"I’m a proud Greek and I want to be the Greek version of Conor McGregor one day, hopefully." - Christos Giagos
Flyweight Chris Kelades got things off to a good start with his win over Paddy Holohan earlier this month. So would a victory by lightweight newcomer Christos Giagos over Gilbert Burns this Saturday at UFC 179 officially signal the start of a Greek invasion in the UFC?
Giagos sure hopes so, and he wouldn’t mind being the one waving the flag.
“My parents are from Greece, and I want to embrace it,” he said. “I’m a proud Greek and I want to be the Greek version of Conor McGregor one day, hopefully.”
He laughs at the McGregor reference, knowing how polarizing the Irish featherweight star can be, but the 24-year-old from Hawthorne, California is more than serious when it comes to representing his heritage in the Octagon, and fans are responding to that already.
“I’m already getting Greek followers, and people are hitting me up, saying that the Greeks are behind me,” Giagos said. Now all he has to do is win on Saturday night, and the ball will get rolling on a UFC career many believe will be a promising one. That’s a lot of weight on any young fighter’s shoulders, but as he explains, it’s getting here that really turns the heat up.
“It’s funny because this is the least nervous I’ve been,” he said. “Not because of who I’m fighting, because he’s probably the toughest guy I’ve ever fought, but in a lot of my fights you have all these nerves because your whole life your goal is to get to the UFC and you always have it in the back of your head that you don't want to mess up your chances. You want to do everything right. And now that I’ve made it, now I can just go in there and fight.”
He’s one hundred percent correct. Sure, every fight in the UFC is against one of the best in the world in your division and the pressure is always high to win or risk losing your roster spot, but to get to this point you have to work your way through the local circuit, where any loss can be a crippling setback. And it doesn’t matter if you lost by way of a cut, a freak injury, or any other reason. A loss is a loss, and the more you have, the further away that UFC call is.
“There’s a lot of build-up,” Giagos, a pro since 2010, said. “You have to win. They say ‘It’s a small show; if you lose you don’t deserve it.’ And I think the nerves were worse for my other fights. And you want to win to get there, but you also have to show some type of excitement in your fights. People want to watch exciting fights; they don’t want to see boring fights.”
It’s a lot to have on your mind in addition to having someone trying to punch you in the face, yet Giagos handled everything well, running out to a 6-1 record that included a 2013 submission win over The Ultimate Fighter's Chris Tickle. Giagos admits to being “still kind of inexperienced,” but he believed that a win over WEC veteran Poppies Martinez in August of 2013 would get him called up to the UFC.
He lost, getting submitted in the second round, but he hasn’t tasted defeat since, running off four straight wins, capped off by a flying knee finish of Dakota Cochrane in August. It was the kind of exciting win Giagos needed, and he nailed it.
“I knew that got seen for sure,” he laughs. Next up was that UFC offer, and he took it. Now he’s in Rio de Janeiro waiting for a crack at highly-regarded prospect Burns.
“I’m excited to go to Brazil,” Giagos said. “I’ve never been and I heard Rio is a beautiful place, so that’s one thing that’s cool. Two, Gilbert Burns, I know he’s tough and he’s highly spoken of. I know his ground game is phenomenal, so the game plan of course is not to get it to the ground, and if it does, just be calm and patient and work to get back to my feet.”
And if it stays standing, Giagos wants to let UFC fans know that Greeks come to fight.
“I hope they see that I’m an exciting fighter,” he said. “I’m here to fight and I want to be exciting. Win or lose, I just want to give the crowd a really good show and get them to their feet.”