Elias Theodorou of Mississauga, Ont., is one of eight Canadians competing on TUF Nations. He will be writing weekly blogs for sportsnet.ca to share an inside perspective about what went on inside the gym and house.
The Return of the Spartan
After last week’s recap episode, the Spartan is back! Thanks for joining me once again. If it was the hair that brought you to the dance initially, I’m sure my insight will keep you glued to your screen. Did I mention I have a beard now, too?
The Long Road Home
With the quarterfinals now behind us, the lucky eight with a W are moving forward, continuing to fight for the right to become the next (and first Canadian) Ultimate Fighter! This week’s episode began with the rides back from the Vik/Luke fight — both vehicles clearly have different atmospheres. Vik was riding high from his victory, and we discover that it was his first actual KO. He was like a cute little kid — so happy, so proud. Conversely, in the Moosemobile, it was a sober ride, with Luke recalling what went wrong as best he could. Luke is a seasoned veteran, one who has seen the highs and lows of the sport; he’ll be back in “neck-cranking shape” in no time!
Who Wants to Dance?
The next step for those advancing was some face time with boss man, and floating head, Dana White. It was quite the surreal experience to talk to the big guy (even if it wasn’t in-person). He did pronounce my name correctly though, so bonus points to him for that. Much of the selection process on the fighters’ side went as expected. The Canuck welterweights wished to avoid each other, at least for the time being, and fight Richard Walsh. As for the Filthy One, he wanted to take on Kajan, mainly because of his extroverted nature (i.e., big mouth) and the fact he beat one of his mates in the first round, Brendan “Badger” O’Reilly.
In the middleweight division, we more or less discussed our preferred matchups beforehand — there was no malice; we just each knew who we wanted to punch in the face. Tyler and I are the young bucks with unblemished records. My Aussie comrade and I wanted to prove something; we liked each other well enough but fancied the idea of being the other’s first loss. “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us!” The other two 185ers, Sheldon and Vik, were also eager to lock horns and see what fireworks would transpire.
After pleading our cases, the waiting game began (which still sucks, by the way). Although it looked like just moments on the show, thanks to the magic of editing, we had to wait a few hours to find out whom we’d be facing. For the middleweights, the picks were pretty straightforward, and unless they wanted to make sure there was an Aussie vs Canadian finale, we were likely to get our choices. The real question was, which two Canadian welterweights would square off? The answer came with the first fight announcement: Chad vs Kajan. This was followed by an uncomfortable chuckle and awkward stare down between the teammates. When I say “teammates,” I don’t just mean on the show. Both fighters are Tristar alumni, as well as friends. Being professionals, they knew there was a good chance they would have to put their friendship on hold to continue chasing their dream, but it wasn’t going to be easy.
The rest of the picks went as expected. Oli was paired with Rich, by default, and the MWs received their desired opposition. Next were the remaining stare-downs, with Tyler and I squaring off. I must say, they shot my good side; however, every side is my good side, luckily for me. Win!
When Canadians Collide
With the picks finalized, we received a closer look at the two Canucks set to battle. Kajan revealed the hardships and trials and tribulations he’s experienced in getting to where he is today. This outspoken sweetheart is a veteran of the Canadian MMA scene, one who’s travelled a difficult path in pursuing his dream. With 30 pro bouts, Kajan still finds himself living fight-to-fight and, unfortunately, prior to TUF Nations, had a two-year layoff due to injuries. This kid has huge heart, as he’s had enough injuries and reconstructive surgery to make even the toughest warrior reconsider this quest. Not Kajan, though — this is what he loves, and good or bad, he will continue his journey. After watching this all again, I asked myself if I would have the strength to endure what he has. I simple don’t know.
Chad opened up next and he revealed aspects of his life I was totally unaware of previously. This sweet, gentle, quiet guy experienced a very difficult upbringing. Being raised in an abusive household, Chad first turned to martial arts as a way to take his anger out on, and inflict pain upon, others. He would later transform his rage into love for God. “Finding faith,” or believing in a higher power, can turn an individual around, and as someone who knows Chad, I can definitely say he’s a very good person.
With fight day fast approaching, both Chad and Kajan began setting up the prep for their bout. Chad was quick to ask for assistance, whereas Kajan was more lax in his approach. Chad and longtime coach Kru Ash paired up, and we later saw him asking Team Canada wrestling coach David Zilberman and Aussie jiu-jitsu coach Roberto Tussa to corner him. Kajan picked Fabio Holanda, who’s a skilled BJJ black belt, coach, MMA striker and fighter himself. As the head coach of Team Canada, Patrick Cote made the difficult decision to stay as impartial as possible and not corner either fighter in this very awkward contest.
It’s important to note the confusion and difficulty of the whole situation: this once organized, tight-knit and focused team didn’t know how to handle the reality of two teammates fighting. As previously mentioned, thanks to the magic of editing, you didn’t learn that my fight against Tyler was actually on the same day (well, you do now). To be completely honest, I had no idea what was going on or the trouble everyone was experiencing; I didn’t even see the fight that day, as I was in the locker room preparing for my battle with Tyler.
What I did witness, at the time, was Kajan returning from the fight, and it broke my heart. The clearly hurt fighter was barely able to support himself, leaning heavily on Nordine, requiring assistance to enter the locker room, and was extremely emotional and upset (rightfully so). Injuries are a part of MMA, both in training and competition, but you never want to see anyone, especially a friend, severely injured or hurt. While the UFC is “As Real As It Gets,” the realest moment of this episode was the reaction to Chad’s KO. Everyone knew it was bad when he connected (you heard the crack of Chad’s right hand connecting with Kajan’s jaw as he was coming forward), and everyone — Team Canada, Team Australia, the coaches for both sides — were stunned by the gravity of the situation. You could tell from his reaction that coach Cote was distraught, especially with one of his charges being injured, which just demonstrated how much he cared for Kajan, as well as all of his fighters.
Even focused on my upcoming fight, I couldn’t help but be saddened. This warrior has been tested so many times, broken and rebuilt. In that moment, there was no doubt in my mind Kajan would return stronger than ever, but even so, there was still a deep sadness. By the end of the show, I was close with every person I shared those seven weeks with, but Kajan was, and remains, my favourite soul. He is so real — so true to himself — and doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. I wish him nothing but health and success in the future. He deserves it more than anyone.
Not to be forgotten, Chad earned his spot in the finale in impressive fashion and deserves a huge congrats! I’ve known him for years, fighting together on many of the same events in Canada. He is a warrior and great individual. He’s one of the hardest workers I know and I am proud of him. Missing a training session is never an option and his passion for the sport is inspiring. He’s also one hell of a puncher and kicker. In fact, I am off to do some sparring with him as you read this.
Two Men Enter, One Man Leaves
Now, just before I say goodbye, remember: it’s the Spartan’s turn next week! Be sure to tune in as I face the biggest challenge of my career: fellow undefeated fighter Tyler “Wild Thing” Manawaroa. Two men enter, but only one shall move a step closer to achieving their dream.
Until next week,
Follow Elias on Twitter @EliasTheodorou