Today, Stergos Mikkios proudly calls himself a member of the ONE Championship roster. Yet if things had unfolded just a little bit differently for the Greek Muay Thai specialist, he might not have made it to the bright lights of the Singapore-based promotion.
In fact, he might not be alive at all.
Several years ago, when Mikkios was struggling to gain a foothold as professional fighter, he made a few hasty decisions and ultimately wound up with a gun in his face as a result.
Now enjoying new heights as a ONE Championship fighter, he’s hoping up-and-coming fighters will learn from his mistakes.
For Stergos Mikkios, the trouble began shortly after he made his professional Muay Thai debut in Thailand. Things were going pretty well in the sun-soaked Southeast Asian country, but he increasingly found himself pining for his homeland.
“I wanted to go back,” Mikkios recently told BJPENN.COM. “I wanted to go back to Greece. It had been a long time for me since I’d gone back to the homeland. I was really looking forward to working with Greek people, working in the industry of fighting with my fellow Greek brothers.”
As Mikkios’s longing to return to Greece grew, he began chatting online with a gentleman in his home country — whose name he has chosen to withold — who offered to act as his manager.
“I had some communication with this gentleman,” he said. “I did a little bit of research, but I didn’t do much.”
“I asked a media guy from Greece [about him],” he continued. “He told me ‘yeah man, he’s a big name in Greece. He has good connections with fights, he has some really tough fighters under him, and I think he’d be perfect for you.’”
This was all Mikkios needed to hear about this manager. He decided it was time to move back home.
Unfortunately, his long-awaited homecoming hit a snag almost immediately.
“I had [one final] fight in Max Muay Thai [in Thailand],” he said. “I made my money, buy the plane ticket, and then I miss my flight.”
Airlines, as most travelers know, are typically unsympathetic when it comes to missed flights. Mikkios was told there was nothing that could be done, and that he would need to buy another ticket. Unfortunately, his pockets were almost empty.
To make matters worse, he had nobody to call on for help. Mikkios grew up in an orphanage, and has never had much of a relationship with his family. And so, feeling increasingly desperate to get home, he called on his new manager — a man he still hadn’t met — and asked for a favor
“I had no money left,” he said. “I literally had nothing from the beginning, from the beginning in this career. I was in orphanages, I had no support from anyone.
“The days were going by, my [Thai] visa was expired, everything was going wrong. So I slept over the airport one day, and I decided ‘let me ask this guy to do me a favor and book me a ticket to Greece.’ I have no other money.”
As it turns out, his new manager was happy to help.
“He’s like ‘ok man, I’ll do that for you man, no problem.’”
A few flights later, and Stergos Mikkios was back in Greece.
Unfortunately, things took a troubling turn quite quickly. His new manager failed to find him any fights, or even adequate training. To make matters worse, the manager began heavily policing what Mikkios posted on his personal social media channels.
“He started telling me ‘don’t post anything, don’t do this,'” he explained. “He’s telling what exactly to do. He was controlling me like ‘hey man, don’t do this, don’t do this.’ Inside I’m like ‘what the f*ck is he doing?’ But I listen to him.”
Despite this strange behaviour, Mikkios did his best to stay positive and continued to press his new manager for a fight.
“I’m like ‘hey man, when am I going to get a fight? I want to start training, you know?’” he explained. “He’s like ‘nothing is going on right now, man.’ It was around May to October that I waited. So all these months in Greece it’s dead. There’s nothing.“
“I like, well ‘I want to fight outside Greece. I don’t want to fight in Greece. I told you that I’m ready for a higher level, I not trying to fight for smaller promotions and wait for so long.”
Just when Mikkios’ was becoming discouraged, however, his new manager invited him to Athens, where he promised that an apartment, some sponsorship deals, and even a part-time job awaited him.
“He’s like ‘October, you’re going to come [to Athens], I’m going to get you an apartment, I’m going to get you some sponsorships with supplements, I’m going to find you a small job so you can make some extra money, and I’m going to get you a sponsor for some meal preps,” Mikkios explained. “In my head I’m like ‘that sounds f*cking awesome.’ I never expected that. I was really enthusiastic.”
Unfortunately, Mikkios’ enthusiasm was promptly met by empty promises.
“He didn’t have anything for me yet [when I arrived], so I end up crashing at his girlfriend’s apartment for a little while on a bunk bed,” he said. “I’m waiting and waiting, and they couldn’t get me shit, man.”
Eventually, Mikkios was lined up with a gym — but it did not provide the quality of training he needed as a professional fighter who had already fought some of the best in the world in Thailand. He also says he sensed that some of the people at the gym were involved in some less than savory activities on the side.
“There’s some people that are mixed up in a little bit of the night life [stuff], but I didn’t really pay much attention to it,” he said. “I go to the gym and the way they have their training set up for us — the pro fighters, not the amateurs — it’s combinations like one-two-three-low kick, one-two-body kick, that’s it, and you do it for the whole f*cking round. I don’t need this shit. It wasn’t the level that I was expecting. It was not that good.”
Furthermore, Mikkios still hadn’t been set up with an apartment — not to mention the sponsorships and meal preps he’d been promised.
“We’re still waiting for an apartment,” he said. “I’m waiting and I’m waiting.”
“I was waiting for the food preps, I was spending all my own money, the training [was poor]… I was really getting aggravated.”
Just when it seemed as though all hope was lost, however, Stergos Mikkios was finally booked for a fight.
“I did a Muay Thai fight of five rounds against a twice-my-size Romanian,” he recounted. “I ended up finishing him in the fourth round with elbow cuts.”
“I ended up making 500 Euro. I ended up giving 100 Euro to the manager, another 100 for the flight tickets [to Greece], and ended up having 300 Euro in my pocket.”
As an established pro, Mikkios was accustomed to much larger pay checks, and decided to bring the issue up with his manager. It’s the job of a manager, after all, to track down the biggest possible paydays for a fighter.
“I can’t be having fights for 500 Euro after three or four months [without any fights],” Mikkios said. “He’s like like ‘this is your problem. You’ve got to find a job.’”
To make matters worse, Mikkios’s manager was demanding more money from him, explaining that he wanted to be be paid back in full for the plane tickets he purchased.
“I’m like, ‘I only have 300 Euro. I can’t really pay you off when I only have 300 Euro.’ So I’m like ‘why don’t you book me another fight, and then from the next fight, I can pay you off. Because I don’t have any money, I don’t have a job, I can’t pay you off. And the amount of money that I have, it’s for me to survive right now. I don’t really have a choice.”
The manager, for whatever reason, balked at the idea of helping Mikkios find another fight. In fact, he began to make threats.
“He’s like ‘oh, I’ve got to work for my f*cking money?’ I’m like ‘well this is your job as a manager [to get me fights].’”
“He sort of threatened me like ‘if you don’t get me the f*cking money, there’s going to be some big consequences.’”
Needless to say, things were quickly falling apart for Stergos Mikkios, a fighter who, mere months earlier, was enjoying quite a bit of success in the combat sports hotbed of Thailand.
“Things are sort of collapsing,” he said. “The partnership really crashed.”
By this point, Mikkios had moved out of his manager’s girlfriend’s apartment and was crashing with a friend. When his friend could no longer host him, however, he found himself confronted with homelessness.
Without any other options, he emptied out his wallet and hunkered down in a cheap hotel room for a few nights.
“I ended up getting a hotel room for a couple days and figuring out what I had to do,” he said.
It was at this point that he decided it was time to track down another manager. After doing a bit of digging, he was pointed in the direction of an established combat sports manager who seemed like the real deal, and reached out.
He would come to regret this decision.
“I went and reached out to another manager and trainer with a gym,” he said. “[He had] a fighter who had a fight in Bellator, so I’m like if this guy can connect somebody with Bellator, he can connect me. I’m at that level. So I tell him about my story and this and that.’”
“I tell him ‘this is what happened… I was supposed to get some help with an apartment, fights, I was going to make some money, and nothing that was promised was given to me.”
“I didn’t call [the other manager] names or anything, I just told him he wasn’t a man of his word.”
“This guy went to the [first] manager or somebody at that gym and told them everything that I said.”
Entirely unaware of what was going on behind his back, a distraught Stergos Mikkios decided to go back to his hometown of Rhodes. Before he departed, however, he needed return some borrowed gear, so he messaged his former coach.
“He invited me to the gym at 9:00pm when the last session was over,” he said. “He’s like ‘maybe we can chat a little bit.’”
“I went there at night, I didn’t think twice about it,” he continued. “I should have thought ‘why do I have to go there at that time?’ But I did not think about it. I was not suspicious.”
When Mikkios arrived at the gym, there was nobody around, so he sent his former coach a message.
“I message him when I get off the bus,” he said. “He’s like ‘ah f*ck man, I forgot, I went home. I’m so burnt.’
“I was like, ‘well what do you want me to do? Do you want me to leave [the gear] here?’”
When Mikkios didn’t get an answer, he wandered into the gym to return his borrowed gear.
“I got up into the gym to just leave the bag, and some guys come in with masks, with one gun,” he said. “They set it up.”
These men in masks were not alone. They were accompanied by the manager, who had been tipped off by the coach that he would be coming.
“They got me in the building,” he said. “The manager starts talking shit like ‘why would say this shit to this [other manager] after all I’ve done for you? All I tried to do for you.’ He started punching me right on the f*cking mouth — over eight times. I think he f*cked up his knuckles.”
“He says ‘you piece of shit, you want to die? You want to f*cking die?’ He takes out his phone and starts making a f*cking video tape. He says ‘say you’re my bitch on this f*cking video.’ I’m like ‘I’m not saying shit man. Punch me as long as you want, I ain’t’ saying shit. I’m nobody’s bitch.”
That’s when Mikkios’ lingering debt came up again.
“He’s punching me and he’s like ‘where’s my money, when you going to give me my f*cking money?’ I’m like ‘I don’t have any money.’”
“In my head I’m thinking ‘you did all this for what, to make yourself feel better?’ But I didn’t say it out loud because I had a gun pointed at me.”
Luckily, Stergos Mikkios was eventually allowed to leave. Entirely fed up with his dealings with the manager and his associates, however, he decided not to call the police.
“I didn’t go to the police or nothing, I’m just like ‘f*ck this, man,'” he said. “I didn’t know what to do.”
“My girlfriend was like ‘don’t give them any money, take them to the police, take them to court. Don’t give them anything that you’ve got.’”
Even once he was back in Rhodes, Mikkios continued to hear from his new nemesis.
“I ended up finding a job in Rhodes working construction,” he explained. “He’s messaging me, calling me, like ‘you’re going to die, you’ve gotta bring me my money, you’re not going to be able to fight anywhere….’ He was threatening me constantly.”
This continued up to the point that Stergos Mikkios had signed with ONE Championship, where he was set to debut against Ognjen Topic.
“I blocked him but he still could message me on my [Facebook] fan page. He’s like ‘I’m going to f*cking find you, and you’re not going to f*cking make it to that fight. You’re going to go there beat up.’
In the end, these threats were thankfully not delivered upon. Mikkios was able to fight Topic. And though he lost the fight by decision, he finally had some money in his pockets and promptly paid his debt.
“I ended up giving 400 Euro to the last trainer that I trained with to give it to that motherf*cker, and that was it,” he said. “Just to clear my f*cking mind. But you know what, it’s haunted me.”
For Stergos Mikkios, it was finally over — and just in time for the beginning of his ONE Championship career. As you can imagine, however, he admittedly had a hard time rediscovering his love of fighting after this harrowing experience.
“It really turned me off,” he said. “After what I happened, I didn’t want to fight.
“I was like if this is the fight world, I don’t want it.”
While Mikkios has since rediscovered his love of fighting, and more or less moved on from this experience, he hopes this story will serve as a reminder for young fighters to be careful who they align themselves with on the come-up.
“I just want to get a message out there,” he said. “I had a bad management experience, and I just want to get it out there to the new generation, the new kids. Watch out for these kinds of things.
“You’ve got to look out for these things. Don’t make any fast moves.”
Stergos Mikkios is scheduled to battle Mohammed Bin Mahmoud this Friday night (Friday morning North America) at ONE: Destiny of Champions in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Catch his fight live and free on the ONE Super App.
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 12/2/2018.