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Always a teacher at heart, UFC vet George Sotiropoulos opens his own gym in Melbourne

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Gallery Photo: George Sotiropoulos Photos
George Sotiropoulos retired from MMA in 2014.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

During the sugar boom that MMA underwent from 2006 to 2015, George Sotiropoulos experienced just about as many highs and lows as any one fighter can. For the first half of that period, he won 11 of 12 fights, including seven in a row to kick off his UFC career. As a crafty grappler with plenty of tricks up his sleeve, he tapped out the likes of George Roop and Jason Dent during that run. His last victory — a submission against Joe Lauzon at UFC 123 in Detroit — had him right at the doorstep of title contention in the lightweight division.

Then the second half happened, and once again MMA proved what a cruel mistress she can be.

Sotiropoulos suffered his first loss in over four years against Dennis Siver at UFC 127, then got knocked out less than five months later against Rafael dos Anjos. The slide continued as he lost to Ross Pearson and K.J. Noons before getting his pink slip from the UFC. The last time Sotiropoulos competed in a prizecage — at Titan FC 29 — was in 2014. At that point he put his fighting career on hold and began to compact his experience as a whole.

So what has he been doing since then? Traveling. Training. Teaching. And ultimately formulating a plan to open up his own mixed martial arts gym, which he finally did on April 7. His 4,300-square foot Omega Jiu-Jitsu & MMA is now open for business in heart of Melbourne, Australia, and Sotiropoulos has a place to impart the breadth of his knowledge — tactical, psychological, emotional — to his students.

“Omega” because it combines greatness with Greek, which is an apt name for fighter of Greek heritage.

Courtesy of George Sotiropoulos

“I really wanted to make it a true martial arts facility, because when I traveled [around], I was going to certain places that things would be a certain way,” he told MMA Fighting. “I would imagine when I’d go to certain places that it would be like a collegiate wrestling room for all areas of training. Like striking, like the wrestling, and the groundwork. Some places had aspects of that, others didn’t. So that’s how I’m trying to create Omega — I’m looking to make the striking experience a complete experience. The same with the wrestling. The same with the groundwork. I want to create a complete experience for all those areas.”

Sotiropoulos gained recognition in the United States as a serious-minded competitor on The Ultimate Fighter 6, having made a run during the season defeating Jared Rollins and Richie Hightower. He ended up losing in the semifinals of the exhibition bracket against Tom Speer after an incidental eye poke hindered him. Still, his no-nonsense approach to fighting and his slick grappling skills distinguished him from the field heading into the Finale, where he submitted Billy Miles to officially kick off his career.

The one thing that always stood out that he was an eternal student of the game. Not only that, but a teacher deep down in his core. The glimpses of that were evident during his coaching stint opposite Pearson on TUF: The Smashes, the show that sprang Robert Whittaker onto the scene. That’s one of the reasons he wanted to create an environment that would suit his fellow Australians in learning all the aspects of MMA the right way from the word go.

“[Usually when] you go to a gym and there is a kickboxing coach, a boxing coach, a wrestling coach, and then somebody doing jiu-jitsu,” he says. “They’re all different people and they all have different visions as well as experience. I’m looking to use my experience in MMA and my visions and experience in the UFC, to create that complete experience.”

With Sydney’s Whittaker having won a UFC title — and Oceanic fighters like Israel Adesanya, Tai Tuivasa and Alexander Volkanovski on the rise — Australia has emerged as a hotbed for MMA. Sotiropoulos moved back to Australia in 2016 after many years in Vancouver and New York, and he has watched its organic growth with a keen eye.

He says it was only a matter of time before the sport began to make true headway in places like Asia, the United Kingdom and Australia — places that have always had occasional talent, but now boast numbers. With that kind of parity, geographic enthusiasm also grows for the product. Given his name and accomplishments in his native country, Sotiropoulos says it’s the right time for him to open the school in Victoria, just a “20-minute jog from downtown Melbourne.”

“It’s the cycle of growth,” Sotiropoulos says. “Just like when jiu-jitsu came around, it was like the new martial art of the 1990s and 2000s. There was like one guy in New York — it was Renzo Gracie. Everybody went to him. Then all his black belts spread out, and they’ve all become affiliates, and they’re all along New York, and Long Island, and New Jersey, and up in Connecticut, and it spreads from there. Same in the West coast with other Gracies and the Machado brothers, and down in Florida with the American Top Team.”

If Sotiropoulos, who is now 40 years old, has grown wiser during his time involved in MMA, it’s that he has learned to take from his career as a whole. The good, the bad and the ugly, the highs and lows, the wins and losses.

“They say you learn more from your losses than you do your victories, that’s true — but, I’ve got a lot of experience,” he says. “I think that I understand people better. You understand what works, what doesn’t. So it’s experience in general. All that experience I got.”

As for whether or not we’ll see him fight again, even Sotiropoulos doesn’t know — or if he does, he’s keeping it to himself. When asked if he is officially retired with the opening of Omega MMA, he says he hasn’t. In fact, he handles the “R” word delicately, as if with tongs.

“I haven’t retired, I haven’t stepped away from the sport,” he says. “Right now my focus is on getting this academy up and running and making this a success.

“I had a really good run when I was with the UFC, I was on a good roll and I did get a lot of recognition for it. I don’t think I got to show my best, so I understand when you say some guys don’t get the recognition. I’ve tasted victory, and I’ve tasted defeat, and I’ve experienced both ends of the spectrum.”

For “Sots”, the plan from the early days was to segue at some point from active competition into the broader world of running a gym. Omega is his comeback (for now), and it has over 2,000 square foot of mat space that he intends to make compete martial artists on.

“I always knew that I would go into owning a school, because I was running my own school,” he says. “I was traveling and training in seven different places, and I realized I had learned so much. I just wanted to have my own place at that point. I always did, but I was traveling around always looking for the best training. But I already had all the tools that I needed.”