Vanessa Demopoulos has been wrestling professionally for five years, but her worst injury happened long before she entered the octagon.
The UFC’s underweight improved to 3-0 while competing in the promotion’s 115-pound division last Saturday thanks to a decision win over Maria Oliveira at UFC Vegas 65. She appeared at Hour of MMA on Monday to talk about her unique martial arts journey, including being an exotic dancer before trying her hand at fighting.
Demopoulos recalls falling hard while pole dancing, resulting in a head injury she hasn’t had to deal with since her career change.
“[It hurt] like hell, she said. “I had the worst concussion I think I have ever fallen off a pole. I fell straight down, it was almost two floors.
“I instantly woke up and ran, and then I had this giant ice bag on my head, and I fell asleep on the ice bag, so I realized that I had a severe concussion. To be sure [worse than anything I felt in fighting.]”
That’s a pretty big statement considering the scraps the 34-year-old Demopoulos has been through since her professional MMA debut in 2017. She started her career 5-1, including a Sam Hughes inverted triangle choke to become the first Legacy Fighting. Alliance Bantamweight Champion.
Demopoulos failed to secure a contract at the Contender Series and also suffered a setback in her UFC debut after shortly intervening to face JJ Aldrich in a flyweight bout. But since then, things have mostly gone smoothly for her, which contrasts with the challenges Demopoulos faced in balancing his burgeoning fighting career with a job as a dancer at a club.
“I came beaten,” Demopoulos said. “There were times when I had to bandage my foot and then put a sock on my foot so they wouldn’t see the tape. Or, if I had a thick lip, I would apply extra lip liner on the other side to line it up.
“During one of the fights, I had so many stitches in my eyes right here that I could only put on makeup in many places. So I wore glasses, like reading glasses with thick frames to hide the seams. I got very creative with my makeup skills.”
Demopoulos officially retired from dancing at the end of 2021, around the time she was packing up for her fight with Silvana Gomez Juarez at UFC 270. She defeated Juarez via submission in the first round.
“Lil Monster” credits her previous career with not only teaching her lessons in overcoming adversity, but also giving her a strong business sense. However, Demopoulos is only looking ahead as he moves up the UFC rankings.
“That was the worst,” she said of stripping as she continued to train in MMA. “Staying up late, constant stimulation, overstimulation of your nervous system so late at night. I came home, I couldn’t sleep. My body automatically wakes up so early for a workout that even if I go to bed late, I only get three hours of sleep because I wake up automatically. It just wasn’t good for me in many ways. I have to put a lot of my emotional energy into my work and I just want to focus on the fights.
“In general, I took a chance. I didn’t really have the money to leave and I believed in myself enough that I thought, “I’ll do it no matter what.” So I burned the bridge and left.”