Just as Louis Smolka was set to charge across the Octagon to collide with Dublin’s hero Paddy Holohan in the main event of Fight Night Dublin, he stopped for a moment.
Something wasn’t right.
“You know how right when you go into the Octagon a lot of times your corner is trying to give you final instructions? Just stuff like, ‘Circle right,’ or do this or do that – I couldn’t hear my corner and they were right behind me,” Smolka told UFC.com in an interview on Thursday. “My head coach was trying to give me instructions and I couldn’t hear him because the noise was just so deafening.”
The Irish faithful lived up to its reputation as among the most enthusiastic fight fans in combat sports. When all eyes turn to Dublin these days, absolute craziness ensues.
But Smolka was able to tune out the crowd and focus on the task at hand: beating Holohan in an important flyweight tilt that went from card opener to main event in less than a week.
The pressure of fighting in Ireland, in the main event, and against perhaps the toughest test of his career was the least of Smolka’s concerns once the fight began. He just had to get out of his own way.
“I felt like I was fighting myself. I was trying to tell myself, ‘Just let go. Let your combinations go, let your kicks go, let your punches go, don’t be scared,’” he said.
A courageous Smolka rose to the occasion, surviving in the early stages of the bout as an aggressive Holohan looked to grapple and take the fight to the mat. “The Hooligan” was successful in the first round, getting a takedown and attacking with his jiu-jitsu on the ground.
Smolka stayed composed and was content to go submission attempt-for-submission attempt, using his unorthodox grappling style to frustrate Holohan. After an unbelievable ground showcase by both fighters, Smolka landed a big shot and he knew the tide was beginning to turn.
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“When we got back to our feet and I kicked him in the head, like on the break I threw a head kick and I nipped him. Then we started trading punches and I felt like I was winning every single exchange,” Smolka said. “I was thinking, ‘Oh man, I think I got him.’”
Smolka did indeed have Holohan right where he wanted him. “Da Last Samurai” went on to finish him by rear naked choke in the second round, and quickly showed his appreciation for the roaring live crowd in Dublin.
Smolka said he’s never been a part of anything like that before.
“Maybe the closest thing chaos wise was UFC 189 weigh-ins, but the decibels, man – I’ve never heard anything like that,” he said.
Smolka made his debut on the rankings at No. 13 in the flyweight division this week and the Hawaiian said he should be on the 125-pound radar as he looks to continue his climb in the rankings.
So now that a main event is in the books for Smolka, what’s next? He says he wouldn’t mind fighting in front of his hometown crowd and experiencing what it’s like to have some support for a change.
“I’d love to fight in Hawaii. It would be amazing. I would love to have my family and friends come out and watch me fight,” he said. “A lot of people are asking about it and locally a lot of people want it. Hawaii has a pretty deep MMA history and I feel like it’s only right that we get a UFC show here.”
In the meantime, Smolka is taking some time off in preparation for the birth of his daughter, who is due on Christmas Day. When he returns, expect the most confident version of Smolka to date, as he sets his sights on the top of the flyweight division.
“I realized that I might actually be as good as I think I am,” Smolka said when asked what he learned about himself in Dublin. “In my head I think I’m pretty awesome, but I’m kind of a biased party. Now I’m actually starting to think I may be as good as I think I am.”
Matt Parrino is a digital producer and writer for UFC.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MattParrinoUFC