Nicolini and her gold medal

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Nicolini, here sitting in front of Penny, explains her risky tactic. Photo: Ivan Trindade

Last year Michelle Nicolini (CheckMat)was runner-up in the world championship featherweight division. This year, in her own words she “aimed higher.” And she made the most of it at the 2010 Worlds that ended this Sunday.

But why did the black belt who even has an absolute title from 2007 on her CV decide to enter the medium heavyweight division, where she dethroned South Africa’s Penny Thomas (Gracie Humaitá)?

“It was because I was really anxious about the Worlds and couldn’t eat,” admitted Michelle to “As my friends and teammates weren’t dieting – all of them from the heavier weight groups – I wasn’t able to keep at weight. So I spoke with Luiza Monteiro, and we decided to both go in at medium heavyweight. The plan was to make it to the final and shut-out the division,” she explains.

But plans are just plans, a championship is a championship. And…

“So what happened was that Luiza didn’t perform well against Penny and lost the semifinal. So I had to look ahead to the final. I stopped thinking about how she is heavier and stronger than me. I pulled her into my guard, sought to use my “weird” guard and managed the advantage points. My guard didn’t work without flaws because I didn’t manage to sweep her; she lost her balance but didn’t fall. But I managed to climb up for a triangle, try a wrist lock and americana lock,” she recounts.

Then Michelle noticed what is most impressive about Penny:

“One thing struck me; she’s really flexible. So I started playing against time. I knew I had to hold her in the triangle till the end. There were four minutes to go! (laughs) So I stayed put until my leg couldn’t take it anymore. But when I finally let go there were only 40 seconds left on the clock.”

Last year as a featherweight. Photo: Regis Chen

From half-guard, Michelle set about hanging on to her opponent, the title, and the victory in the battle of fair warriors.

“Her foot was nearly out, but I kept my hold on her pants and managed to hang on. I was keeping tabs on the time, and in the end it was pure joy! The pressure she brought on towards the end made the match all the more exciting!”

And the São Paulo-native world champion is already planning her title defense: “I’m going to keep playing guard! I’ll be back at it at the Rio Open in July. is rooting for Penny Thomas to be there, too, for a beautiful rematch.

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