Greek-Canadian MMA, or Mixed Martial Arts, fighters Tom Theocharis and Elias Theodorou are managing successful athletic careers in the popular sport while they maintain their friendship and deep ties to their ancestral homeland of Greece.
Theocharis and Theodorou have a lot in common, as they are both MMA fighters who grew up in Canada and share Greek heritage. The pair have stuck together during the coronavirus pandemic, training for future fights and even acting as an all-important reminders of their familys’ roots back in the cold country.
Meet the Greek-Canadian MMA fighters taking over the sport
Elias “The Spartan” Theodorou, who fights in the middleweight division, won the very first professional fight he took part in back in 2011. Since then, Theodorou’s career has taken off, and he fought for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) for six years. His record in the UFC was very impressive, and he was ranked 13th until the end of his time working with the UFC.
Theodorou made history when, in 2020, he became the first professional athlete in North America to receive a Therapeutic Use Exemption for medical cannabis. This means that the Greek-Canadian MMA fighter is able to use cannabis for pain management and treatment without fear of being suspended from the sport.
Tom “The Greek Warrior” Theocharis is an upstart from Stratford, Ontario who is now based in Toronto. A welterweight, his first pro fight was in 2017, but unfortunately his career had to be put on pause during the throes of the pandemic since almost all sporting events were cancelled.
However, Theocharis’ dedication to the sport did not waver, and in February 2021, he was able to return to the ring for his first fight in almost a year and a half. Now, he is planning even more major career moves for the near future.
What is Mixed Martial Arts?
In an exclusive interview with Greek Reporter, Theocharis divulged details about the sport, his career, and his relationship with fellow Greek-Canadian MMA fighter Theodorou.
First, an introduction to the game — MMA, also known as no holds barred or ultimate fighting — is a full-contact combat sport.
“So there’s several different disciplines that MMA fighters like myself and Elias study and train,” Theocharis states.
“There’s a wrestling aspect. There’s also kickboxing, Muay Thai, boxing and jujitsu. These are the five prominent martial arts that professional MMA fighters teach, train, and learn. So with all these facets, we’re training every single day in order to compete,” he explains.
Even though mixed martial arts is now a well-known sport across the globe, it is actually a very recent phenomenon.
“MMA was first established in 1993, in America. The UFC was the first, largest, and most prominent organization on the planet. It then spread widely — there’s fights in Japan, there’s fights all over Asia, there’s fights in Europe now. So now it’s become a mainstream sport since 1993,” the Greek-Canadian MMA fighter related.
The UFC is a promotion company based in Las Vegas, Nevada. The company always has some of the biggest MMA stars around on its roster, and is one of the biggest event organizers in the sport. It has TV deals all over the world, including in the US, Australia, Asia, and Europe, and is largely credited for the increasing popularity of MMA.
Theocharis had a bit more insight to share on how the sport grew in popularity over the past few years, resulting in some its biggest stars becoming household names.
“It began becoming a mainstream sport roughly around 2010, I would say. “UFC 100” (an event held in mid-2009 by the UFC) was a huge milestone for the UFC. It had the largest audience ever recorded at that time.
“A big part of the UFC now is Conor McGregor — he brought in a lot of new fans as well. And there’s just been a wave of superstars like Georges St. Pierre from Canada, Brock Lesnar who used to be in the WWE… these stars actually helped build the sport to what it is today.”
Jumping in headfirst during a global pandemic
Although Theocharis is no newcomer to contact sports, he made a big decision which will help him to dedicate himself fully to the sport in early 2020, just before the news of an almost global lockdown due to the novel coronavirus broke.
“I first started getting into the sport in 2009, I believe it was. I started with kickboxing. Obviously I’m from Canada, so I grew up playing hockey (which is) huge here in Canada. Then, I kind of stopped when I was 15. And then I started watching the UFC a lot more and then it was something I was really interested in.
“So I began in this karate/kickboxing gym in Stratford, where I grew up, and then eventually I moved to London, Ontario, where I started training MMA with my gym there. And then now I’m living in Toronto. My first MMA fight was in 2014,” Theocharis recounted to Greek Reporter.
However, the Greek-Canadian MMA fighter’s career has not been obstacle-free.
“My parents didn’t want me to be fighting; I would fight behind their back, and then like, I would be fighting in the States, and then they’d find out and they’d get really upset at me. But eventually, they realized I’m not stopping, and they support me now,” Theocharis shared, showing some of the growing pains associated with playing a contact sport.
However, in February of 2020, Theocharis decided to take an opportunity to advance his career. He moved from London, Ontario, to Toronto in order to be closer to where he trains for MMA, and started coaching and training full time.
A Greek support system
Theocharis going pro and deciding to dedicate himself to the sport also meant that the fighter developed a support system in MMA. He met Theodorou, and the two clicked; coming from the same background and being in the same sport, they are an indispensable resource to each other.
“I was obviously a big fan of him when he was in the UFC because he’s a Greek-Canadian. I’ve always been so proud to be Greek and of my heritage, and I just love the culture,” Theocharis said of the time before he knew Theodorou personally.
When Theocharis moved to Toronto, the pair began training together. During the initial stages of the pandemic, the Greek-Canadian MMA fighters grew close, and began training together more often, at some point meeting daily.
“Eventually, we just started hanging out after the gym. And he really teaches me a lot, because he’s obviously much more experienced than me. And he’s a really good fighter as well.
“So he’s always there to teach me, and be my buddy and (is) just there to support me. So it’s really nice to have someone that’s Greek, and Canadian as well, to look up to. He’s a great training partner and friend,” Theocharis said of his current relationship to fellow Greek MMA fighter Theodorou.
“So we instantly just connected just because we’re both Greeks. And you know, whenever you meet someone Greek in Canada, you instantly have a connection with that,” Theocharis remarked, showing the bond that Greeks of the diaspora share.
Theocharis is looking forward to his next fight, due to take place on September 11, 2021 in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is due to face South African MMA fighter Pietie “Thunder” Coxen.