging element of the ADCC ruleset for Anthony was the leg entanglement game. “What actually kind of messed me up a little bit was that I had escaped so many heel hook and foothold attempts that I almost tapped to a heel hook – this girl in my second match was putting a heel hook on me,” says Anthony. “And I was like, ‘This **** ain’t worth it.’ I don’t really know what it is, and I don’t really know how to defend it, so I’m about to tap – and then I look, just to double check, at Mason and Kendall, who are in my corner. And we’re just staring at each other, nobody’s saying anything. And I just looked back at the situation, and was like, ‘You know what, let me just keep trying to untangle this.’” She laughs again. “And I got out!”
Unfortunately for Anthony, her luck with leg lock escapes didn’t see her through the rest of the tournament. “[An opponent] was putting a kneebar on,” Anthony remembers. “And I literally didn’t know what a kneebar was! Like, Mason and I did a crash course in all of the ankle stuff, the foot stuff, the heel hooks the night before, but we did not talk about the kneebar. So I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll probably just find my way out of this. Let me just start to figure it out!’ And then I was like, ‘Oh f**k, my knee’s crunching!’” She gives a self-deprecating little chuckle. “So I screamed, and then I tapped.”
Ultimately, that ADCC Trials run – particularly the ill-fated kneebar that lost her the Trials and left her with a joint injury to recover from – took more of a physical toll, in some ways, than the actual MMA fight Anthony had just finished. Anthony’s description of her first fight in the cage is almost comedic in how cheerfully blasé she is: “It was supposed to be a tournament, and there were a bunch of international girls registered, but only one girl actually made it to my bracket, and thank god for her, because otherwise I would have been there for no reason! I pretty much just took her down each round and smushed her.”
A little sheepishly, Anthony adds, “I realized I have no idea what the hell I’m doing in ground and pound. I was just like, ‘tink, tink!’” Playfully, she mimes her hesitant attempts at walloping her pinned opponent. “So I left that tournament like, ‘Okay, I really need to learn jiu-jitsu now, because I’m not threatening enough on the ground. So, to open more things up, I need to be threatening submissions properly.”
Still, submissions or not, Anthony took home the victory that day – an impressive achievement for a debut fighter competing abroad. When asked how she felt about getting hit for the first time in a combat sport, she’s remarkably unfazed. “[My opponent] kind of touched me in my face, and it kind of feels like there are strobe lights on – in wrestling, you’re not used to a bunch of s**t in your face, you know? So I started flinching, but then I was like, ‘Forget it, I’m just going to take her down.’ It honestly just felt like there was a gnat in my face” – she pulls an exaggeratedly irritated expression, and mimes batting away an imaginary insect – “like there’s a fly in your face, and it didn’t bother me at all, but I was like, ‘Eh, this is getting stupid.’”
What made Anthony take the dive into MMA in the first place? Her answer is a complicated one. “It was a lot of things – a lot of odd things,” says Anthony. “I’ve developed a really deep spirituality that really started when I was in high school […] I wasn’t sure if I was going to fight, because it looked like a lot, and I know that – I’m not sure how to say this – but I’m a healer. That’s a part of who I am as well. So I thought, ‘I don’t know, maybe it’s time for me to just shift completely, and I know I’m called to help in the MMA on the healing side, but maybe that’s all it is now.’”
Anthony had something of a personal epiphany the night that she lost at the 2021 Olympic Trials. “The night I lost Trials, I basically sat in meditation, and I saw a message [about my wrestling career] that said, ‘IT’S OVER’ in capital letters.” She laughs. “And I’m like crying! I couldn’t stop crying, I was like, ‘Gee, that’s kinda harsh!’ And then I started getting all these messages that were basically like, ‘Nothing that’s behind you is for you anymore’ – speaking of wrestling and whatever – and spiritually, it’s like I was being told that MMA is the path ahead.”
Following her intuition into the MMA world hasn’t always been easy, but Anthony’s tackled the task ahead with the same grit and grace under pressure that she forged at the highest levels of her wrestling career. “After I made that initial decision [to fight], I moved to San Diego,” she says. “But first I went on this training trip where I was wrestling this girl against the wall – who was my actual size – and it just clicked. It was like, ‘Oh, if I don’t let her up, she’s not getting up – my wrestling and my pressure is just too much.’ So that showed me. That, and watching certain fights – Rose Namajunas and Valentina Shevchenko were both headlining the card. And Shevchenko won her title fight with wrestling! It was like three bodylocks, and the crowd went berserk!”
She grins. “It’s kind of crazy, because I feel like when men wrestle, the crowd is like, ‘Boo!’ But when women do anything, they’re like, ‘Yeah!’ Which isn’t the case in wrestling itself – in wrestling, for the entirety of my career, it was kind of like we never got credit for anything, or it was like, ‘Oh, this is just a women’s match,’ or that type of thing.”
Another challenge of growing up in extremely male-dominated grappling sports as a petite, feminine young woman was figuring out what being female meant to her on a personal level. “[As a high school wrestler] I was like, ‘Okay, I have to define myself as a girl, wear hair extensions, and all this extra stuff’ – which I realize that I actually just like!” She grins sheepishly. “But it was a confusing time.”
For Anthony, it all comes down to authenticity of expression. After a lifetime of navigating the delicate balance of gender politics in combat sports, she’s developed her own internal compass: “I think that on the entirety of it, it’s really about being who you actually are as a person. Like, I’m just going to be myself. I like having my nails done, I like having my eyelashes done, I like wearing makeup – that’s just actually who I am. But for another girl, if that’s not who they are, then don’t do all that s**t! Don’t be somebody you’re not for other people.”
It’s an attitude that’s carried over to the way she handles her social media presence, which is a full-time job in and of itself. With over 80,000 followers on Instagram, she’s built her audience – and her content – with both care and deliberate authenticity. “It’s kind of like the same approach I have for sport or anything else,” Anthony says of her social media strategy. “Whatever I do, I want to figure out how to do it that best way possible. So I watched YouTube videos on how to build a platform, how to build an Instagram, what the changes are on Instagram with reels, and how to do all that s**t. And then Kendall [Reusing] helped me a lot.”
Anthony also took early cues in growing her social media brand from fellow wrestler turned submission grappling contender Nicholas “Nicky Rod” Rodriguez. “There are some people I use as models,” explains Anthony. “So I remember once I was just looking at his Instagram page and scrolling, and I was like, ‘What in the hell, this dude posts two to three times a day, minimum.’”
“So I messaged him, and I’m like, ‘Hey, we don’t know each other, but I was just wondering, do you have a social media manager? Or are you doing all of your posting? Because that’s crazy; I know how much work it is to get even one post out.’ And he was like, ‘No, it’s me, and I post three times a day between seven and seven’ – so it’s worth just asking people, the same way you’d ask a coach [for advice].”
As anyone who spends enough time on the Internet can attest, however, social media can be equal parts a gift and a curse, especially when managing a large platform. At a certain point, with so many followers, it becomes impossible to interact with everyone – and Anthony’s still learning where to set her boundaries. “I was just talking to Helen Maroulis about this – she’s one of my best friends, Olympic champion for the US – and she was like, ‘Everybody wants a piece of you.’”
Anthony also had to decide, early on, what the real goal of her platform would be. “I had to make a decision early on like, ‘Okay, what am I really going to be about here?’ And it’s confusing, because Instagram can become very sexualized for women – and [giving into that] is an easy way to grow a person’s platform. For a girl to put a picture up in a bikini at the beach, it’s immediately considered a thirst trap, but also, why the f**k can’t she just put a picture up, as well? So people’s perceptions of all that – I think it’s just important to sort out for oneself.”
She laughs. “Also, sometimes it’s like, ‘Hey, I do have a nice ***! I want to post it sometimes!’ I really just kind of tune into myself and what’s right at the time – but that’s also something that I want young girls to understand. That you are female, with a feminine body, and that’s okay! It’s a part of who you are, and something to be embodied, and to be nurtured, and I think that’s a struggle for a lot of women in combat sports. Like, ‘How do I do this, it’s such a masculine thing’ – and [figuring out how] to just be yourself.”
Despite its occasional stressors, Anthony remains deeply grateful for the ways that social media has transformed her career. “My entire income is from Instagram now,” she shares. “Which is crazy! All my seminar requests, and different gigs and stuff, it’s all through people reaching out through the app.”
What about dealing with potential harassment – particularly as a prominent young woman on a highly image-focused social media platform? Thoughtfully, Anthony admits, “I’ve honestly been pretty lucky, but I’ve also been pretty protective of my own energy and myself, through building this platform. I would, and still do, patrol the comments. If people are disrespectful, I’ll call them out – and I won’t do it rudely, I’ll do it with compassion – but I also think it’s important to show young girls that you should speak up when people talk to you a certain way. Like if it’s inappropriate, I’m going to tell them that.” She’s also not afraid of using the block button when necessary.
What’s next for Anthony? “I’m a competitor first,” says Anthony. “Your career as an athlete is only so long, so that’s the first and primary aim, is to – well, they don’t have a weight class for me right now, but I’m manifesting a UFC 105.” She grins. “But I’d also love to fight in ONE, and do it to the best of my potential. I don’t think there’s anything I’m missing – I just need to add skills. But I also need to support myself, and I’m really, really grateful for my ability to teach, and for my platform, which lets me put my work out as an instructor, because that’s supporting my livelihood – instead of having to work multiple jobs.”
“The way I see it going down is competing as an amateur for as long as it takes me to feel comfortable – then fight in ONE, because they have my weight class. From watching the lay of the land at 105, there are a bunch of girls that I think I could beat now, but also a bunch of girls that I think I’m probably not ready for. Like, I would hold my own, and I’d be fine, but to do what I really want to do, it’s not time yet for those girls. And then in a couple years, if the UFC adds 105, then that will be the next transitional step.”
Anthony offers the following wisdom for other women looking to develop their wrestling skills for MMA or jiu-jitsu: “Find a good instructor that you feel comfortable with – coming from a basic level, you have to learn technique and body position and proper ways to do things – and just being thrown in with a bunch of people without getting corrected properly, you don’t want to just train a bunch of s**t wrong!” She laughs. “So finding a coach that you’re comfortable with [is key]. It’s also about building relationships, so that you’re not a lone woman on an island by yourself, trying to figure everything out. So I’m always very respectful to my coaches, and have a lot of gratitude for what they do for me, and also the [training] partners that I meet along the way that I can call up.”
In other words, community is key. And for Anthony, with some perseverance, it might just catapult her into the ranks of elite atomweights in women’s MMA.
Follow Victoria Anthony on Instagram here.
To keep up with her seminar schedule, check out her LinkTree.
Please note that a previous version of this article states that Anthony experienced her epiphany the night after she lost at the 2022 ADCC Trials. This has been corrected to reflect that the epiphany took place the night after she lost at the 2021 Olympic Trials for women’s wrestling.