▶ Watch Video: MMA fighter Elias Theodorou fights to reform cannabis policies in professional sports

Former UFC fighter and cannabis advocate Elias Theodorou has died of cancer at the age of 34. Theodorou died on Sunday surrounded by his family and loved ones “after a hard-fought fight with colon cancer that metastasized,” according to a statement posted on his website and social media accounts on Monday. 

“He faced his end as he lived his life eternally, irrationally, and infectiously optimistic,” the statement said. “It’s impossible to capture every facet or all of his accomplishments in a simple post so to “make it a long story short.””

The Canadian mixed martial arts fighter had a career pro record of 19 wins and 3 losses. He competed in the UFC’s middleweight division and rose to No. 13 until he was released from the company in 2019. He went on to compete in three other fights outside of UFC and went undefeated. 

Elias Theodorou reacts after his middleweight bout against Derek Brunson during the UFC Fight Night event at Canadian Tire Centre on May 4, 2019 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

In 2020, Theodorou became the first professional athlete in North America publicly known to receive a therapeutic use exemption for medical cannabis, which was granted by the British Columbia Athletic Commission. He said cannabis helped him with his bilateral neuropathy, a result of damage to the nerves located outside of the brain and spinal cord. 

Ahead of his fight with Bryan Baker last year, he spoke with CBS News about his medical cannabis advocacy and said he was “very proud” of his work. 

“There’s been certain athletes that have been persecuted for their medicine, but also penalized as well, taking away any type of win, whether it’s in mixed martial arts, or obviously the Olympics,” Theodorou told CBS News. “And that comes from an outdated mindset, in regards to looking at cannabis as a drug.”

Tributes poured in for the Canadian fighter online. UFC’s editorial director Thomas Gerbasi wrote Theodorou was someone “who made everyone pay attention as soon as they saw him.”  

“It was a career and life to be proud of, and one that ended too soon. But just like he wanted it, Elias Theodorou made an impact in his 34 years, one that won’t be forgotten,” Gerbasi said. 

Journalist Ariel Helwani, who covers MMA, said Theodorou was “great soul if you knew him” and “always had a great smile on his face.” 

Colon cancer is predicted to be the top cancer killer for people under the age of 50 by 2030, according to the advocacy group LeadfromBehind.