Olga Bakalopoulos: “The Greek Sensation” Prepares for the Evolution of Women’s MMA. Don’t let the looks deceive you. Olga Bakalopoulos can probably knock or choke you out. Not what you would expect from a nice Greek girl from Canada, but typical of the type of female warriors who will step into the ring for Hook N Shoot Revolution on April 13.
“I enjoy the sport, I enjoy the contact, and I like testing myself out,” Ms. Bakalopoulos told MaxFighting. “Being aggressive, it’s a lot of fun. I like to put on a good show.”
Fighting Shannon Hooper on April 13, it’s the third mixed martial arts bout for the 23-year-old, who holds a Blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. But unlike many Jiu-Jitsu practitioners, Olga can bang as well as grapple; bad news for Ms. Hooper, but good news for Bakalopoulos’ cornerman, MMA legend Bas Rutten.
“Bas was the first person I trained with as a fighter, him and Marco Ruas,” she said. “I remember seeing some of his fights and I thought, ‘oh my god, this guy is so passionate about the sport.’ And just the way he fights, every punch, every kick, he puts 100 percent in, and I want to be just like him. He influenced me a lot and really got me more into the sport. He taught me to not just give little knocks when you’re punching somebody or when you’re kicking. Every punch and kick counts.”
Rutten has also advised Olga on the game outside of the ring, a game that sometimes holds more danger than the one inside the ropes. “He told me to make sure that when I do a fight that I’m 100 percent,” she said. “People may say, ‘ok, just do the fight,’ but if you don’t feel 100 percent, don’t do it. He told me that he did that once, he let his people influence him, and he ended up losing because he didn’t feel right. So I just listen to my gut instinct on everything.”
Olga’s instincts have led her to a number of BJJ tournament wins that not only prepared her for the MMA world, but that introduced her to the joys of performing for a crowd. “I got into jiu-jitsu and I did my first tournament,” she said. “I remember I was really nervous. I was thinking, ‘what is the crowd going to think of me?’ But then, the more and more I did it, I noticed that I actually liked it. I would win more often and then I would notice that the crowd was amazing. When I did my first NHB fight in 2000, I didn’t even notice that the crowd was there. And then when I watched the fight on tape afterwards, I noticed that the whole crowd was into it, chanting my name, and it was really cool. It’s a rush for me.”
Her BJJ background also gives her an edge when it comes to her preparation for opponents that may have little available film on them. “In the first two fights I had, I had no idea what these people looked like or anything about their fighting style,” she said. “It’s the same in jiu-jitsu. You really don’t know anything about the girls either. Even though I’d like to know what they can do, then again, I’d rather not know, and just go in there and do it. I’ve actually seen a little of what Shannon is about. She seems interesting and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a good fight, and I definitely plan on winning.”
With a crowd-pleasing style and looks that will undoubtedly attract male fans, Olga has all the tools to become a star in the budding sport of female MMA. And when asked if she would like to be remembered as a pioneer in the sport, she says, “I definitely hope so. To me, the first women in the sport are people like Zee (Vjesalicu) and Becky Levi. They’re both amazing fighters, but it’s still in the first stage. But yeah, in 15 or 20 years I would love for people to remember me, not just as a good fighter, but as someone who was pretty and could also kick ass. A lot of people, when they see me, they say, ‘oh, I can’t believe you’re a fighter, you’re so pretty, blah, blah, blah,’ and it’s like ‘oh wow.’ They really can’t picture me fighting, but when they see me fight they’re like, ‘oh god, you’re like another person.’ So it’s cool, I like that.”
Obviously, the stereotype is that the only place for an attractive woman in combat sports is as a ring card girl. Not surprisingly, Olga has some strong feelings about that subject, and while she resists the temptation to choke out those who think women don’t belong in the sport, she hopes to lead by her example instead.
“In every other sport you see women having a place,” she said. “Women have as much right to be in this as the guys do. In the beginning, it wasn’t all that great but now you have women like Lucia Rijker and Laila Ali, they’re just phenomenal fighters. Every year, the sport gets bigger, more women get into it, and they’re saying, ‘hey, I can do this.’ It’s going to be awesome.”
But not all women are breaking down the doors of gyms around the country to begin training in the finer points of the guard and triangle choke. “The two fights that I had, the women who came up to me were mainly girly-girls where they would say, ‘hey, that’s so cool,’ but there was not a lot of interest,” said Olga. “I find that that in the jiu-jitsu world, I’ll have women come up to me and say, ‘hey, that’s really cool, how can I get into it?’ But not so much in the NHB world. I still think it’s still a little scary for most women, who really can’t see themselves doing something like that.”
Another tough sell for Olga were her parents, who do take solace in the fact that most muggers in Los Angeles wouldn’t stand a chance against their daughter. “You know how parents are,” she laughs. “They were worried and scared and they haven’t been to any of my fights but I showed them some of my tapes when I’ve gone back home. It’s kind of hard for them to see me doing stuff like that because I don’t come across as being aggressive. Well, I do, but not so much after fighting somebody. I never got into fights in high school or anything like that. For them, it’s a big scare. Of course, my mom is pretty happy with the fact that I can take care of myself and be out here in LA by myself.”
In Los Angeles, Olga resides in the unofficial US capital of MMA. And seeing Californians like Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell, and the Shamrocks make a healthy living from the sport inspires her to keep training for the day when fighting will pay all the bills. But for now, like most up and coming fighters, she still has to deal with the working world. “We all have to work,” she said. “I train and fight full-time though. I train five times a week and do security at clubs on weekends. And I get sponsorships from certain places, so that does help out, and it keeps me training, and that’s what I’m focusing on right now. I want to train as much as I can and fight as much as I can while I’m young. Hopefully this will open doors for me later on.”
Wherever she ends up, you get the impression that Olga Bakalopoulos is going to end up as a star. And if she has her choice, her field of excellence will be in combat sports. “I’m in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and NHB 100 percent,” she said. “I plan on getting my black belt in jiu-jitsu and I’ll hopefully fight a lot more in NHB this year. I’ve only had two fights, and both of them were in 2000. I did a lot of jiu-jitsu tournaments last year, and hopefully with Hook N Shoot, there will be more doors opening. I would love to fight in Japan, and I will stay in it for as long as my body can take it and as long as I’m still excited about the sport, which I think will be for a while.”
Editor’s Note: Ms. Bakalopoulos asked us to run the following paragraph regarding her trainer, Marcus Vinicius:
“I am presently training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under 4th degree Black Belt Marcus Vinicius. I have been training with Marcus at the Beverly Hills Jiu Jitsu Club in Beverly Hills, CA. since Feb. 1999. He expects me in class everyday to train and he pushes me to my fullest potential. Without him I couldn’t have placed Second at the World wide Championships in Rio de Janerio, Brazil. I have to give thanks to Marcus Vinicius for his incredible support and invaluable guidance. I love him! I will be forever indebted to him”.