Sports

Elias Theodorou, MMA Fighter Who Made Marijuana History, Passes Away at 34

Elias Theodorou was 34 years old.
Elias Theodorou was 34 years old. Courtesy of JESSCO
Elias Theodorou, a mixed martial artist who made history when he received an exemption that allowed him to use medical marijuana, has passed away.

Theodorou, 34, died after complications from colon cancer.

A former Ultimate Fighting Championship fighter, Theodorou won the UFC's Ultimate Fighter reality-TV series in 2014, and last fought in the UFC in 2019. After departing from the UFC, the Canadian-born mixed martial artist made history as the first fighter to receive a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) for medical marijuana from the United States Anti-Doping Agency, which also governs Canadian sports.

Theodorou's first fight with a medical marijuana TUE was in Canada in 2021, which he won by technical knockout. His first fight with a medical marijuana TUE in the United States — the first of its kind in the country — took place in Greeley last December as part of the Colorado Combat Club promotion. In what would end up being Theodorou's last professional fight, he won by unanimous decision, compiling a 19-3 professional record.

According to Theodorou, he preferred medical marijuana over opioids to treat a form of neuropathy that caused nerve damage in his upper body. When he spoke with Westword before his final fight, he never mentioned cancer or cancer treatment as the reasoning behind his medical marijuana use.

Theodorou fought UFC title challengers and former Olympians during his time, but one of his biggest wins may have been on the advocacy front.

"This is becoming a building block for medical cannabis rights — being able to do so in Canada, and taking that precedent to Colorado," Theodorou said in 2021. "Because all of these athletic commissions work with each other, it sets another precedent. If an athlete gets busted for steroids in Nevada, he can't just go fight in New York during the suspension. The same works in a positive way. I was approved for a therapeutic exemption in March in British Columbia, then I applied for one in Colorado, and they approved it as well."

After news of Theodorou's passing surfaced, several notable MMA fighters took to social media to express their grief and surprise, including UFC fighter and Aurora native Michael Chiesa.

"Elias, he’s such a lighthearted guy, and he’s the type of guy to give you the shirt off his back," Chiesa says in a video posted on his Twitter account, before pulling out proof. According to Chiesa, the two were at an event years ago when he was asked to unexpectedly go on stage. Chiesa was only wearing a T-shirt at the time, so Theodorou quickly offered up his collared jacket.

"I never got a chance to give it back to him, but that’s the type of guy he was," Chiesa says. "And while I'm sad like a lot of people — he touched a lot of lives — I have to remember that I’m very blessed that I had the friendship I had with him, and the countless great memories."
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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for westword.com.
Contact: Thomas Mitchell