The sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has exploded onto the scene and is experiencing a surge in popularity with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) as the premier organisation in the sport.
For the uninitiated, MMA is a full contact combat sport that combines fighting styles such as wrestling, jiu-jitsu, muay thai, judo and boxing where a win can be obtained via knockout, submission or referee decision.
The smash mouth style within the UFC octagon (8 sided cage) has struck a chord with people all over the world, having seen UFC’s monthly pay‑per‑view events rival boxing and eclipse professional wrestling in buy‑rate revenue.
The UFC’s unprecedented rise in popularity has seen the American company take its events all around the globe. Sydney was its latest destination, hosting UFC 110 at ACER Arena over the weekend (Sunday February 21).
While all the focus is on Australian athletes competing in the Winter Olympics, little has been written about the Aussie who is making a name for himself in this unique sport and set for one of the biggest fights of his life.
George Sotiropoulos has become a real contender in the UFC’s Lightweight division. His impressive 4-0 record (11-2 overall) since joining the UFC and slick Brazilian jiu-jitsu technique has turned heads, while he is regarded as having some of the best submission skills in the game.
Having fought on under-cards throughout the past year, he finally got his chance on the main card where he will have done battle against American Joe Stevenson at Sydney’s UFC 110. The magnitude of this should not be discounted as the event will be watched by millions throughout the world.
The 32-year-old’s pride in his country of birth and origin are clear to see as his pre-fight t-shirts are emblazoned with both the Greek and Australian flags.
He sees MMA as the next evolution of Ancient Hellenic pankration combat sport and is continuing that tradition today. “I’m closely tied to my ancestors and I wear it (the Greekflag) with pride,” he said to Neos Kosmos.
Born and raised in Geelong, Victoria, George has not always made a living as a professional fighter.
He has a Bachelor of Business in Banking & Finance, Associate Diploma of Business in International Trade and has worked in various roles for companies such as National Australia Bank, Merril Lynch and Globe International. However his true calling was combat sport and he has had an impressive amateur career.
Sotiropoulos began training Brazilian jiu-jitsu in 1997, gaining his BJJ Black Belt. He went onto claim the Australian Warriors Realm Welterweight MMA Title, Pan Pacific BJJ Championship and represented Australia at the 2003 and 2007 Submission Wrestling World Championships.
Sotiropoulos has also trained and competed in amateur and professional boxing, winning the Victorian State Amateur Boxing Title in 2004.
An impressive list for sure and his skills in a wide variety of combat sports made him an ideal candidate for the burgeoning world of Mixed Martial Arts. Inspired by UFC legends Royce Gracie and others, he moved to the US to continue his training and achieve his dream of fighting in the UFC.
His big break came as a contestant on the reality television series The Ultimate Fighter (2007), where unknown professional fighters compete for a six-figure, multi-fight contract with the UFC.
By reaching the semi finals he impressed enough to receive a contract and has subsequently gone undefeated in four fights.
He is now part of a feature fight on a major pay-per-view card. While Sotiropoulos is undoubtedly the underdog against Joe Stevenson, few would be surprised if he ended up claiming the win.
Both share a similar skill set and both are BJJ black belts. Stevenson is far more experienced despite his younger age, but he will have to contend with the parochial home crowd support that George will receive.
This is George’s sternest test to date and a win would catapult him closer to Lightweight championship contention. A loss would be a setback but not a devastating blow to his career.
Whatever happens we should be proud that not only an Australian but a Greek Australian, is mixing it up with the elite competitors in his chosen sport and representing all the Greek Diaspora on the world stage.