Liana Mutia (right-center) poses on the podium at the 2022 IBSA Judo World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan.
Liana Mutia doesn’t like to leave anything to chance.
She admitted she’s a big planner, both in her personal life and when she’s competing in judo.
Not surprisingly, Mutia said she came up with around 5-10 game plans ahead of her matches earlier this month at the International Blind Sports Association Judo World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan.
The 24-year-old native of Raleigh, North Carolina, has been involved in judo long enough to know that nothing ever seems to go according to plan. However, she knew she would earn a medal at the world championships for a very simple reason.
“I wanted to medal, so I did,” said Mutia, who went completely blind at age 17 because of an eye condition.
Mutia felt confident heading into the world championships, which marked her first major judo tournament since making her Paralympic debut at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.
She said she feels faster and stronger on the mat since moving to a lower weight class. She fought at 63 kg. in Tokyo, but she’s now competing at 57 kg.
Despite being seeded 15th in Baku, Mutia used her signature move — a seoi nage (shoulder throw) — to advance through the tournament and earn a bronze medal. In doing so, she became the first American woman to medal at the IBSA world championships in 11 years.
“I knew that my judo and my conditioning were fine. The only thing I was nervous about was making the new weight class because at that time I hadn’t fought at 57 kilos since 2019, so three years,” Mutia said. “But I went there with the mindset knowing that I was going to make the weight, even if I was going to be a little grumpy the whole time.”
Afterward, Mutia told her coaches that she expects the next four years to be “really good” for her as she prepares for the Paralympic Games Paris 2024.
Mutia lives in Philadelphia, where she works as a software engineer and trains at the El Idrissi Judo Academy. Along with trying to plan as much as possible, she has a way of keeping things simple when she’s fighting.
“I do one throw and about one throw only,” Mutia said. “And it’s taken me to both the Paralympics and a bronze medal in the worlds.”
Mutia’s parents told her she needed to compete in a sport in high school, so she chose wrestling on a whim. She initially got interested in judo as a way to stay in shape in the offseason.
When Mutia was a high school senior, she caught the attention of USA Judo coaches, thanks to several news stories done on her. She had been competing in judo for only three years, but not at a serious level.
“I was just kind of surprised, and I just rolled with the punches. At that time, I didn’t know I had a future in the sport,” Mutia said. “I was just like ‘Well, they’re giving me this opportunity, so I might as well take it.’”
Mutia said she started thinking about qualifying for the Paralympics as soon as she transitioned from wrestling to judo. She made it a reality last summer when she earned a trip to Tokyo.
“I didn’t medal unfortunately, so I’m really disappointed about that. But honestly, it kind of felt like a dream come true,” Mutia said. “Like all those years I had spent working toward this goal, and I finally achieved it.
“I don’t really think it settled in that I had gone to Tokyo as a Paralympian until, I think, maybe a few weeks, maybe even months after.”
Mutia said she feels like she can overpower more fighters now that she’s competing at 57 kg. Her decision to move down in weight classes was a fairly easy one.
She had to decide for the world championships to either fight at 70 kg. or 57 kg.
“I’m really short. I’m 5-1 on a good day, and if I were to fight at 70 kilos, I’d be way too short and way too small,” Mutia said. “It would be way too dangerous. I’d probably get hurt, so I decided to go down.”
As with everything in Mutia’s life, she already has a plan for the next few years. She said she’d like to develop a second throw in judo and compete in the next two Paralympics before retiring before her 30th birthday.
“I’m taking it one at a time,” Mutia said. “But I definitely think that I’m going to go retire in L.A. in 2028 simply because it’s my home country and I think it would be an honor to both retire there and take a medal there at the same time.”