The fall of 2018 was a time of celebration for the Theofanopoulos family. Their passion, knowledge and generosity for Mixed Martial Arts (and the community of Oakdale) has entered its 30th year. Earlier this fall Tom Theofanopoulos celebrated his 30th anniversary as a teacher of Mixed Martial Arts in the city of Oakdale and in October he was promoted to the highest of honors in Mixed Martial Arts, Grand Master.
“Grand Master is the highest honor that can be bestowed upon you. It was offered to me on a few different occasions but I felt like I wasn’t ready;” said Grand Master Tom. “Truthfully; I feel like I am a lifelong student. I teach day-to-day and I feel like I learn something every day, or at least I try to learn something new every day.”
The ceremony was held at Lake Elizabeth and close friends, family and students attended the ceremony.
Grand Master Tom and his family moved from the Bay Area and into Oakdale in the early ‘80s and settled here, where his vision came to life.
“I moved to Oakdale when my children were very young. I wanted to move them to the country, and Oakdale was the country; I never envisioned that I would open a training facility,” he explained.
During this time Grand Master Tom had twelve years of Kajukenbo where he was a second degree black belt. At that point he was looking for training partners. He met up with Tracy Yates of Turlock.
“He sought me out, and wanted me to train with him. I declined but he was persistent in having me work with him. I finally decided to work with him. He came over to my house where I laid down a piece of carpet and that was my first student,” the Grand Master explained. “A few weeks later, a neighbor heard a noise in our garage and he said he thought someone was in danger but when I explained to him that we were training for MMA, he was highly interested in learning, so that was my second student and from there it grew.”
Eventually, the business moved out of the garage.
“Time went by and one of my students suggested that we open a training facility in Oakdale. I really did not want to do it, because I only wanted to train myself and a few others, but in 1988 I rented a small 800 foot facility in Randy Plaza.”
When it opened he had 40 students. He soon outgrew the building and moved to his second location.
In 1993 Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) surfaced and caught the attention of Grand Master Tom.
“When UFC debuted and Royce Gracie shocked the world I wanted to get into it. I had a background in grappling and wanted to learn kickboxing and other arts. I always consider myself to be a lifelong student.”
Grand Master Tom has bestowed his knowledge of MMA, working with hundreds of students of all ages. He has helped pave the way for several top talents in the world including Michael McDonald, Justin Smitley, Buddy Wallace, Sal Baccera, Michael Gall, Ryan Tobar, Angel DeAnda and more.
“I’ve known Grand Master Tom for fourteen years;” said Smitley. “I am a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I met him after I graduated from high school and I was going to join the Marine Corps because of my dreams of becoming a professional fighter seemed too hard to reach. Not because of the lack of motivation and desire but the lack of direction and someone noticing my hunger and desire to fulfill my dream.
“I walked into Oakdale Mixed Martial Arts Academy and introduced myself to him. Not knowing at this time Grand Master already went down that road and decided to turn away from the sport of mixed martial arts competition because of the negative influence and “Thug Like” mentality that the sport is portraying. But he said he would do his best in helping me become a better martial artist. After several weeks Grand Master and I had become pretty close and developed a father-son like relationship. I’m not the only one; he has this effect on many of his students. Shortly after meeting Grand Master Tom, I brought my two little brothers Brad McDonald and Michael McDonald who at the time had no desire in competing but wanted to train. After some time of training at Oakdale MMA I told Grand Master Tom I may not be able to train as much as I would like since I had to get a job or join the Marines. He then offered an opportunity that would begin the career for me and my family.”
Buddy Wallace, who signed with Final Fight Championship promotion in Las Vegas, also had high praise for Theofanopoulous.
“I always considered him a father figure and great role model in my life and career. He has helped my career in fighting, always willing to share any of his vast knowledge when it comes to technique and cornering (coaching) me no matter how far he has to travel,” Wallace noted. “He has also helped me even more in guiding me to not only train to be a great fighter but to adopt the lifestyle of a true martial artist which has led me to live a much healthier and productive life.”
Over three decades, Oakdale Mixed Martial Arts has been a staple in the community. They have had several fundraisers, charity events and even helped with junior high and high school students.
“In 1988 we used to help the junior high school with physical education classes. Help the kids work out and exercise,” said Grand Master Tom.
To survive and thrive in business it takes the right team. Theofanopoulous credits his wife, Lori for most of the success.
“She is very dedicated in everything she does. Without her, the business aspect of this would fall apart. She keeps it running and does a fantastic job,” he said.
Today Oakdale Mixed Martial Arts Academy teaches hundreds of fighters, students, youth classes, women’s self-defense classes and more.
“Being a part of Oakdale MMA is just like being a part of a family and we are all very grateful to have a leader like Grand Master Tom,” said Wallace.