Canadian MMA fighter and medical cannabis patient Elias Theodorou, the first professional athlete to obtain and compete with a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) for medical cannabis in North America, passed away on September 11 from Stage 4 colon cancer. He was 34.
Theodorou obtained his TUE in January 2020 after a four-year fight to prove how opioids and other prescription painkillers negatively impacted his martial arts training. He fought two fights, one in Victoria, British Columbia, and the other in Greeley, Colo., under this exemption.
Theodorou’s family released the following statement on Sept. 12 via the fighter’s publicist, Jessica Moran:
“Elias ‘The Spartan’ Theodorou answered his final bell yesterday, September 11th, 2022. He passed peacefully at home with his family and loved ones in his corner after a hard-fought fight with colon cancer that metastasized. He faced his end as he lived his life: eternally, irrationally, and infectiously optimistic.”
Beyond his personal use, Theodorou was an ardent supporter of medical cannabis access for athletes. He was a member of Athletes for CARE (A4C), a nonprofit organization advocating for the health, safety and wellbeing of athletes globally by improving health and wellness options for those living with mental and physical illnesses including chronic pain, depression, anxiety, PTSD, CTE, TBI, substance abuse and opioid dependency.
“Elias paved the way for future athletes,” A4C shared in a statement to Cannabis Business Times. “A4C is built off of mostly retired athletes who were pretty hurt by the sport they were in. Elias was one of the few active athletes working with the organization. Everyone at A4C believes in cannabis as a therapeutic option, and he was the leader of the pack with that group. He’ll be sorely missed as a base case.
“The work that he did and the foundation he laid with the therapeutic use exception will be felt by Athletes for CARE athletes, and all athletes and cannabis users, for years to come.”
Moran also shared a personal statement with CBT, noting how Theodorou would spare no effort to help those in need despite his position with the biggest promotion in mixed martial arts.
“I have a special-needs daughter with mental health issues, and we treat her with medical cannabis, too,” Moran said. “What he did for her to get her access to medical cannabis was amazing. He practiced what he preached. He was blessed with physical abilities, but he had all the time in the world to help and that’s what made him very, very special.”
Theodorou joined the UFC in 2014 after winning “The Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada vs. Australia,” a reality competition featuring athletes from both countries. He compiled an 8-3 record before his release from the promotion in 2015. He had an overall professional record of 19-3, according to Sherdog.com. His most recent fight was a victory in December for the Colorado Combat Club promotion.
It was after his release from the UFC that he was able to focus on getting his TUE. In a March 2021 interview with Forbes, Theodorou said, “[It] wasn’t until I was a free agent that I could continue being an agent of change for cannabis in athletics.”
“The fact that he left the UFC and took that on his own shoulders and said no to a lot of money and a lot of big contracts to do what he felt was right and do what he truly believed in is incredible,” Moran added. “He used his fame from the UFC and his acting and modeling stuff to move that needle forward to fight the stigma. He was very passionate about it, clearly, and that really made him special.”
Theodorou was a featured speaker at many cannabis industry events, including Lift & Co., which released a statement on Twitter following his death:
With heavy hearts, we say goodbye to a great friend of Lift&Co. Expo, Elias Theodorou. An MMA Fighter & Athlete Ambassador @Athletes4CARE Elias was the 1st pro athlete sanctioned to compete with a medical cannabis exemption in Canada & USA. Our prayers are with his loved ones. pic.twitter.com/3YU2S4vCCS
— Lift & Co. Expo (@liftandco) September 12, 2022
UFC’s Senior VP of Athlete Health and Performance Jeff Novitzky underscored Theodorou’s work for cannabis patient access, tweeting on Sunday: “RIP Elias Theodorou. A great person and a HUGE voice for the more fair and equitable treatment of marijuana use in MMA and sport.”
Athletes around the UFC and the martial arts world shared their memories of Theodorou on social media.
Derek Brunson, with whom Theodorou shared the octagon in his final fight with the UFC, shared how it “[was] a pleasure sharing the octagon with you. Elias Theodorou was 8-2 [sic] in the UFC & left the UFC due to standing up for what he believed in. He was 19-3 as a martial artist and from all accounts was a great person. RIP my brother, a true Canadian ???? pioneer ! ????”
Was a pleasure sharing the octagon with you . Elias Theodorou was 8-2 in the UFC & left the UFC due to standing up for what he believed in . He was 19-3 as a martial artist and from all accounts was a great person . RIP my brother, a true Canadian ???? pioneer ! ???? pic.twitter.com/SOC7nOxJJ1
— Derek Brunson (@DerekBrunson) September 12, 2022
On a video posted to his Twitter page, UFC welterweight fighter Michael Chiesa remembered Theodorou not for his advocacy, but for his unwavering willingness to support his friends. Chiesa pulled out a jacket that Theodorou gave him off of his back when Chiesa was caught needing to give a press conference without a collared shirt. Chiesa noted in the video how “I instantly found a friend the moment I met him.”
— Michael Chiesa (@MikeMav22) September 12, 2022
In addition to his fighting career, Theodorou was a stuntman and model, as well as an ambassador for Pert Plus shampoo (thanks to his flowing locks) and Amazing Race Canada contestant.
There will be a public viewing from 5-9pm Wednesday, Sept. 14, at Vescio Funeral Home, 8101 Weston Road in Woodbridge, Ontario.
In lieu of flowers, Theodorou’s family asks the public to donate to Theodorou’s two foundations, Theodorou Foundation & Higher Access. Both of these were founded to help others facing barriers accessing hospital support and medical cannabis. Donations can be made to the family’s GoFundMe, which was set up for those interested in giving to the new foundations.