Stergos Mikkios is proud of the man he has become.
The 31-year-old known as “Greek Dynamite” has endured a lifetime of hardship, but has found solace in Muay Thai. He will pay homage to the sport when he makes his ONE Super Series debut on Saturday, 12 May.
While Mikkios is thrilled to finally appear in ONE Championship, he will be the first to admit that his journey to the global stage of martial arts was one largely forged through self-discovery.
After spending his formative years in an orphanage in Greece, Mikkios relocated to the United States when he was 11 years of age, and lived with his grandparents in East Hartford, Connecticut.
Initially, it was a difficult transition for Mikkios, both on a physical and an emotional level.
The Greek was extremely self-conscious about his appearance due to an unfortunate childhood incident. A bowl of piping-hot soup was accidentally spilled on him when he was a toddler. It scalded him badly, and left him with a series of scars all over his body, including his head.
For the next several years, he had trouble finding comfort in his own skin.
“I had low self-esteem,” he admits.
“I used to carry myself with the burns that I had. I used to grow my hair longer, just to cover the bald spots on my head. I was not really happy with my appearance. I was not really confident to talk to a girl. I was always worried about what other people thought about me.”
Soon, his worries turned into anger.
Classmates poked fun at Mikkios’ scars, and ridiculed him because of his appearance. He was bullied frequently, but the Greek stood up for himself, and got into a lot of skirmishes with other students.
That immediately placed a label on him among teachers, as well as his grandparents, as a troublemaker.
“Every time I would get into trouble in school, my grandfather would get really mad at me,” Mikkios recalls.
“No one could really understand what was happening with me, with my feelings, or with what was happening in school.
“My grandparents could not really understand me. They were old-school Greek people. They carried themselves on how other people looked at them, so they wanted to lead by that example. They wanted to really have that perception of a good family, but in reality, every family has its problems. Every person has problems, and the best thing you can do is to fix it.”
“Greek Dynamite” later found that fix for all of his issues. In 2012, while working as a car mechanic, he caught a glimpse of mixed martial arts on television. He was instantly curious.
Something about the sport spoke to Mikkios, and that led him to Thornton Martial Arts. He finally found a proper outlet to vent his anger and frustration, years after his grandparents forbade him from engaging in any kind of conflict while growing up.
Though he lacked confidence when he first approached the gym, he soon found a mentor that would guide him to embrace his new obsession.
“I joined a mixed martial arts school in East Hartford, but I really did not have the fire. I was still questioning myself. I wondered if it was something I could do,” Mikkios explains.
“I still had a lot of uncertainty until one of the instructors there told me about this guy in Muay Thai, who was my first-ever coach. I met that coach, and ever since then, I [have trained in] Muay Thai. He showed me the passion and the love for Muay Thai.”
That passion grew from a fledgling interest to a full-blown career, when the Greek martial artist decided to see just how far he could take his Muay Thai skills.
Mikkios had been torn down for so much of his life that he did not even realize Muay Thai was building him back up again. After winning several championships, he came to see that the martial art was his saving grace, and it gave him a life worth living.
“After competing, after winning some titles, and after beating the best of the best amateur fighters on the East Coast, I started to really get some confidence in myself,” he says.
“I started to feel some real power in myself. [I started] loving myself, and appreciating myself. It really did make a tremendous difference.
“To be honest, Muay Thai has been my rescuer. Martial arts changed my life completely. My life may not be perfect, but I am really happy with myself, and how I carry myself as a human being.”