ONTARIO, Ca – With long locks like an ancient Greek warrior he resembled – think the movie 300 and Thermopylae – Elias Theodorou, 34, even called himself the Spartan when he was in the ring as a mixed martial artist – he also fought, and won, the right to use medical marijuana.
He couldn’t defeat the colon cancer that was discovered in January, and which metastasized to his liver, passing away on Sept. 11 in Woodbridge, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto, leaving behind the legacy of a champion for his cause outside the ring.
He is widely believed, said The New York Times in a feature on his life as a charismatic and charming athlete who was happy to be alive and compete, fighting with an analytic style that, like the late Bruce Lee, incorporated elements of different fighting styles.
While the focus may have been on when he was in the ring the light was also on his efforts to change the drug rules of his sport when – as he did when preparing to fight – carefully researched and built a case for the reasons why he had to use medical marijuana.
Theodorou, who suffered from bilateral neuropathy, which caused tingling pain in his hands and arms, told Forbes magazine in 2021 that, “What I’m striving for is an even playing field.”
He added: Anyone with the same kind of injury would be able to take a handful of Vicodin to go and fight and it wouldn’t be an issue.” It was a persuasive and convincing argument he used before a number of bodies that oversee the sport at different levels and he won.
Just like in the ring where after emerging as a star when he took up the sport in 2011 and was undefeated for four years, signing a contract with Ultimate Fighting Champion, the pinnacle, in 2014.
He wasn’t a showboat but fought meticulously and the paper said fans loved him for the humility and charm he brought to a sport that is otherwise humorless and almost a caricature of violence and self-aggrandizement.
UNDEFEATED IN DECENCY
“His personality just stood out, and he brought that into the fight,” Sarah Kaufman, a retired mixed martial arts fighter, told the paper’s Clay Risen. “He would just be really smart. He was strategic and thoughtful.”
He was self-effacing, not drawing attention to himself despite his success in a brutal sport where fans cheer on destruction, his long hair worn in cornrows in battle, calling himself “the Mane Event,” and getting a sponsorship deal with the shampoo brand Pert Plus.
He made friends with fighters and, the paper said, seemed in awe at his success, happy about “Me being me and people wanting to see that is cool. I’m just rolling with the punches – metaphorically speaking and literally inside the cage, too.”
A skateboarder when he was young, he took up the sport after a video of him being sucker punched went viral online and he wanted to learn how to defend himself, glad, he said, for the shot that took him down and turned him around.
“He was coming into mixed martial arts as a blank slate,” Chad Pearson, his wrestling coach, the the paper.
“Getting pieces from wrestling, getting pieces from jujitsu, getting pieces from striking, and he was literally creating his own set of techniques.”
Theodorou went 8-3 during his five years in the U.F.C., and 19-3 for his career but his deliberate style, despite his charisma, didn’t play well with making people erupt almost in rage and after a loss to American Derek Brunson in 2019 he was released from his contract.
So he developed a more aggressive style and went undefeated the rest of his career and fought for medical marijuana use, preparing for when his career was over, before the cancer struck.
“No one wants to get hit in the head forever,” he told The Chronicle Herald of Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 2016, “and I still want to find a life after fighting.”