A regular summer Sunday turned into a day Tom Theocharis will never forget after trouble ensued over 5,000 miles away.
With his girlfriend vacationing in Greece, the Stratford, Ontario, Canada native began to worry after their text conversation ceased mid-way through. Fighting to contact the Greek police, Theocharis attempted to make sense of things, inevitably finding out an irreversible accident had occurred.
Nearly a year removed from the death of his partner and it’s all still a reality that’s difficult to process.
“I truthfully don’t even really know what sort of happened,” Theocharis said. “She fell … and she went missing. So literally, I found out that she died probably an hour after our conversation, I’m assuming. I don’t know how long after but her last text messages were to me. It’s obviously super upsetting, it’s very difficult to move forward.
“I’m very fortunate that I have mixed martial arts and there’s some days that I’m so depressed and have so much anxiety I don’t get out of bed. It’s gonna happen, I’m a human being. I think it’s very normal in this circumstance. I’m very open about having anxiety and depression, especially over this situation. It’s not something I’m gonna hide. I’m very fortunate I have a very amazing family that really helps me out and I’ve got amazing friends and they’re helping me get through it. It’s something I’m gonna have to deal with for the rest of my life, unfortunately.”
Theocharis and his girlfriend, Sam, were essentially living together, making the situation even harder for the 28-year-old. Knowing she wouldn’t be coming home, Theocharis was forced to move back with his parents for the time being.
Always seeking out travel opportunities to attach to his MMA fights, Theocharis couldn’t help but see constant reminders surrounding him when home as Sam often left him notes to find around their place.
“She would always leave me notes and stuff. I’ve got all of her clothes here still,” Theocharis said. “I sleep with one of her shirts she used to wear to bed every night, you know. I’m still in love with her.
“I never left bed for two and a half months. My parents were super worried about me. Turns out there was a card that was supposed to happen in Niagara Falls, Canada. I ended up signing a contract and getting on that card and I moved back to Toronto. Even when I came back, it took me like a week or two of being stuck in bed. I didn’t really have the motivation to train because I was so depressed. At that point of depression, you’re almost disabled and just can’t do anything. I couldn’t even cook for myself, I was just ordering Uber Eats and eating once a day. I couldn’t even clean, I would just get up to go to the bathroom. That was basically about it. That’s what my day comprised of.”
When all seemed lost, Theocharis luckily had friends and support within the MMA community to reach out to. Just needing a little kick in the ass of sorts, fellow Canadian prospect, Aaron Jeffery, was there to lend a helping hand.
“When I first heard the news about Sam I had just arrived in Vegas for a five-month training camp,” Jeffery said. “I almost couldn’t believe it and hoped it wasn’t true. I remember my first phone call with Tommy. He could barely speak. He was fighting through tears the whole time. I’d call him a couple times a week. I wouldn’t ask him about Sam, we’d just talk. I’d ask about training, the gym, what he was up to. If he wanted to bring it up he could, but I just wanted to be someone for him to talk to.”
Theocharis’ conversations with the Bellator Middleweight quickly turned into a request to come and meet in the gym. With training obviously on the back burner in recent weeks, alcohol consumption was higher than usual and Theocharis wasn’t quite in the best of shape.
Nervous to accept, Theocharis went through with the invitation and vomited during one of the workouts and then again afterward — he couldn’t have been happier about it.
“I’m like, damn. I’m f—king back,” Theocharis laughed. “I’m back, that felt amazing. I get in the car, I’m like this is it. I start calling my buddies, ‘I’m f—king back!’ They’re like this is awesome, it feels so good. It’s like I got the demons out of me.”
“Tommy was talking about coming down to Vegas to see me and I really encouraged him to do it,” Jeffery said. “I told him it would get his mind off things, change of scenery, and see some friends who were down there with me. I think it was a really good move for him to come down and release a bit.”
Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight contender, Elias Theodorou, received a call shortly after from the rejuvenated Theocharis, leading to four weeks of training together in Las Vegas.
“During our time in Vegas, Tommy was beyond motivated to train with some of the best in the world,” Theodorou said. “He was determined to put in the work and the results showed, winning by technical knockout in his first fight back to the cage. I have no doubt he has that same passion for his next fight and look forward to seeing his hand raised again soon.”
In April 2022, Theocharis fought for the first time since Sam passed away and scored a first-round round knockout just a minute and thirty seconds into the bout. The camp didn’t come without its nerves, however, as the passing of his partner accompanied by a 14-month layoff weighed heavily on his mind.
Looking to kick back up the activity levels, Theocharis already has his next fight date set and he’s fully confident he’ll be getting his hand raised for the sixth time as a professional.
“Fight week, I just started kind of having some jitters and some of those doubts seep in, right?” Theocharis said of his last fight. “I hadn’t competed in so long and during that training camp, I just kind of watched video of him and I’d be like, ‘Ah, I got this guy.’ But then as soon as it started inching closer and closer, the nerves started to settle in. Fight week, I was super nervous. It felt incredible to get that win so I was ready to go to decision, I knew this guy would be tough to put away, and thank God that I got it over with quickly.”
Theocharis’ fought six times as an amateur under the tutelage of notable Canadian veterans, Mark Hominick, Sam Stout, and Chris Horodecki, before turning pro in 2017.
The plan as instructed by his team was to get as much experience as he possibly could but that quickly became more of a hassle thanks to certain requirements. At the time in Ontario, amateur MMA required combatants to wear shin guards during fights. If he was going to do this thing to the fullest, Theocharis wanted no limitations. Plus, it was a little disheartening winning fights without it meaning anything.
Growing up in the small town of Stratford, Theocharis played hockey like most Canadian kids with aspirations of being stars on the ice someday. At age 15, the desire to do more intensified.
Always fascinated by James Bond, Mortal Kombat, DragonBall Z, and things alike, combat and martial arts were activities Theocharis wanted to pursue. Once he stumbled upon The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 6 on television one day, he was hooked and began watching religiously, wearing Tapout and Affliction shirts … your typical MMA fan starter kit, essentially.
Eventually, Theocharis went to train at the karate kickboxing gym right down the road but sought more than just a point-fighting type of style. The more he progressed, the better he felt about his decision.
“I was an undersized kid and I didn’t really have a direction in life,” Theocharis said. “Subconsciously, I wanted to be respected by my peers. I did have a lot of friends but I did also get picked on a lot by my friends. I was getting sick of it.
“People started to see that and respected me. Not only was I getting respected for it, I was living the martial arts lifestyle. Training, being around the gym, and that sort of stuff.”
Like most parents typically would be, Theocharis’ weren’t too fond of seeing or knowing about their son willingly getting beat up, as he started calling up Muay Thay gyms and training at YMCA’s. It was a 45-minute drive from Stratford to London where the likes of Hominick and company were, and Theocharis ultimately moved there for university. Once his parents found out about his MMA involvement, they took away his equipment.
“I’d be coming home with black eyes. They’d be like, ‘Where’d you get the black eye?!’ I’m like, ‘Oh, just playing road hockey and doing this and that,” Theocharis said. “Eventually, it became competing and I fought at the Joe Louis Arena where the Detroit Red Wings used to play. A bunch of my friends and family came, my brother came, my parents ended up finding out, they got super pissed at me. Then I ended up going 3-0 as an amateur, won all three by knockout then they’re like, ‘Just tell us now.’ So here we are.”
Continually progressing over the years, Theocharis (5-4) has been all over the world and has intentionally done his best to avoid fighting in his home country.
Theocharis’ intentions with hockey as a teenager were to make a career out of it, but because he felt too small and was just at a youthful stage in life, he didn’t feel the proper effort was ever put in.
Departing university in 2019, Theocharis moved to Toronto where he planned to be a personal trainer. Unfortunately, the global COVID-19 pandemic put an ax to that idea. It all worked out though, as a friend in the National Hockey League (NHL), who was also an insurance broker, assisted him with becoming a mortgage agent.
MMA isn’t the full-time gig at the moment, but Theocharis’ parents have come around and fully support him all these years later.
“They’re much more supportive [now],” Theocharis said. “They’re the most supportive parents ever out there. They just saw I wasn’t doing well in school and I didn’t have a direction in life so they saw the discipline it took for me to train and cut weight, and just be so hyper-focused. I’ve never been clinically diagnosed with ADHD (Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder), and I’m seeing a therapist now, but she’s like, ‘Yeah, you probably have it.’ So, I was never able to focus in school, but MMA is really the only thing I’ve been able to sort of focus on. It’s been really nice to have that as an outlet.
“Once they saw that they’re like, ‘Well, we’re really proud of you. We didn’t think you had it in you to do something creative! We didn’t think you could actually do something.’ (laughs)”
For Theocharis’ next adventure, he’ll be off to South Africa on Aug. 11, 2022, for a showdown against Pietie Coxen. The opportunity will see the Canadian enter the Extreme Fighting Championship Worldwide (EFC) cage after previously reaching out early in his career.
Told he wasn’t yet “marketable enough” with an 0-1 record, Theocharis continued putting in the work before the interest spawned.
Originally, Theocharis’ debut in the promotion was supposed to happen much sooner. Lined up for Sept. 11, 2021, it was too soon after Sam’s passing and Theocharis pulled out, leading to his most recent appearance in April 2022.
Reaching out again and for the same fight, Theocharis got booked for July 2022 before fate intervened and finalized the date as Aug. 11, 2022, instead.
“I’m thinking, ‘Damn. That’s the one-year anniversary of my girlfriend passing away,’ she passed away Aug. 8,” Theocharis said. “But I’m like you know what? That is the best way to — not celebrate the one year — but get through the one year. Do something for her.
“She was so excited for me to go to South Africa and compete. She was telling her friends, telling her family. She was so excited and proud of me. Why not do it on the week she passed away? Hopefully, that’ll help me kind of get through that week, and I can just have something to fight for.”
In the end, Tom Theocharis has found his way, not only in the martial arts world but in life itself. There’s been plenty of help and motivation along the way, but the little kid from Stratford, Ontario, made things happen by his own doing, and all who have witnessed the journey are already as proud — and maybe a bit surprised — as can be.
“[My hometown] just looked at me back in High School like, ‘Damn, this guy was like 5-foot-6, 100-pounds. How the f—k is this guy an MMA fighter now? How is he a pro fighter?’” Theocharis said. “It’s because I knew it the whole time that I was able to do it. It was myself. No one went up to me back in the day and was like, ‘Hey, I think you could do it.’ That was me.”
This story originally Appeared on MMAmania