Before Saturday's UFC Fight Night Poirier vs. Duffy, journalist Ralph Welch takes a look back at the last time the UFC visited The Emerald Isle from unique perspectives. Today, Aisling Daly provides her viewpoint of the last Dublin card from afar. Check back Oct. 19 for Paddy Holohan's experience from inside the Octagon.
Part 1: Welch shares his standpoint from the 2014 Dublin visit
Part 2: Aisling Daly remembers from afar
Paddy Holohan had finally arrived.
Nearly seven years to the day after his professional debut, he’d announced himself on the world stage with a spectacular win on his UFC bow. Seconds earlier, he’d performed a cartwheel across the cage in celebration - mimicking Republic of Ireland record goalscorer Robbie Keane – thereby sending the ecstatic home fans further into delirium.
As he stared wild-eyed out into the massed ranks of his countrymen, a familiar voice whispered in his ear. That of his coach and mentor, John Kavanagh.
“John always slows us down and tells us ‘enjoy this moment, suck it all in,’” said Holohan. “There’s a great little energy in that moment when your hand gets raised. Me, I try to stay in that space for as long as possible. I try to really, really cherish that moment.”
Holohan had been a spectator the last time the UFC paid a visit to Dublin. He’d watched from afar as Rich Franklin and Dan Henderson headlined the UFC 93 card that had Tom Egan as the sole representative of the home nation. His memories of that night convinced him that the 2014 visit would deliver an extraordinary atmosphere.
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“I was telling people it was going to be something special,” he said. “I was at UFC 93. When I heard there was gonna be Cathal (Pendred), Gunni (Nelson) and Conor (McGregor) on this card I knew this was going to be absolutely nuts.”
At that point, “The Hooligan” wasn’t signed to the UFC. So he did what thousands of others did. He went online and tried his luck. The ticketing system strained under the weight of demand as every seat sold out within the hour. Nonetheless, Holohan was one of the lucky ones.
Even when he received the call from UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby that he was going to be competing on the Dublin card, he had mixed feelings.
“I was little bit disappointed that I wasn’t going to watch it as a fan, because I knew what it was going to be like,” he said. “But then I decided that if I fight first then I’ll get paid, and then I’ll go and watch the rest of the fights with the crowd anyway.”
And moments after his backstage duties had been completed, that’s exactly what he did.
“I didn’t even have a shower. I gave my cheques to a friend, I put a jumper on over my shorts and I went all the way to the back of the stands, up in the nosebleeds, and I partied with everyone else.
“It was amazing to be with close friends who watched me go through so many ups and downs, sitting there in an arena where we used to go and watch bands like U2. It was pretty special to be sitting there, drinking beer after winning my fight in the first round, getting to ready to watch Conor and all my other teammates,” he said.
Holohan’s win set the tone for the evening as his Straight Blast Gym (SBG) teammates blitzed through the opposition, going 4-0 on the night. Though Conor McGregor was the name that dominated the country’s column inches for weeks afterwards, the Irishman soon realised the impact that night in Dublin would have on his own career.
“I walked out of the gates and I was absolutely mobbed,” he said. “I was a bit like a kid caught in the headlights. I realised then what Dublin really meant and the impact it was going to have on my life in Ireland for the rest of my days. This is going to be spoken about for years.”
One year on, sporting a 3-1 UFC ledger, Holohan is now an established player in the flyweight division. He returns to the scene of his finest moment looking for his third win on the spin when he faces Louis Smolka. With McGregor distracted by his long-awaited title tussle with Jose Aldo in Las Vegas, Holohan finds himself as a genuine main card attraction. In fact, the Dubliner plans to upstage headliners Joe Duffy and Dustin Poirer.
“I get to be the main SBG man making the walk now. There’s going to be a serious realisation of who should be the main event when I walk out into that arena. That place is going to explode,” he said.
As we await another special night in this city steeped in fighting history, Holohan reflects on the unique bond between people and prizefighters in his homeland.
“We represent something. We represent that never giving up. Other fighters represent themselves. My whole country came to my first fight. They didn’t come because they like the kicks I throw, they came because they know that I’m one of them and they supported me all the way. They’re the most incredible fans in the world.”
Ralph Welch has had his work featured on BT Sport, The Mirror and UFC.com amongst others. Follow him on Twitter at @RalphWelchMMA