Vanessa Demopoulos has been fighting professionally for five years, but her worst injury came long before she stepped into the octagon.
The UFC strawweight improved to 3-0 competing in the promotion’s 115-pound division this past Saturday with a decision win over Maria Oliveira at UFC Vegas 65. She appeared on The MMA Hour on Monday to talk about her unique combat sports journey, including being an exotic dancer before trying her hand at fighting.
Demopoulos remembers suffering a major fall while pole dancing that left her with a head injury unlike anything she’s had to deal with since changing careers.
“[It hurt] like hell,” she said. “I had the worst concussion I think I’ve ever had falling off of a pole. I fell straight down, it was almost two stories.
“I instantly woke up and ran, and then I had this giant bag of ice on my head, and I fell to sleep on the bag of ice, so that’s how I knew that I was badly concussed. For sure [worse than anything I felt in fighting.]”
That’s quite a statement given the scraps that Demopoulos, 34, has been in since making her pro MMA debut in 2017. She started her career 5-1, including a highlight-reel inverted triangle choke submission of Sam Hughes to become the inaugural Legacy Fighting Alliance strawweight champion.
Demopoulos failed to earn a contract on the Contender Series and also fell short in her UFC debut after stepping in on short notice to fight JJ Aldrich in a flyweight bout. But it’s been mostly smooth sailing for her since then, which is a contrast to the troubles Demopoulos faced while juggling her burgeoning fighting career and her job as a dancer at the club.
“I’d show up beat up,” Demopoulos said. “There were times when I’d have to tape up my leg and then I’d wear a sock over my leg just so that they wouldn’t see the tape. Or if I had a fat lip, then I’d put extra lip liner on the other side just to even it out.
“One of the fights, I had so many stitches on my eyes right here that I could only put makeup in so many places. So I wore glasses, like reading glasses with thick frames, to kind of cover the stitches. I got really creative with my makeup skills.”
Demopoulos officially retired from dancing at the end of 2021, around the time that she was wrapping up camp for a fight with Silvana Gomez Juarez at UFC 270. She went on to defeat Juarez by first-round submission.
“Lil Monster” credits her previous career not only with teaching her lessons about overcoming adversity, but also giving her a strong business sense. That said, Demopoulos is only looking ahead as she advances up the UFC rankings.
“It was the worst,” she said of stripping while continuing her MMA training. “Staying up late, constant stimulation, overstimulating your nervous system that late at night. I’d get home, I couldn’t sleep. My body automatically wakes up so early for training that even if I go to sleep late, I was only getting three hours of sleep because I’d automatically wake up. It just wasn’t good for me in a lot of aspects. I have to give a lot of my emotional energy to the job, and I just want to focus on fighting.
“So I took a risk, actually. I really didn’t have the money to quit and I believed in myself enough and I was like, ‘I’m going to make this happen, no matter what.’ So I burned the bridge and I walked away.”