Don’t be surprised if the next time you see Elias Theodorou compete, he’s a different fighter than he was in the UFC.
“The Spartan” parted ways with the promotion last May coming off of a loss to Derek Brunson at UFC Ottawa, despite that being his first loss in four fights and his overall UFC record standing at 8-3. In those 11 appearances, Theodorou only logged two finishes — his last in March 2015 — and that lack of an exclamation point on his performances may have contributed to his departure.
In February, Theodorou became the first MMA fighter to receive a therapeutic use exemption for medical cannabis, which was granted to him by the British Columbia Athletic Commission. The 31-year-old Canadian has long been an advocate for the use of cannabis as a medical treatment and he has used it to help him to deal with bilateral neuropathy pain that affects his arms and hands.
Theodorou’s condition influenced his approach to his UFC fights, with cannabis strictly prohibited in competition under USADA guidelines, and he spoke about how much being able to self-medicate will benefit him in the future.
“I have bilateral neuropathy, so nerve damage of my upper extremities,” Theodorou said on Monday’s episode of The A-Side live chat. “My actual hands are where the issues are and a lot of my fighting style over the last couple of days was actually taking that into account and moving around it.
“Now, being able to medicate and not having those flare-ups that I normally have, because again putting your body through not only training and the condition that I already have and also the weight cut itself inhibits my ability to compete at a level playing field.”
Theodorou said that medical cannabis is useful both for calming his nerves and dealing with the pain management of a competitive fighting career. Athletes in pro sports are often prescribed opioids, pain killers, and other drugs to address their maladies, and Theodorou believes adding cannabis to that list is a matter of “medical equality.”
While he may have utilized different tactics inside the octagon with his bilateral neuropathy unchecked, Theodorou isn’t blaming his three UFC losses on not being allowed to medicate with cannabis.
“I fought some really tough guys and I won more than I’ve lost many times over,” Theodorou said. “The ones that I lost I wouldn’t chalk it up to anything in regards to inability to medicate. Each individual fight is each individual situation, so I’d never use an excuse, the better man won I would say. But again, the only people that I’ve ever lost to were top-10 in the world at the time, and one of those persons happened to be Thiago Santos. Even in that situation I was able to take everything he threw at me and never quit.
“One of the things I was able to learn from it is that even as a professional fighter, fight or flight is kind of still ingrained in us. Even when push comes to shove, I can still fight under the worst situations and in the bloodiest of wars.”
In celebration of “4/20” — the April 20 celebration widely recognized by cannabis culture — Theodorou was hoping to fight in April in British Columbia, where he was granted his exemption, though a bout was never finalized. Wherever he competes next, Theodorou is optimistic that his TUE will carry over to other jurisdictions.
“Because of the way that the whole system works in regards to the commissions, now that I got a therapeutic use exemption in one jurisdiction, most if not all should validate my exemption because of the way it all works out,” Theodorou said. “The case in point would be if someone got suspended for steroid use and they were suspended for a year in, let’s say, New York, California wouldn’t allow them to get registered until their suspension is over.
“Well, the same thing happens in positive rulings. That’s the case in regards to my therapeutic use exemption. There’s already preliminary conversations with other commissions that, again, once I get a fight booked in that area they’ll most likely validate my therapeutic use exemption. Obviously, it was a lot of hard work and it was able to [happen] because of me arguing my fundamental Canadian right to medicate as prescribed by my doctor in B.C., but now because of that ruling I’m able to take that precedent and run with it not only in B.C. but everywhere else I fight.”
Theodorou has already fought once since leaving the UFC, picking up a third-round finish against fellow big show vet Hernani Perpetuo at a show in Windsor, Ontario, last December. According to Theodorou, he was not tested for cannabis ahead of that fight and being able to self-medicate made a world of difference.
“In reality, that was the first fight I was able to medicate as prescribed by my doctor and obviously, the results show for themselves,” Theodorou said. “Competing at the highest level at the way I was because of the strict testing, in many ways I was competing at a disadvantage compared to other athletes that can medicate as prescribed by their doctors. So now with the TUE and other avenues to compete on a competitive playing field, I’m excited to keep that win streak going and smash the next person that stands in front of me.”