With the exception of an upset loss to Chris Kelades in his second UFC bout a year ago, the mixed martial arts career of Paddy Holohan has been setback free. Yet that doesn’t mean that “The Hooligan” is complacent or so confident of victory that he can’t fathom defeat. In fact, he’s got a message for anyone who thinks that can knock him down or keep him from his path to the UFC flyweight title.
“I’ve always been a man that you can run me over, but I promise you that if you look in that rearview mirror, I’m coming at you,” he said.
That attitude has endeared the 27-year-old to Dublin, to all of Ireland, and maybe even the entire mixed martial arts world. There is an intensity to Holohan, but a manner where he is quick with a smile or a joke; a no nonsense approach to his profession, but an ability to turn a phrase in describing it that is nothing short of poetic. He is a complex man in a complex sport, but everyman at the same time. So when asked about dealing with the distractions of training at home amid the hype for the UFC’s return to Dublin this Saturday, his answer is basically “what distractions?”
“I embrace every bit of it,” Holohan said. “I love that the people of my country want to come and watch me perform. I’m on deck all the time. I want to be able to stand when everybody else is running in the other direction.”
In other words, he’s not leaving Tallaght anytime soon to chase fame and fortune elsewhere. He’s a lifer, and the way he looks at the world, why would he want to be anywhere else? And if he needs any reminders, he’ll hear them at the 3Arena when he walks into the Octagon to face fellow flyweight up and comer Louis Smolka in the UFC Fight Night co-main event.
The last time Holohan fought in that arena in July of 2014, he was 9-0-1 as a pro and making his UFC debut in the promotion’s first visit to Dublin in five years. More importantly, on a card featuring three of his SBG Ireland teammates (Cathal Pendred, Gunnar Nelson, Conor McGregor), he was the one tasked to get the show off to a rousing – and winning – start.
If he lost, it would have put a cloud over the whole night just as it got started. But this was a role he was accustomed to at SBG, as he was the team’s designated “berserker.” And he didn’t disappoint, taking a little over three minutes to submit Josh Sampo. Holohan had his win and he set the stage for Pendred, Nelson and McGregor, who all emerged victorious as well.
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This time around, Holohan will be the last SBG rep out of the tunnel, as Pendred and Aisling Daly make the walk first on Saturday. It’s different, but not something that bothers the co-headliner.
“I don’t really mind, and it doesn’t affect me in that kind of way,” he said. “It’s nice to be part of starting it off because you get to sit back and watch everybody else. But I just did Scotland on my own – I was the only SBG guy out there – and I done my camp over here with the guys here because (coach) John (Kavanagh) was away in Vegas, and that didn’t change anything. To me, I’m just coming out from behind the curtain at a certain time. Where I’m placed on the card never really means anything to me.”
But will the absence of Holohan in the “berserker” slot hurt his other teammates?
“No, they’re all strong as oxes, and the whole team is back in Dublin, so everything has been going great for everybody,” he said. “It’s a cliché thing to say this is the best kind of team, but it’s getting better and better and the momentum is moving on. When you look at the amateur guys, they’re blowing the whole team away. People are absolutely shocked at what’s coming out of SBG now.”
Two years ago, few outside of Dublin knew how good the John Kavanagh-led squad was. Today, McGregor is the interim UFC featherweight champion, Holohan is soaring up the flyweight ranks, Nelson is doing the same at welterweight, Pendred has won four of his five UFC bouts, and Daly is on track to make plenty of noise in the strawweight division. It’s a new world in the city, and anyone fighting one of the local heroes this weekend will know it as soon as they step into the arena.
“Any opponent coming in to face an Irish fighter is going to be fighting two people – there’s the crowd and their opponent,” Holohan said, and while he admits that the last show’s electricity will never be replicated, that doesn’t mean this one can’t be memorable in its own right.
“I think you can’t replace what happened,” he said. “But the next Dublin show is just gonna be a different type of special.”