TORONTO — Elias (The Spartan) Theodorou, a charismatic mixed martial artist who campaigned successfully for the right to use medical marijuana as an athlete, has died. He was 34.
Jess Moran, his publicist confirmed that the former UFC fighter died Sunday in Toronto of liver cancer.
Theodorou, from Mississauga, Ont., packed a lot into his all-too-short life. He was an athlete, actor, model, stuntman, dancer, TV pitchman, Harlequin romance cover boy and cannabis advocate. He did it all with a smile.
"Your mom's favourite book cover. Your son's favourite fighter," Theodorou's Twitter bio read back in the day.
TSN fight analyst Robin Black, a friend and former fighter himself, said Theodorou had not shared his cancer diagnosis publicly. Black reckons Theodorou made that choice "because he couldn't bear to make people sad."
"He was a really really really special guy," said Black.
"A positive energy if ever there was one, a man who almost always flashed a winning smile, a man who spoke out about what he believed in," Canadian fighter Sarah Kaufman said on social media.
Theodorou took up MMA in 2009 after his first year at Humber College, where he studied creative advertising.
He made his pro debut in June 2011 and was 8-0-0 in 2013 when he joined the cast of "The Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada vs. Australia," an edition of the UFC's reality TV show featuring teams of aspiring Canadian and Australian MMA fighters.
Theodorou and 15 other fighters spent six weeks filming in a lodge in the woods about an hour outside of Montreal.
"It was an interesting and amazing experience," Theodorou said later.
But not without its drawbacks.
"I missed women," he added with no shortage of enthusiasm.
Theodorou earned his UFC contract in April 2014 when he stopped fellow Canadian Sheldon Westcott via second-round TKO in the TUF Nations finale in Quebec City.
He went on to win eight of 11 fights as a middleweight in the UFC but was cut after a May 2019 loss to Derek Brunson in Ottawa. While Theodorou had a winning record, his grinding style lacked the fireworks the promotion looks for. Nine of his 11 UFC bouts went to a decision.
Theodorou was a fighter with a big gas tank. He kept on the move, often lashing out with kicks or hanging on his opponent at the fence like a limpet as needed.
His last fight was a win over Bryan (The Beast) Baker last December on a Colorado Combat Club card. His pro record was 19 wins and three losses, with six wins in his last seven outings.
Theodorou campaigned for years to use medical marijuana in the sport, eventually securing a therapeutic use exemption for the marijuana he had been prescribed for bilateral neuropathic pain in his hands, wrists and elbows.
Theodorou, who said cannabis allowed him "to even the playing field and fight at a baseline level,” got the exemption in February 2020 from the B.C. Athletic Commission.
"RIP Elias Theodorou. A great person and a HUGE voice for the more fair and equitable treatment of marijuana use in MMA and sport," tweeted Jeff Novitzky, the UFC's senior vice-president of athlete health and performance.
To call Theodorou a people person did not do him justice.
"I'm a very big extrovert," he once said with a grin. "A stranger is just a friend you haven't met."
He served as eye candy/bartender on the TV show "Dragon's Den" for a "Martini on Wheels" pitch. While it went down in flames, Theodorou still saw it as a win.
"Being on TV is always a good thing," he said.
Theodorou used whatever he could to add another ribbon to his extensive bow. He said he owed his work as cover boy to part of his anatomy.
"For whatever reason, Harlequin seems to like my butt," he explained.
"I like to think I'm Fabio 2.0 with punches and kicks," he joked.
He also made the most of his flowing locks, becoming the "North American brand ambassador" for Pert Plus shampoo and conditioner. Theodorou billed himself as having "the best hair in combat sports."
It was just one of many pokers in his fire.
"Hard work gets you more hard work," he said happily.
He helped pay for his training via Fund a Fighter, a website that allows fans to contribute to fighters. Some contributors got a T-shirt. One woman paid $500 for a date.
He also appeared on "The Match Game" on The Comedy Network.
"I throw it out there and see what happens," he said.
"As a necessity of coming up as a mixed martial artist, you have to have your hands in every single cookie jar," he explained.
In March 2018, he took a sexist stereotype and turned it on its head by becoming a ring boy for the all-female Invicta FC promotion.
"Elias was truly a kind, humble and charismatic personality who will be missed greatly by all," Invicta said in a tweet.
Theodorou, then ranked 14th among 185-pound contenders, needed 10 stitches to close a diagonal cut on his forehead caused by a clash of heads in a UFC bout with Trevor (Hot Sauce) Smith in May 2018.
"Well, chicks dig scars,” Theodorou said with a smile post-fight. “And luckily so does my girlfriend."
UFC fighter Michael Chiesa recalled how on a trip to EXOS, an athlete performance centre, he was called to a news conference on late notice. Theodorou, seeing his friend worry that he wasn't dressed for the occasion, took off his jacket and gave it to him.
"I never got a chance to give it back to him," Chiesa, holding up the jacket, said in a video posted Monday on social media. "That's the type of guy he was. And while I'm sad like a lot of people — he touched a lot of lives — I have to remember I'm very blessed that I had had the friendship I had with him and the countless great memories that I have with him. Rest in peace, Elias."
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 12, 2022.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press