While the decision wasn’t easy, it appears as if the choice for Vanessa Demopoulos to leave the world of exotic dancing created a domino effect of positivity for her MMA career.
“Lil Monster” got quite a bit of attention for her post-fight scrum following her submission win at UFC 270 over Silvana Gomez Juarez after revealing she quit her job as an exotic dancer to focus on MMA full-time.
The extra focus certainly paid off, as she recovered from a huge right hand from Juarez en route to a slick armbar to force a tap just before the halfway point of the opening round.
“I said [I worked as an exotic dancer for] 13 years, but it was longer than that, because I started dancing at 18 years old,” Demopoulos told MMA Fighting. “I’m 33 now, I’ve written two books on the industry, I grew up in the industry, and walking away from it was one of the scariest things I have ever done. It’s just so scary, man, because that was the way I was making money all of these years to fight full-time.
“I was working at night, training all day, but I was only able to work two nights a week. I was like, ‘F*ck! Do I want to make a few dollars? Or do I want to recover and sleep, and make sure I’m taking care of my body and mental space so I can perform better in the cage?’ I literally wrote this thing on my [whiteboard], ‘Bust your ass for thousands vs. shaking it for dollars.’ That was my big thing this whole camp. I looked at that every single morning.”
The first octagon win for Demopoulos netted her a $24,000 fight purse — which included a $12,000 win bonus — along with her very first “Performance of the Night” bonus, which couldn’t have come at a better time after making a life-altering decision heading into a big fight.
“I didn’t have a lot of money,” Demopoulos said. “It’s not like I was good [financially] — I wasn’t good, dude. I wasn’t good, and I made the decision and walked away. If it wasn’t for sponsors, there’s no freaking way I’d be able to do any of that. It was a scary time.”
In her octagon debut, the former LFA strawweight champion dropped a unanimous decision to JJ Aldrich at UFC Vegas 35 in August. Perhaps in a must-win scenario, Demopoulos determined that leaving her job as an exotic dancer needed to happen after weighing out all of the different options in play.
When the dust settled, the 11-fight pro knew she had to take her UFC opportunity and run with it — not to mention, she could still dance whenever she wanted, which is what she loved about the job most.
“I had conversations with myself when I was making this decision — I went through all of these different scenarios,” Demopoulos said. “‘What if you quit and you still win? What if you don’t quit and you still win?’ I mean, I had been dancing all of these years, and I won quite a few fights, and the reason that I’m so freaking strong is because I’m always so exhausted, and I just f*cking do it anyways, man. There’s no quit in me, because I’ve got to do what I’ve got do.
“But to be able to rest and recover, that was life-changing for this camp. I thought about a lot of different things, but I also didn’t care. This is the time. I have to put this to the side, because I’m going to make fighting happen. No matter what, I’m going to make this work. This is going to work. I was talking to myself positively every day encouraging this journey, and here we are.
“I love pole dancing, I love doing all the acrobatics and stuff in the air, but I don’t have to be a stripper to do that. I don’t have to be a dancer in a club. I was dancing with my sister while we were in the car driving up the street. I got out of the car at a red light and started dancing in the street. I’m wild, man, so I don’t need to be in that atmosphere to do that. Trust me, I’m gonna get my artistic compulsions out via dance in many other ways, but it’s not going to be in the club anymore.”
While getting her first UFC win and finish will stick in her memory forever, it might pale in comparison to the text message she received hours after her victory.
Demopoulos found out that she would be receiving the performance bonus that more than doubled her win and show money combined. The old cliché that everything happens for a reason seemed to ring true.
“So we had an afterparty and I was there putting everything together, waiting for my friends to show up. so it was just me and — I remember this — I was in a hallway and Jason [House] texted me, and it literally welts me up right now because I got that message, and I just dropped in the hallway,” Demopoulos said. “People were walking by and I was just crying. It was such an awesome freaking feeling.
“I went through so much for this camp between dancing, my family had gotten sick, my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer, my little brother went to prison, and I’m like, ‘Bro, can anything else happen?’ I planned to do all of this and make these things happen, then I got that call and it was just like, man, you can do anything you want to accomplish in this life. You’ve got to want it, you’ve got to dig for it, and you’ve got to get after it. F*ck, it was so cool.”