Houston-area teen preparing for big jiu-jitsu competition

After trading in her ballet shoes for jiu-jitsu moves, a local teen is representing the Houston area going to one of the biggest competitions in the world.

For 13-year-old Sophia Gonzalez, the thrill of the fight keeps her coming back to the mat.

The Brazilian jiu-jitsu teen competitor also goes by the name "The Armbar Queen" because of her fierceness at executing the martial arts technique that can hyperextend an opponent's elbow

But four years ago, Sophia was training at a different kind of "barre", practicing pliés in ballet class until she started getting bullied at school. She would come home from school crushed from the name-calling; one time she returned with a black eye.

That was enough for Sophia’s mom.

"I was done watching her cry every day," says Romie Macias.

"You either put a stop to it, or they’re gonna keep bullying," she recalls telling her daughter before enrolling her in jiu-jitsu classes while they were living in El Paso.


Sophia took to the sport immediately and in four years became a champion fighter for her age group. Now a gray/black belt, she boasts 60 medals and sword prizes and has also been invited to 2022 Pan Kids in Orlando, Florida; it’s one of the biggest jiu-jitsu competitions in the world.

"All the best kids in the country go to compete in this one every year," says Steve Portillo, assistant head instructor and program director at Torres Jujitsu in Spring. 

As Sophia’s coach, Portillo is helping her fine tune her takedowns, working with her since her family moved to Houston last year.

"She has excelled not only in class but on the tournament scene as well," he says. "With the exception of one, she’s finished all her matches by submission."

Although Sophia has traded her ballet shoes for bare knuckles, she says her dance skills still come in handy.

"I’ve always been good with balance because of ballet. When I stay on my feet, you can’t take me down because I have really good balance," she says. 

In a sport slowly gaining popularity with girls, she's often had to compete against guys, and she wins.

"Boys used to say ‘I’m gonna bench you," [but] guess who got benched?" smiles Sophia. "The boy."

Competitions usually cost more than a $100 in fees plus food, gas, and sometimes overnight stays. Her parents also travel an hour each way, three times a week for her to train at Torres Jiu-jitsu. 

Not wanting to strain her family, Sophia started a self-care company to fund her fights. It’s called Relentless Beauty, named for the drive she shows on the mat.

"I’ve always been about the grind," she says.

Down the line, this grappling girl has even bigger dreams to become a black belt, open a store with her scrubs and salves, and get in the UFC.

As for those bullies, Sophia says they did stop messing with her after hearing about her sparring skills. The best revenge may be success on and off the mat for the ballerina turned girl boss with the makings of a champ.

To shop Sophia’s Etsy store or support her trip to PAN, visit https://www.instagram.com/charlize26/.