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Glitter and Gloves: A Stripper’s Journey to the UFC

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A career change is never an easy decision, but for Vanessa Demopoulos, the choice to walk away from her work as an exotic dancer paid off at UFC 270.

After her first-round submission over Silvana Gomez Juarez, Demopoulos (7-4, 1-1 UFC) revealed at the post-fight press conference that she left her profession as a dancer behind to focus solely on the fight camp leading into her bout. 

In an interview with MMA Fighting, Demopoulos provided additional insight into her decision to walk away from the stage for fighting in a cage.

The Family Business

“I said [I worked as an exotic dancer for] 13 years, but it was longer than that, because I started dancing at 18 years old,” said Demopoulos. “I’m 33 now, I’ve written two books on the industry, I grew up in the industry, and walking away from it was one of the scariest things I have ever done. It’s just so scary, man, because that was the way I was making money all of these years to fight full-time.

“I was working at night, training all day, but I was only able to work two nights a week. I was like, ‘F*ck! Do I want to make a few dollars? Or do I want to recover and sleep, and make sure I’m taking care of my body and mental space so I can perform better in the cage?’ I literally wrote this thing on my [whiteboard], ‘Bust your ass for thousands vs. shaking it for dollars.’ That was my big thing this whole camp. I looked at that every single morning.”

Earning her first victory in the Octagon, Demopoulos walked away with her $12,000 fight purchase and a $12,000 win bonus. Not only that, ‘Lil Monster’ received a performance of the night bonus which couldn’t have come at a better time for the fighter.

“I Love Pole Dancing”

“I didn’t have a lot of money,” Demopoulos said. “It’s not like I was good [financially] — I wasn’t good, dude. I wasn’t good, and I made the decision and walked away. If it wasn’t for sponsors, there’s no freaking way I’d be able to do any of that. It was a scary time.”

Demopoulos got her first shot at the UFC in October 2020 when she appeared on Dana White’s Contender Series. Though she lost to Cory McKenna via unanimous decision, she got the call to face JJ Aldrich almost one year later. After she came up short in that bout, Demopoulos was determined not to squander her opportunity to compete for the promotion and decided to make a change.

“I had conversations with myself when I was making this decision — I went through all of these different scenarios,” Demopoulos said. “‘What if you quit and you still win? What if you don’t quit and you still win?’ I mean, I had been dancing all of these years, and I won quite a few fights, and the reason that I’m so freaking strong is because I’m always so exhausted, and I just f*cking do it anyways, man. There’s no quit in me, because I’ve got to do what I’ve got do.

“But to be able to rest and recover, that was life-changing for this camp. I thought about a lot of different things, but I also didn’t care. This is the time. I have to put this to the side because I’m going to make fighting happen. No matter what, I’m going to make this work. This is going to work. I was talking to myself positively every day encouraging this journey, and here we are.

“I love pole dancing, I love doing all the acrobatics and stuff in the air, but I don’t have to be a stripper to do that. I don’t have to be a dancer in a club. I was dancing with my sister while we were in the car driving up the street. I got out of the car at a red light and started dancing in the street. I’m wild, man, so I don’t need to be in that atmosphere to do that. Trust me, I’m gonna get my artistic compulsions out via dance in many other ways, but it’s not going to be in the club anymore.”

Overcoming Adversity

With a full-time focus on her MMA career, there is no limit to how far the former LFA champion can go under the UFC banner. 

“I went through so much for this camp between dancing, my family had gotten sick, my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer, my little brother went to prison, and I’m like, ‘Bro, can anything else happen?’ I planned to do all of this and make these things happen, then I got that call and it was just like, man, you can do anything you want to accomplish in this life. You’ve got to want it, you’ve got to dig for it, and you’ve got to get after it. F*ck, it was so cool.”

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