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Vanessa Demopoulos reacts after defeating Silvana Gomez Juarez of Argentina by submission in their strawweight fight during the UFC 270 event at Honda Center on January 22, 2022 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

Vanessa Demopoulos Has The "It" Factor

Vanessa Demopoulos Is Excited To Showcase Her Unique Personality And Skill Set At UFC Fight Night: Tsarukyan vs Gamrot

It’s typical to ask a fighter how they felt after a pivotal win or devastating loss. That wasn’t the case when Vanessa Demopoulos earned her first UFC win in January because the whole world saw it.

“It exceeded my expectations,” she said of her first-round submission victory over Silvana Gomez Juarez at UFC 270 in Anaheim. “That was a truly pivotal point in my life. It was very life changing and I wasn't ready for how awesome that moment was. You can't plan something like that.”

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No, but when it comes, it’s always good if it meets or exceeds expectations like it did for Demopoulos, a five-year pro who came up short in her Octagon debut against JJ Aldrich six months earlier but made it all come together against Gomez Juarez. Add a memorable post-fight interview with Joe Rogan to the Performance of the Night finish, and the floodgates opened for the “Lil’ Monster.”

“The following that came from that, all the interviews that came from that, the interest, the intrigue,” she said of the aftermath of the biggest win of her career. “There was so much love from people. You know how excited I am about life, and one of the biggest things for me is just being able to share that with others, and I'm getting to do that now. I have that opportunity, I have a platform, and it's all of the things that you dream of that have actually come to fruition now and are still coming, and I know that was literally just the beginning.”

On Saturday, Demopoulos looks to build off that win when she faces Jinh Yu Frey at the APEX in Las Vegas. It’s a clash of two of the strawweight division’s top grapplers, with Frey pitting her wrestling against the newly minted jiu-jitsu black belt from Arizona. And as intriguing as the matchup is, it almost feels like a victory lap for a fighter who has had a tougher road than many to this point.

It was the kind of road – on fight night and outside the cage – that would have prompted many to abandon the dream, but when asked if Demopoulos ever doubted that she would get to the UFC, she pauses briefly but answers emphatically.

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“No,” she said. “I've always known, which is why I drove so hard through the hardship. I knew that amazing things are inevitable as long as I never quit. And the moments were very, very rough along the way. But at no point did I ever not see this. There were points when I said, ‘Man, I don't know how people endure this.’ But there wasn't a point when I said I can't become that.”

Okay, switch up the question. This isn’t baseball, where someone who succeeds three out of ten times at the plate is a superstar. In mixed martial arts, if you have a 3-10 record, you’re likely looking for another line of work. So as good as Demopoulos was in the gym and in winning six of her first nine fights, beating the likes of Sam Hughes along the way, there was a very good chance that a key loss or two would keep her from getting her chance to fight in the big show. So the new question is, did she wonder if she would get the opportunity to display her skills at the elite level of the game?

The answer is the same.

Highlight: Vanessa Demopoulos Rebounds With First-Round Submission | UFC 270
Highlight: Vanessa Demopoulos Rebounds With First-Round Submission | UFC 270

“No,” said Demopoulos. “And I say that because once I was in the LFA, I had the hardest fights in the LFA. I don't know if there's any other female who had a tougher road to getting to the UFC. After I lost on the Contender Series (to Cory McKenna in August 2020), that was rough, and I was like, 'At least I'm still the LFA champion.' And then I go in and I fight Loopy (Godinez in October 2020) and I lose that. And I'm like, 'F**k, can I come back from this?' And I just did. Again, I told myself the only way my dreams won't come true is if I let them not come true by quitting. I believed in myself, I knew what I could accomplish and I know what I still can accomplish.”

Clearly, the hunger has not faded for the 33-year-old, who still has that chip on her shoulde that there’s something to prove on Saturday and beyond.

“I haven't done anything yet,” she said. “I've only won one fight and y'all are seeing some cool s**t after one fight, so let me get back in there. This is what I have been working towards for a long, long time, behind the scenes when nobody was watching me, when no one gave a s**t. Now, I'm finally here and you better believe that I have done so much more than everything I can do to continue on this path because this is what I've always wanted, and this is what I always believed in and this is what I worked for.”

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If you’ve followed mixed martial arts for any length of time, you’ll know that it takes a special kind of athlete to compete in this space. Correction – a special kind of human being, a special kind of fighter. To get to this point is not easy, and while every fighter who walks up those four steps into a ring or cage has heart, some have a little extra beating in their chest. And though you can debate all day whether that’s something a fighter is born with or not, in Demopoulos’ case it may be a mixture of her DNA and battling through times that would break most people.

“There's some s**t that's just intangible, and that's just what I have,” she said. “The School of Hard Knocks - that's where it came from. I grew up and I was always aggressive in school. I may be the most positive person ever in the sport, and the reason for that is because I fought my own battles - mentally, emotionally, physically. I grew up fighting. I was in school, fighting. I was kicked out of school for fighting. I used to fight guys in school. I was just a very aggressive, angry child with so much anger and so much hate and so much rage. And I had to learn how to control that rage. I had to learn how to quiet those storms in my mind. I had to learn how to survive on my own in a lot of ways. And as unfortunate as that may sound, I've come through so much in my life that you can't put me away because life couldn't put me away. And I know that because I've been tested so many times. And I think the biggest test that anybody can ever pass is the one against themselves, and unless you've really, truly been to those pits, you just don't know. And not only have I been the nail in the cage, but unfortunately, I used to beat myself up mentally. And I've won those battles, as well. There's nothing that life hasn't taught me along the way.”

It's a scary proposition, fighting someone who won’t quit on themselves. Vanessa Demopoulos likes having that intangible in her back pocket, and now that she’s where she wanted to be, she plans on staying a while.

“Some people get married and then other people aim for black belts and UFC titles,” she laughs. “I'm the second one.”

UFC Fight Night: Tsarukyan vs Gamrot Took Place Live From The UFC APEX In Las Vegas, Nevada on June 25, 2022. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass