Elias Theodorou of Mississauga, Ont., was one of eight Canadians competing on TUF Nations. He wrote weekly blogs for sportsnet.ca to share an inside perspective about what went on inside the gym and house.
All good things must come to an end
This week marked the final episode of TUF Nations: Team Canada vs Team Australia and I will always be incredibly thankful for being a part of such an amazing experience — so many amazing people were involved, so many memories and friendships were made. However, before I send in the cleanup crew, there’s one last fight and my future opponent to discuss!
Last Chance to Dance
In the season’s penultimate episode, Olivier choked his way into the finals, where he’ll face teammate Chad Laprise, in an all-Canadian welterweight scrap April 16th. With Richard vanquished, Vik was not only in the last matchup of the season, but also the last chance for the Aussies. After his impressive win over grappling powerhouse Luke Harris, Team Koala felt good about their chances. The bearded one they also call “Spartan” (but, in reality, is the nega-Spartan, as there is only one true Spartan, and he’s already in the finals) was fight-ready, power punching away with Noke on the pads. I question the wisdom of Noke having Vik sprint to the centre of the cage when the fight began, as Sheldon’s game is to rush, grab hold and slam you, but I digress.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: Watch the TUF Nations Finale live Wednesday, April 16 with a UFC Central preview at 4 p.m. EST, prelims starting at 5 p.m. EST, and the main card at 7 p.m. EST on Sportsnet 360
Aside from that, Vik was both mentally and physically prepared. Getting to know my fellow (nega)-Spartan, I came to appreciate him as a person, fighter and family man. Not to mention, he’s a killer pool shark; he even dresses the part each time he plays, minus the sandal and sock combination. His story is quite inspiring; he’s fighting not only for his dream, but for a better life for his family. I’m sure whether you were rooting for him or not that you can get behind Vik, the person.
His opponent, in the Red & White corner
On the other side of the Octagon was Canadian Sheldon Westcott. The poor guy dealt with some serious roadblocks to make it this far. First was a training mishap with yours truly, which I still feel terrible about, even if these things are an occupational hazard. Injured, he was viewed as the weakest link by the Aussies and was chosen by four-time Olympian Dan Kelly. This proved to be a terrible miscalculation, as you know what they say about a wounded animal. Sheldon exploded out of the gate and mauled the veteran — the Canuck’s injury altered his in-and-out game plan and he quickly blitzed Kelly and slammed him repeatedly, ending their bout with a slick arm-triangle to earn his spot in the semifinals. After this triumph, his luck would worsen, as he injured his neck wrestling coach Cote; it initially appeared as if it might be serious enough to force him out of the tournament. However, nothing would stop him from fighting in the next round for his shot at the finals.
Getting to know Sheldon, we learned very quickly about his love for martial arts and his family. “Sherdog Sheldon,” as we dubbed him, knew just about any and everything MMA-related. Dates, fights and records were all at his memory’s disposal. It was very impressive, with only a few minor inaccuracies. His other love was plastered all over the wall of the room he called home for six weeks. A proud uncle of three, he went to bed every night thinking of them.
What a ‘Rush’
Due to the magic of television, GSP appeared in this week’s final episode to share in a meal and say hello. I laughed when I noticed Rich’s beard had magically returned when he answered the door. But when George did visit, it was a great moment. He sat with all of us — some he knew (i.e., the Tristar Gym crew), many he didn’t — and shared his knowledge and lessons learned along the road of becoming one of the most dominant UFC champions of all-time, and now his life after. It was just one of the many surreal moments we found ourselves experiencing during the course of this season.
Last One Out Turn Off the Lights
Fight day arrived, coincidentally, on the last day of shooting. All of us were grateful for this incredible experience, but we were very ready to go home. The most ready were the last two combatants. Once the Octagon door closed for the last time, it was over just as quickly as this whole experience began.
The two warriors charged each other, twirled around for control and broke free. Sheldon came in a little bit more reserved, compared to his wild striking against Dan. This was no doubt because of his respect for Vik’s punching power. With that said, Sheldon’s bread and butter is lifting, slamming and choking, which he did, in spectacular form. I was, and still am, incredibly happy for him. My teammate finished his season with an historic choke (a variation on the Von Flue choke) and earned his spot against the Spartan — that’s me! — in the finale next week on April 16 at Fight Night: Bisping vs. Kennedy. (Did I mention that already?)
Just Win, Baby
Sheldon is a great opponent to test myself against; he comes fast and strong from the start, looking to hit and slam, and once he’s on the ground, he’s slick. The cage floor is lava: I clearly can’t afford to stop moving my feet for an instant or get planted on my back. With that said, I’m more agile than Dan, and have superior cage and wrestling skills to Vik. I will not let my opponent implement his game plan; I will do what I always do: win.
I’m very excited to let the world see what I’ve been working so hard on, to show my true potential on the biggest stage. My camp for the finale started with a trip to Thailand, where I trained with the great coaches of Tiger Muay Thai, such as Master Yod (who worked with GSP for the Condit fight), Brain Ebersole and Roger Huerta. Three weeks in paradise allowed me to sharpen my skills and more effectively employ my “eight deadly limbs.” Upon my return, my long-time coach, Sergio Cuhna, came to Canada to help me finish camp. The legendary Chute Boxe striking instructor has helped some of the best in MMA. He even left during the end of the legendary Minotauro Nogueira’s latest camp (in preparation of Roy Nelson) to work with me for my final month. I am truly thankful for his help, guidance and belief.
So, next week is for all the marbles. It’s the live finale, for the right to place my name in history, alongside the likes of Griffin, Evans, Serra and Bisping (who’s in the main event of this awesome card!) to name a few. I’m so ready, and so excited, for you all to tune in.
Follow Elias on Twitter @EliasTheodorou