Everybody is dealt a hand of cards when they are brought into this world. It’s not the hand you’re dealt, but what you do with it that shapes who you become. Call it chance. Call it destiny. It doesn’t really matter what you call it. That’s just life.
Vanessa Demopoulos was not dealt the best hand out of the gate. She was born in Ohio, but raised by her grandparents in Greece. She moved back to Ohio in her elementary school years. As she got older, she got into a life of drugs and fighting. She was kicked out of school and actually ended up homeless as a teenager. Her father was a DJ and manager, and her mother was an exotic entertainer. Demopoulos went into the family business and became an exotic entertainer herself, which was the first step in turning her life around.
Today, Demopoulos is an accomplished entertainer. She has traveled all over the country dominating some of the most elite clubs, but her career is only one of her passions. About two and a half years into her now-12-year exotic career, she found another passion that would lead her in a different direction in the entertainment industry — martial arts. She started kickboxing and then Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Eventually, she became a mixed martial artist. The 30-year-old is now 2-1 as a pro after logging a 6-1 mark as an amateur.
“I’m like the happiest person on the planet, and one of the things I try to incorporate and really talk about is that I had a really rough past,” Demopoulos told Combat Press. “It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, or what you think you’re going through. You can overcome and be something great. I try to exemplify that every day. I came from the dirt, and you have to rise above that.”
As of a few months ago, Demopoulos is no longer training in Ohio. She checked out Black House MMA in California in January. By March, she was a California resident.
“I came out here to visit and check everything out, and I ended up really falling in love with the atmosphere that was out here and the camaraderie, MMA-wise,” said Demopoulos. “What I had in Ohio was excellent, but it was more like jiu-jitsu and Muay Thai. Here, it more brings it all together into MMA.”
Her journey west came after her first professional loss. In October, at Legacy Fighting Alliance 52, she gave up a three-round decision to Itzel Esquivel.
“After the Itzel fight, I learned how to be a professional,” admitted Demopoulos. “It was my second professional fight, and to have five-minute rounds was different. It really resonated with me that MMA is a points game as well. I didn’t think about that, whatsoever. I was coming from a lot of professional jiu-jitsu, where points don’t matter. Like, you would go for submission attempt after submission attempt. I really treated the fight with Itzel like a professional jiu-jitsu match that happens to incorporate stand-up, which wasn’t the best approach. MMA is very different. You think it’s just going out there and fighting, but it’s not. There’s a lot of strategy that needs to be implemented that I wasn’t putting into consideration. When I went out for the last fight, I really honed in on that and kept that in my heart. I played a very different game.”
That fight took place at LFA 62 in March. It was right after her move to Black House. Demopoulos took on Valerie Ann Marie Soto in another fight that went the distance, but this time she came out on top.
“I felt like a completely different fighter,” Demopoulos said. “It helped me resonate well with implementing a really solid game plan and following through with what it is that I can see with openings. I was just playing smarter and calming the fuck down. Sometimes, you have to teach people aggression, but I had to be taught to chill out.”
The progression from jiu-jitsu player to mixed martial artist is going more smoothly now. Demopoulos is getting her head in check by learning to relax. However, she is still bringing her high-energy approach each and every time. She takes on Nadine Mandiau, who makes her pro debut after a 4-1 amateur run, at LFA 69 on Friday night in Cabazon, Calif. Demopoulos has an edge in experience, but she gives up five inches in height to Mandiau.
“I know that she enjoys jiu-jitsu as well as I do,” Demopoulos said. “I know she competed a little bit in a few, like, pro circuits, and that’s what she kind of identifies as. But, normally, when she fights, she tries to fight more like a striker. She’s tall, and she fights like a tall person. So, you know, that’s good for her. I know she won a Tuff-N-Uff belt, as well as I had as an amateur. It’s going to be a really fun match-up.”
It’s been a short fight camp for Demopoulos. She has had less than four weeks to prepare. However, the Ohio native always stays in shape by incorporating dancing and fight training into her daily routine. She does stop dancing during fight camp, but it still gives her a big advantage for short-notice battles.
“Being an exotic entertainer is a lot of fun,” said Demopoulos. “It’s amazing to have that extra set of cardio at the end of the day, after a long training day where I’ll have like three or four sessions in. I still go to work at night and work anywhere from four to six hours. It’s a good cool down. Dancing is excellent for the body. It uses a great range of motion, and I get to express freely, as well as using my strength and agility. It’s great functional training. I love it.”
Demopoulos is currently working on a website and a second book — she has already authored Stripper Bible — but fighting takes precedence over everything else.
“When I’m in fight camp, I literally tell everybody else to fuck off,” revealed Demopoulos. “When I have a fight coming up, nothing else matters.”
At Black House, Demopoulos trains with her two main coaches, Juan Gomez and Kenny Johnson, but she also works with Erin Herle, plus UFC vets Carla Esparza and Ashlee Evans-Smith. However, the move to California came with a lot more perks than just an elevated training program.
“I love going to the beach, and I love going on a hike,” Demopoulos said. “I’m such an outdoors person. I almost feel like I should have been in L.A. years ago, man. I was wasting my time in Ohio. I get to train all day and live my best fucking life. I love it here. And, in the afternoon, I can go to the beach and walk around or rent a skateboard and just skate for several miles, come back to the gym, finish training. What a life. Life is good.”