One-time Bikini Olympia competitor Monique Ricardo swapped her sparkly bathing suit and heels for a gi and discovered she had a knack for choking people out.
Monique Ricardo is a long-legged, soft-spoken Virginia native armed with enough Southern charm to kill you with kindness. In 2008, she started transitioning from IFBB pro bikini competitor to Brazilian jiu-jitsu, in which she has become a champion and acquired the skills to twist you into a human pretzel.
After placing eighth at the 2010 Bikini Olympia, Ricardo scaled back on competing to focus on BJJ. The move proved successful, as she went on to win multiple tournaments, all while raising two kids with her husband in Dallas. She hasn’t stepped on an IFBB stage since 2014 but uses her experience and gym training to better her execution on the mat.
We got a chance to chat with her and talk about her transition from Olympia to fighting.
M&F Hers: Do you have plans to compete in bikini again?
MR: At this point, no. This is my first year as a black belt, and I’m focused on establishing my name in that world. Last June, I competed in the IBJJF World tournament, which is like the Mr. Olympia for jiu-jitsu, and I got third place.
What got you into training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu?
My now-husband Eddie—he was my friend at the time—teaches BJJ and wanted me to take classes with him. At first I thought it was awkward, but I stayed.
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How long did you train in BJJ before you entered tournaments?
After three weeks I won my first tournament with a guillotine choke.
Was it difficult when you were starting out being a female in a male-dominated sport?
I’m not very athletic, and this was really the first sport that I played, so that was really weird. In BJJ, you have to keep your weight right on top of the person and you need to close the space so you become one with the person. It took me a long time to get that down because I did not want to get so close [laughs]. Now I have to be careful when I train with the men because no guys want a girl to beat them.
It’s looked down upon in martial arts to focus on just size. Is there any truth to that?
To an extent, because you’ll see really big guys come in, and it delays the learning process. They try to put their strength into everything, which can work against you in BJJ. At first you may be able to rely on strength, but as you move up in rank the technique will trump muscle. Jiu-jitsu is designed for the smaller guy to beat the bigger one.
How is your training structured?
It’s a combination of everything. I’ll hit weights in the morning—I follow a normal bodybuilding training split— teach a little while watching the kids in the afternoon, and then get my jiu-jitsu practice in at night.
Did anything change when you began to get more serious about martial arts?
I cut back on my leg training. When I do hit legs, it’s on Friday so I have the whole weekend to recover. If not, I wouldn’t be able to hold my guard.
How has your time as an IFBB pro helped when creating a diet for BJJ?
Bodybuilding taught me a lot about nutrition. I eat a lot of protein, get a good mix of greens, and I love oat bran. I just have to eat more since I burn so many more calories. I love, love, love to cook, though. A typical cheat meal for me would be a burger with sweet potato fries or a Brazilian pizza [thin crust with nontraditional toppings such as corn, quail, curried chicken, eggs, raisins, and bananas].
What’s more difficult: prepping for a bikini show or getting ready for a BJJ tournament?
Definitely getting ready for a jiu-jitsu tournament. I’m a routine-oriented person, so the bikini-show diet is easy for me, and I like stepping onstage. BJJ is different; there’s anxiety, the pressure of the tournament, and the self-doubt. You have to conquer your mind. It’s a game of human chess, and even when you get your black belt, the learning never stops. You learn a lot about yourself because you have to conquer yourself and overcome your fears.
[BJJ] is a game of human chess, and even when you get your black belt, the learning never stops. You learn a lot about yourself because you have to conquer yourself and overcome your fears.
Have you ever prepped for both at the same time?
Yes! My last bikini show—the  Europa in Dallas—was tough because I fight in the medium–heavy division (around 165 pounds), but I step onstage at 138. The weight change made me switch up my game plan. When you’re bigger, you can pull off different moves more easily, so I had to adapt to being more mobile but not as strong.
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Birth Date: Aug. 17, 1984
Birthplace: Portsmouth, VA
Resides: Dallas, TX
Weight: 152 lbs
>Continue To Page 2 For Tips From Monique
Monique’s Punching Basics
Hook: Instead of punching straight as you would with a jab, make an arc with your arm, hitting from the side as you pivot your hips and legs. Focus on engaging your obliques, biceps, and shoulders throughout. Do each side for 30 seconds.
Cross Punch: Throw your force into each cross punch, keeping your abs tight and your face protected with your nonworking hand. Alternate arms.
Kicking: Take a small step outward with your lead foot; pivot on the balls of your feet and turn your hips over as you throw the kick.
Uppercut: Keep both arms bent at the elbow, shoulder-width apart. From a fighter stance, flex both arms, and alternate upward punches with each arm in a staccato motion. This will help strengthen your biceps and engage your core as you punch. Alternate sides for time.
Jab Punch: Extend your lead arm, making sure to turn it over so your shoulder protects your jaw. While one arm is extended, the other should be at your face. After the punch lands, immediately bring it back into place.
Left Hook: The wrist is a sensitive area. Be sure to keep it tight when striking the bag.
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Perform these combos for 30 seconds, then rest for 15 seconds and repeat.
Combo 1: Left jab, right cross, left hook, right cross
Combo 2: Left uppercut, right uppercut, left hook, right hook
Combo 3: Left Jab, right jab, left uppercut, right cross, left hook, right cross
Two rounds per combo may not seem like much, but boxing is a high-intensity workout that will burn you out pretty quickly. After a week, try adding one set per combo.