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Portrait: James Tighe

"People don’t really care if you win or lose, but they remember if you’re exciting. I try and take on a mind set where it’s more like a performance so that people want to come and watch me fight."

Those who have watched Ffion compete at the coloured belts over the years would agree that it was only a matter of time before she starting picking up accolades at the highest level of our sport. 

The Welsh starlet is known for her aggressive, kinetic style of fighting; always looking for the finish, and generally getting it.

Since receiving her black belt from East Coast Jiu Jitsu Head Coach, Darragh O Connail, Ffion has been on an absolute rampage. She’s the reigning IBJJF European and Pan American champion, as well as World Championship bronze medalist. Her game is not limited to the kimono, having qualified for the 2019 ADCC (after competing at the 2017 rendition in Finland) and is the reigning Polaris Pro Champion. Ffion’s Polaris bout reserves a special mention, having submitted the multiple IBJJF World Champion Gezary Matuda in dominant fashion.

With such a whirlwind year in the books, Ffion has well and truly ‘arrived’ on the global stage, and with heightened exposure comes heightened expectation.

“I didn’t think I would win anything this year, so I didn’t have any expectations and I didn’t feel any pressure,” says Ffion while reflecting on her debut year at black belt. “I felt like I could just do my best and see where I ended up. I knew I could potentially do well, but the goal was to gain some experience and go from there. It’s gone better than I expected, so yay!”

Most athletes can only dream of standing on the top of the podium at major competitions, let alone multiple competitions within a tournament year. Ffion’s recent achievements will all take pride and place within her trophy cabinet, but what are her ‘standout’ moments from the past twelve months?

“Winning the Pans was amazing,” says Ffion. “It feels so much like the Worlds; its in America, and you get flowers on the podium (laughs). I got to fight last year’s champion in the final, which was really cool and it gave me a good indication of what I could aim for at the Worlds. Obviously I only got Bronze at the Worlds, which I think I would have been happy with if it wasn’t for all my results leading up the competition this year, but I guess a Bronze is still on the podium. You go from the bottom of the barrel, start to work your way up, and then you have to start to deal with the expectations to perform.

“I have to say my fight with Gezary at Polaris was a real standout moment for me as well. Beating her on such a big stage was an amazing feeling.”

Ffion’s event successes coincide with some significant changes in both her personal life and training routine. Like any dedicated athlete, she was open to sacrifice in order to achieve her goals, and happily relocated to Ireland in order to heighten her training and take her game to the next level. Despite uprooting her life and leaving family behind, Ffion find it hard to describe her life choices as sacrifices.

“For me, I don’t consider my choices as sacrifices, but I have had to change things to get to where I am,” Ffion explains. “Yes, I moved to Ireland nearly a year ago, so I suppose that’s hard on face value – moving away from my friends and having split up with my ex. I decided to move here, give it a go with a great group of people training full time; training with Darragh as much as I could.

“I love teaching, but I wanted to really give things a go as a competitor before I entered a role where perhaps I wouldn’t be able to go away so easily because of teaching – which I also love to do. In Ireland I can do exactly what I want because I can teach but Darragh gives us flexibility to go away and compete as well.

“Other things I don’t really consider a sacrifice would be stuff like dieting for a tournament and training all the time. I love training all the time, and the dieting isn’t too bad – most of the time! I don’t really like going out all that much, so it’s a good excuse.”

Ffion’s coach, Darragh, has undoubtably created one of the most production training environments in Europe. His growing stable of fighters are regularly on the rostrum at the biggest events in Jiu Jitsu, with Darragh himself deserving ultimate respect for cultivating such a talented group of grapplers.

Ffion says: “Having someone like Darragh, who’s just as invested in whether you win or lose as you are – as well as unwavering belief – is so important for me.”

And Darragh’s belief in Ffion has translated into some of the most breathtaking matches you’re likely to see. Youngsters looking for a role model should look no further than Ffion, who has managed to develop a way of winning, while delivering entertainment in every single exchange. She brings a frantic pace; awesome takedowns; slick submissions and a dominance to rival anyone. For Ffion, winning and entertaining are equally important.

“I think it’s conscious, but I can’t help it,” says Ffion on her aggressive fighting style. “In my head, I always want to go forward and push the pace. Even if I win a match, but know I didn’t really open up, I walk away disappointed. So I decided to always go for it; I very rarely lose by points – I either win or get submitted. People don’t really care if you win or lose, but they remember if you’re exciting. I try and take on a mind set where it’s more like a performance so that people want to come and watch me fight.

“Look at someone like Mackenzie (Dern). She was only really in at at black belt for a brief few years, but we all loved watching her fight because she was such an exciting, memorable athlete. So that’s what I am aiming for really – that’s my goal. I want to get better, be exciting as I can, and if as a bi product I win Worlds, then that’s great.”

To have a European talent like Ffion flying the flag in such breathtaking fashion serves as perfect motivation for anyone harbouring big ambitions in the sport. She may not have cut her teeth in one of Jiu jitsu’s meccas - such as New York or SoCal - but she’s proof that the sky is the limit.

“I don’t know if I am flying the flag yet, but I’d love for that to be true one day,” says Ffion on representing European grappling. “I feel like there are lots more to do, but I am also happy with what I’ve done so far. I do hope that we see more athletes from the UK and Ireland – or just countries where jiu jitsu is smaller – coming through and showing they can do big things at the major competitions.”

July 05, 2019 — Jiu Jitsu Style