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Vanessa Demopoulos Talks ‘Absolutely Incredible’ 1st UFC Win, Quitting Job As Exotic Dancer

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Image caption: ANAHEIM, CA – JANUARY 22: Vanessa Demopoulos celebrates her victory over Silvana Juarez in their Women Strawweight fight climbing into Joe Rogans arms during UFC 270 on January 22, 2022, at Honda Center in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Louis Grasse/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Vanessa Demopoulos (7-4 MMA, 1-1 UFC) made a dream come true when she submitted Silvana Gomez Juarez (10-4 MMA, 0-2 UFC) for her first career win in the UFC at UFC 270 on Jan. 22.

“Honestly, it’s absolutely incredible,” Demopoulos told MMASucka. “I’ve envisioned that moment so much and when you live it, it’s way better than you could ever imagine, literally.”

Demopoulos had to overcome early adversity in the fight when Gomez Juarez landed a flush right hand just over a minute into their strawweight clash. In her own words, Demopoulos went into autopilot.

“My next recollection was me having the overhook, and she was in my full guard,” Demopoulos said. “I was just happy to be doing jiu-jitsu. I questioned how I got there, but I was like, ‘Yeah, whatever, it’s here, and I get to do jiu-jitsu.’ That was the whole game plan.”

“Lil Monster” then ensnared Gomez Juarez in an armbar and forced her Argentinian counterpart to tap.

Demopoulos said she doesn’t have any quit in herself and that helped her when she went into autopilot.

“Your body goes into fight-or-flight, and I’m definitely a warrior. I got to really see that.”

All of the hours Demopoulos was able to put into the gym ahead of the fight was made possible by her doubling down on herself: She quit her job as an exotic dancer just weeks before the fight. Demopoulos, 33, had been in the industry since she was 18. Her decision paid dividends when she was awarded a $50,000 Performance of the Night bonus for her submission of Gomez Juarez.

“Oh. My. Gosh. I don’t know how to describe how good that felt. That was one of the scariest things to do,” Demopoulos said.

Demopoulos said she tried to walk away from the exotic dancing industry a few times before, but she was not financially stable enough to do so.

“I wasn’t this time either. I drew a line in the sand and I stuck to it.”

Demopoulos didn’t know if she would make it through her camp, but she said her self-belief and sponsors came through for her.

“To be able to make that dream actually come through, it’s like, man, dreams do come true!” she said. “If you really, really work for it, it really will happen! My gosh man, that’s some fairytale stuff right there! It really is, and I got to live that. I can’t even describe to you how amazing it is. Literally, I don’t think there are words for it.”

When Demopoulos committed to quitting her job as an exotic dancer, she took to her dry-erase board and vanquished the financial goals she set for herself as an entertainer. In its place, she wrote down a pair of mantras: “Bust your ass for thousands vs. shaking it for dollars” and “Don’t fumble the bag.”

Demopoulos looked at her mantras every morning. She prayed a lot. She meditated.

“It was f—ing hard, man. There were days where I was like, ‘I don’t know if I could do this training session. I just don’t have it.’ And I’d find it. I was just so grateful to be there and so happy to be pursuing my dreams. That was so worth it to me.”

Demopoulos is no stranger to balancing her fighting career with her dancing. She began training at the age of 21 – just three years after she began her dancing career. Demopoulos, who started in kickboxing, had her first amateur MMA fight in 2012. For over nine years, Demopoulos juggled the two occupations, which led to serious sleep deprivation.

“As an entertainer, the money shifts more for me at nighttime,” Demopoulos explained. “I had to work really late hours and then my body is automatically waking up at the same time for training every day, even if I didn’t have to train in the morning. It was really throwing me off from a sleep schedule standpoint.

“From a neurological standpoint, I was so overworked and overstimulated from all of the lights, and I had to really give a lot of emotional capacity to the job as well,” she continued. “It’s not just dancing, you have to entertain people. You have to give a lot of your emotional capacity to keep people engaged in the party. It was very draining. I loved dancing, but it wasn’t fair for me to be in a fight camp and try to give it 100 percent and only having 30 percent available. I really wanted to give this camp the fair shot it deserves.”

Demopoulos realized it was the right time to quit the exotic dancing scene and focus on MMA when her training partner and fellow UFC fighter, Tabatha Ricci, came into town. Demopoulos, who was independently contracted as a dancer, chose not to work the weekend when Ricci visited.

“The next weekend came, and I was so far exhausted, I literally couldn’t imagine going into work,” Demopoulos said. “I just couldn’t imagine it. I didn’t tell anyone, but I kind of made the decision right there. I was like, ‘Ugh, I’m just not going to dance anymore for right now. Just for right now.’ That’s why I didn’t tell anyone. I was like, ‘I might have to go back again.’”

A few weeks passed, and Demopoulos said she needed to work financially. But this time, she didn’t. The line in the sand had been drawn.

Demopoulos committed to it when she made the video of her erasing her financial goals as a dancer. At the time of making it, she sent it to two people on the planet: her manager at Iridium Sports Agency, Jason House, and her head coach at Siege MMA & Fitness in Arizona, Santino Defranco.

“I didn’t need to tell anyone else. It was a me decision.”

Demopoulos, after emerging victorious, shared the post on her Instagram page.

After her win, Demopoulos expressed a desire to compete on the UFC Columbus card on March 26. She lived in Columbus for roughly eight years, and it was the city she started her MMA journey in. She still trains in Columbus for her jiu-jitsu tournaments. She went from white belt to brown belt with Vitor Oliveira, her instructor at Ronin Training Center. It’s where she trained Muay Thai with Aaron Boggs.

“That’s home for me,” Demopoulos said. “It’d be cool to fight there.”

Due to the short notice nature of the March 26 card, Demopoulos does not care who her opponent would be. She simply wants to extend her UFC record to 2-1 and 2-0 as a strawweight, as her promotional debut was up a weight class against JJ Aldrich.

If she does not get on the UFC Columbus card, Demopoulos said she wants to return in April or early May.

“I just love training, dude. Even already, I’m back in the gym. My coach had to have a talk with me, ‘Vanessa, it’s cool, you’re allowed to be a bit more chill.’ I’m just so used to competing every other week for jiu-jitsu, and I was flying somewhere else in the country or the world just to fight. I’m just a go-getter, man. It’s hard for me to sit down. For me, the sooner the better for fighting. I’d like to just get back in there. That’s a personal preference.”

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Michael is a big MMA fan who enjoys interviewing the sport's athletes, writing about the sport, and just discussing it. He earned his Master's in Journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and his B.A. in Journalism at Stony Brook University. He also enjoys hockey, football and baseball. Feel free to hit him up if you want to discuss MMA, or any other sport!

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