World Judo Champion Morgane Ribout Crosses Over to MMA

It was announced exclusively today (6th December) by Le Point, that French judo world champion Morgane Ribout is to become the first judo world champion to officially cross over to MMA. See translated article below:

The news bears the impact of a bomb exploding in the world of combat sports. Morgane Ribout, the 2009 judo world champion who hung up her gi in 2014, is to embark on a new career … in mixed martial arts (MMA)! At the age of 28, she risks leaving her comfort zone to embark on a whole new experience, in a discipline that is particularly disparaged in France.

Back to square one for Ribout who, in 2009, conquered the heart of the general public at the age of 21. At the time, in her first world championship, she had delivered a dazzling performance which elevated her to the top of the judo world. She could have remained there but after five tough years the blonde hung up her gi … to land in gloves two years later!  This could be seen as a strong sign to French judo or worse, as a snub, since the relationship between judo and MMA is rocky. In private, many judokas respect, appreciate (and even practice) mixed martial arts. Yet, officially, the “thinking heads” of the country’s first fighting sport (442,865 licensed as of October 30th) do not want to hear about MMA. Worse, they do everything within their powers to reduce it to absolute silence, presenting all sorts of fallacious arguments. Jean-Luc Rougé, the president of the French Judo Federation, made a frank statement on the subject only to illustrate the uneasy relationship.

Yet the commonalities and the “bridges” between these two disciplines are far more numerous than they seem. Indeed, everyone has already heard of Ronda Rousey, superstar of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and third highest female athlete in the world in 2016 according to Forbes (behind tennis players Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova). The American champion was in fact a judoka before getting into the cage (3rd at the Olympics in 2008 and 2nd at the 2007 world championships). And she is not the only defector since another of her compatriots, Kayla Harrison (double Olympic champion 2012-2016), has just announced that she will soon commentate on MMA fights, before a possible first fight at the end of 2017.  And now, Morgane Ribout is training hard, preparing for her cage debut, which will make her the first judo world champion ever to fight in MMA. According to her manager, Ghislain Bryks, this should occur in the first quarter of 2017:

“Several big names in MMA, including Marc Goddard, one of Europe’s most famous referees, have helped us with negotiating Morgane’s first fight with various organizations. We are not rushing, even if we want to. Nothing is yet confirmed other than an MMA demonstration, on behalf of Paris Fight Team, between Morgane and her coach Bertrand Amoussou, at the Festival of Martial Arts on March 25, 2017 .”

Le Point.fr: There is a real malaise in France around MMA. For example, a week before the release of the parliamentary report on the research into MMA, as commissioned by Manuel Valls, the Ministry of Sports published at the beginning of November in the Official Journal a decree basically prohibiting MMA competition on French soil. And this was without the reporting MPs, Patrick Vignal (PS) and Jacques Grosperrin (LR), having been informed! What are your thoughts about this situation?

Morgane Ribout: In my opinion, MMA in France is attacked by ignorance. People rely on gossip and speak about what they might have heard about MMA. But there is some serious misinformation. And what is also to be seen is that all those who are well informed on the subject are unanimous: MMA is a magnificent sport. And we must structure it rather than push it to one side. Messieurs Vignal and Grosperrin are judokas at core. And after months of hearing and analysis on the subject, they came to the conclusion that MMA clearly had its place in the panorama of French sport.

How did you get into MMA?

I’ve been wanting to do MMA for several years. This maybe started around 2010-2011. At the time, Bertrand (Amoussou, former member of the French judo team and current president of the Commission Française de MMA) was my ne-waza coach (techniques and sequences on the ground, a judo component, Editor’s note). We talked about it one time at Lagardère Paris Racing.

In my mind and in the best of worlds, I planned to do the Olympics 2012, to ideally become Olympic champion and then to end my judo career to move into MMA. Except that nothing happened as I expected. I was not selected for the Games but I carried on still. But as time went on, my level eventually declined, my injuries accumulated and I made the decision to quit. When I stopped I was young (26 years old) and I had plenty of time to do beautiful things. So, of course, I figured I did not want to be saying “when I was young, I could …”. I’m still young, so I do!

This is rather paradoxical since you began to consider MMA while you were champion of the world in judo and at the top of your art …

I think that this desire came at the same time as the judo authorities began to legislate and tighten hundreds of fundamental rules of judo, such as grips to the pants that are now forbidden. And with all these restrictions, I had the sense of losing the recklessness that I had liked about the sport and which characterised me.

I had a very instinctive, reactive judo style. For me, it was natural but with these new rules, it was not anymore. From then on, you could never release yourself through your judo and everything became complicated. And at the same time, I was seduced by the playful side of MMA: I began to visualise how I would approach a fight, opportunities that could open up, sequences and techniques that could be tried.

What is your objective in announcing your cross over to MMA?

That is a difficult question. As I have not yet had a fight, it’s complicated for me to say “I want to do this” or “I want to be that.” For now, my only goal is to become the most complete fighter possible. Then, obviously, I am a competitor, I do not want to settle for just small fights and of course at heart, I want to see stars. But I don’t want to  get carried away, as MMA is a very intense sport..physically, intellectually, psychologically. My coach, my manager and I are on the same wavelength: we want to climb gradually, step by step. But soon, too (laughs)!

So you like to keep a low profile….

That is my temperament. I will not come out and say, “I will smash everybody”. Even in judo, I was never like that. There, it was the same. I try to train as best I can and give the best. Then, what is in my heart, this motivation, this rage and this desire, it belongs to me. But before that, there is work. And a lot of work

And doubts too?

Verry much ! Of course, there are a lot of questions I have. Will I be successful? Will my body be able to take the blows, when at the end of my career I was only hurting myself? Will I reproduce in the cage what I can in training? All these questions run into my head, but that’s normal and it’s somehow what motivates me. It’s a new sport for me and without a huge dose of humility, we’re done! I am leaving judo where I was world champion. I can almost do less well! I am aware of that. But the most important thing for me is to have found this passion.

Another judoka succeeded in made the cages of MMA tremble: Ronda Rousey. What do you think of her journey?

She comes from judo, I never fought her because we were not in the same categories (Morgane Ribout fought at -57kg, while Ronda Rousey fought at -70kg, Ed) but we participated in international training camps together. There was not much talk about her at the time other than because she was American and she had managed to bring back a medal from the Games, which is not a frequent achievement for the American team in judo .

Of course I have carefully observed her journey, which has fuelled and inspired me,  if only from the aspect of “it’s possible”. But it has also frustrated me on the other hand, because I watched her succeed as I continued in judo while at the bottom of me I wanted to do MMA.

How do you feel about your last years in judo?

It was very difficult because I continued to participate at a high level in sport without really wanting to. It was a vicious circle because the more one perseveres in this choice, the stronger the internal resistance and the worse the situation becomes. But when you are truly honest with yourself, you realise at some point that your place is no longer there.

I was lying to myself and the situation lasted for several years before I was really honest. I was uncomfortable, ill at ease and of course, it is in these situations that the injuries are connected! It was necessary to stop, it was no longer bearable. I told my family and my coaches. My coaches and support network were very classy because they were proud of my decision and supported me in my step.

Read the original French article by Marc Fayad: http://www.lepoint.fr/sport/exclusif-morgane-ribout-une-championne-du-monde-de-judo-passe-au-mma-06-12-2016-2088412_26.php

7th December 2016

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