Elias Theodorou, known for his successful mixed martial artist (MMA) career and medical cannabis advocacy, passed away at age 34 on September 11 after a long battle with liver cancer.
Born in Mississauga, Canada, located in the province of Ontario, Theodorou’s career began after his first year in college. High Times had the pleasure of interviewing him in January 2021, where he explained that a video posted on YouTube of him losing a fight went viral.
“Demoralized, I confided in my father, and he said, ‘You love that [Ultimate Fighting Championship] UFC stuff so much, why don’t you go to a gym and make sure this never happens again?’” he told High Times. “And I did. At first my intentions were to win back my pride against the person that embarrassed me, instead, I won a sense of purpose—enlightening both body and mind now in ‘higher’ education.”
Theodorou’s career took him to great heights, leading him to become a UFC fighter, and become winner of “The Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada vs. Australia” in the middleweight bracket in 2014. He was released from his UFC contract in 2019, but continued to fight and win in the Prospect Fighting Championships in December 2019, Rise FC in March 2021, and Colorado Combat Club 10 in December 2021.
His coach and longtime friend, Lachlan Cheng, was a medical cannabis patient for more than 10 years. Seeing his coach using medical cannabis exposed him to the benefits of cannabis, the negative effects of prescription medications in comparison.
Personally, he began using medical cannabis to treat his bilateral neuropathy (nerve damage) in his upper extremities. “Fighting is a grind, so my options to medicate were opioids and painkillers or cannabis,” he said. “One is highly addictive and has caused death from abuse—not to mention the side effects like constipation, upset stomach, bloating and many other debilitating repercussions as both patient and athlete. The alternative is cannabis, a medicine that helps me compete and live on an even playing field while treating my condition.”
In 2020, Theodorou became the first athlete to receive a Therapeutic Use Exemption in North America for his cannabis use. “I was the first pro athlete and UFC fighter to apply for a therapeutic-use exemption in the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) testing pool, which is part of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA),” Theodorou said. “My [therapeutic-use exemption] for the UFC was not accepted, even with USADA agreeing with my condition and potential need for cannabis because it is funded by the U.S. government, which still has cannabis as a Schedule I substance. Meaning they don’t believe it has any medical properties… They only recommended painkillers, opioids and anti-depressant drugs.”
His advocacy for medical cannabis continued up until his passing. On August 29, he shared the support of a cannabis brand called Game Day. “Game on! #PlantsOverPills @gameday.98 has officially launched! Couldn’t be more excited to be apart of a company and team ready to change the game in both cannabis AND sports! Ready to fight the stigma because “I choose cannabis instead”. #Dope #Sports” he wrote.
In the wake of his passing, many remember Theodorou’s career and his light-hearted personality during the course of his career. “I have the biggest smile and constantly laugh with my team throughout training camp and fight week,” he told High Times. “It might sound the opposite of what a fighter does, but I love what I do, so it’s easy to enjoy the process.”
He also served as a “ring boy” for Invicta FC, an all-pro women’s MMA championship, to promote equality. “The addition of ring boys is just another way to even the playing field in another area of the sport. I think we’re on the right side of history,” he told BBC in March 2018. “The response so far has been, I’d say, 70-80% positive. Some people don’t get it, but that’s okay. Anyway, those who know me will know that I put out a pretty positive conversation in general. When people troll me for other things, I show them kindness.”
Many noteworthy advocates have passed away recently, including Olivia Newton-John and Zahra Abbas in August.