Greek-Canadian MMA, or Mixed Martial Arts, fighters Tom Theocharis and Elias Theodorou lead successful athletic careers in popular sport while maintaining their friendship and deep connection to their ancestral homeland, Greece.
Theocharis and Theodorou have a lot in common, as they are both MMA fighters who grew up in Canada and share a Greek heritage. The couple have remained together during the coronavirus pandemic, training for future fights and even acting as a very important reminder of their family’s roots in the cold country.
Meet the Greek-Canadian MMA fighters returning to the sport
Elias “The Spartan” Theodorou, who fights in the middleweight division, won the very first professional fight he participated in in 2011. Since then, Theodorou’s career took off and he fought for the Ultimate Fighting Championship ( UFC) for six years. His record in the UFC was very impressive and he placed 13th until the end of his working time with the UFC.
Theodorou made history when, in 2020, he became the first professional athlete in North America to receive a therapeutic use authorization 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. Welterweight, his first pro fight was in 2017, but unfortunately his career had to be put on hiatus during the throes of the pandemic as almost all sporting events were called off.
However, Theocharis’ commitment to the sport has not wavered, 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 developments in the near future.
What is mixed martial arts?
In an exclusive interview with Greek journalist, Theocharis has disclosed details about the sport, his career and his relationship with fellow Greek-Canadian MMA fighter Theodorou.
First off, an introduction to the game – MMA, also known as No Limit Fighting or Ultimate Fighting – is a full contact combat sport.
“So there are several different disciplines that MMA fighters like me and Elias study and train,” says Theocharis.
“There is a wrestling side. There is also kickboxing, Muay Thai, boxing and jujitsu. These are the top five martial arts that professional MMA fighters teach, train and learn. So with all these facets, we train every day to compete, ”he explains.
Although mixed martial arts are now a well-known sport around the world, it is in fact a very recent phenomenon.
“MMA was established in 1993 in America. The UFC was the first, largest and most important organization on the planet. It then spread widely – there is fighting in Japan, there is fighting all over Asia, there is fighting in Europe now. So now it’s become a mainstream sport since 1993, ”explained the Greek-Canadian MMA fighter.
The UFC is a promotional company based in Las Vegas, Nevada. The company still has some of the biggest stars in MMA on its roster and is one of the biggest event planners in the sport. It has television offerings around the world, including the United States, Australia, Asia, and Europe, and is widely credited with the growing popularity of MMA.
Theocharis had a bit more information to share on how the sport has grown in popularity over the past few years, which has seen some of its biggest stars become household names.
“It started to become a mainstream sport around 2010, I would say. “UFC 100” (an event hosted in mid-2009 by the UFC) was a milestone for the UFC. He had the largest audience ever recorded at that time.
“A big part of the UFC now is Conor McGregor – he’s attracted a lot of new fans as well. And there was just a wave of superstars like Georges St. Pierre from Canada, Brock Lesnar who was in WWE… those stars actually helped make the sport what it is today.
Jump head first during a global pandemic
While Theocharis is not a newcomer to contact sports, he has made a big decision that will help him fully devote himself to the sport in early 2020, just before the announcement of a near-global lockdown due to the new coronavirus.
“I started to get into sports in 2009, I think. I started with kickboxing. Obviously I’m from Canada so I grew up playing (which is) huge hockey here in Canada. Then I kind of quit when I was 15. And then I started watching the UFC a lot more and that was something that really interested me.
“So I started at this karate / kickboxing gym in Stratford where I grew up, then I finally moved to London, Ontario where I started training MMA with my gym there- low. And then now I live in Toronto. My first MMA fight was in 2014, ”Theocharis told Greek journalist.
However, the career of the Greek-Canadian MMA fighter has not been without obstacles.
“My parents didn’t want me to fight; I was fighting behind their back, and then I was fighting in America, and then they would find out and they would really get mad at me. But eventually, they realized that I wasn’t stopping, and they are supporting me now, ”explained Theocharis, showing some of the growing pains associated with playing contact sport.
However, in February 2020, Theocharis decided to take the opportunity to advance his career. He moved from London, Ontario to Toronto to be closer to where he trains for MMA, and began 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 practicing the same sport, they are an indispensable resource for each other.
“I was obviously a huge fan of him when he was in the UFC because he’s a Greek Canadian. I’ve always been so proud of being Greek and of my heritage, and I love the culture, ”Theocharis said of the time before he knew Theodorou personally.
When Theocharis moved to Toronto, the couple began training together. During the early stages of the pandemic, Greek-Canadian MMA fighters grew closer and began training together more often, meeting at some point on a daily basis.
“Finally, we just started hanging out after the gym. And he’s really teaching me a lot, because he’s obviously a lot more experienced than me. And he’s also a very good fighter.
“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 who is Greek, and also Canadian, to look up to. He’s a great training partner and friend, ”Theocharis said of his current relationship with fellow Greek MMA fighter Theodorou.
“So we instantly connected just because we’re both Greek. And you know, every time you meet a Greek in Canada, you instantly have a connection to it, ”Theocharis noted, showing the connection that Greeks in the diaspora share.
Theocharis is looking forward to his next fight, which will take place on September 11, 2021 in Johannesburg, South Africa. He has to face South African MMA fighter Pietie “Thunder” Coxen.