Paddy “The Hooligan” Holohan – Hard Knocks, Joint Locks and Future Title Shots

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Paddy “The Hooligan” Holohan’s victory at UFC Fight Night: McGregor vs Brandao was one of the most impressive showings from an Irishman inside the Octagon to date. On paper, Josh Sampo was the biggest threat to the Irish clean sweep on July 19th and apart from an armbar attempt that was avoided, Holohan looked completely comfortable in every second of the bout despite a two year competitive lay off.

Celebrating with a cart wheel into a tumble, a homage to a fellow Jobstown sporting hero Robbie Keane, it’s clear that Holohan believes he owes a lot to the Tallaght housing estate he grew up in.

“Every day I’d get into little scraps about stupid things like football or whatever,” he said. “It’s not like we would be in huge organised fights, we were just kids. I wouldn’t change a thing about my upbringing. Even now I try to spend as much time as I can in my area.

“There’s a lot to learn around here through the situations that you’re faced with on a daily basis, if another kid steals your bike you have to go out and take it back. I could look out my window right now and I’d probably see people fighting over silly things. It might look bad but they are learning, it’s healthy when you grow up in an area like this.

“I was in a lot of scuffles when I was growing up. I had a big group of friends and a lot of them were older than me. Two of them actually went to prison today, they are my neighbours in the houses either side of me. It just shows you the different paths you can take, today I was teaching martial arts to 30 Garda (police).”

Holohan spoke about how he always felt the need to defend his household in his formative years. Failing that, he described how he has an incredibly “tough” older sister who never shied away from confrontation.

“I’ve always felt like the man of the nest. It was me and my older sister when we were growing up and she was as tough as shit too, she actually gave me my first black eye. She’s known around the area for it as well, she’d be beating up my friends’ older brothers.

“She looked after me when I was growing and so did my uncle, I had friends that looked out for me too, it was good craic. We always had enough to get by.”

Raised by his mother, the SBG flyweight highlighted how the space he was given as an adolescent helped him to forge his own path in later life.

He said: “My Ma never seen me fight, she doesn’t really care about it that much. It’s always been that way, I’ve always been paving my own path. Even in school, it’s not that she doesn’t care, she just knows me and she trusts me. The freedom she gave me from a young age is why I’m in the situation that I am today.

“I’ve always wanted to do well in everything that I do. I never wanted people to look at me and see some kind of stereotype and if people did look at me like that I wanted to shock them and show them what I could do.”

Although the Dubliner is celebrated for his unorthodox grappling style today, he remembered how his first steps into Arte Suave were not as calculated and triumphant.

“My friend Dean Donnelly, he’s a purple belt now, he got me into it and I didn’t even know what it was called at the start, I think I called it Tae-kee-doh or something,” he laughed of his introduction to Brazilian jiu jitsu, “I knew it worked though. I can remember going down to train and Ais Daly was tying me up in knots and I just had to learn more, I was thinking ‘how have I gone through my whole life without knowing these things’.”

It’s hard to believe that “The Hooligan” ever contemplated a life outside of MMA, but he revealed that he had his own agendas to take into his initial competitive outings.

“I never thought that it would end up as a career, not a chance. I was just thinking how great it would be to hit someone and not get charged for it. I’m deadly serious, that’s what I was thinking. It’s not that I wanted to hurt anyone, I just wanted to be able to have a fight without other people jumping in or pulling me out of the way.

“Even when John Kavanagh asked me would I like to fight I told him exactly the same thing. Even the second fight I got, I was heading to Marseille in France and that was the biggest reason that I wanted to fight that time. I was like, ‘I get to go to France and I get to do that fighting thing again’, so I was happy enough with that.”

Holohan also recalled that it was after his second test in France that he knew that he would be able to make a career out of the sport having reacted well to fighting a hometown favourite in front of a hostile crowd.

“I can remember it felt like I was being pushed into a corner and that’s what gets the best out of me. I felt like I was being brought out there just to get beaten by this guy. He was hometown guy and Owen Roddy was supposed to fight him originally, so I knew he was going to be good.

“I knew after I got out of that sticky situation that I could make something of it. I thought if I could take that experience back to the Irish shows with me I could go a long way with it. I’ll always remember Chris Fields saying to me ‘you have something special’. I started putting in the hours and then my son came along, it just became my path.”

Fields’ words were evidently true as Holohan constantly proved his worth against established competitors like Neil McGuigan and Steve McCombe. The Tallaght man’s long awaited bout with Damien Rooney, which many believed would decide who the premier Irish bantamweight was at the time, remains one of his greatest milestones.

Holohan had broken his arm before their initial date and many perceived that although he had an advantage on the ground, if the fight remained standing Rooney would easily dictate the pace. Inside the first minute Holohan landed a head kick which separated Rooney from his senses and established the SBG man as one of Ireland’s greatest MMA products.

His final Cage Contender outing saw “The Hooligan” restore Irish pride against a man who had spoiled the country’s party on two occasions against Conor McGregor and Neil Seery, Lithuanian submission specialist Artemj Sitenkov.

As the Eastern European latched on to a signature leg lock, Holohan evaded his assault with a quick transition and a freakish showing of flexibility before weaving a web of his own. Chaining an armbar to an omaplata and eventually finishing with a triangle, “The Hooligan” was in a different class to his fellow European on the night.

An injury to Holohan’s back as he lost a decision to Joshua Hill in the elimination rounds of TUF 18 forced him away from competition for nearly two years before July 19th. However, the jiu jitsu ace insisted that the injury and subsequent discectomy only strengthened his pursuit of a UFC contract.

“There was a time I was sitting in bath and I was nearly crying. Darragh O’Conaill (Irish black belt jiu jitsu competitor) is having similar trouble at the moment, he knows what I’m talking about. When someone tells me they have that injury I just feel for them so much. I can nearly feel it, I know exactly what they’re going through.

“It’s uncomfortable all the time. I literally couldn’t move the second time I did it, I couldn’t go outside and play football with my son. These are things that you have to overcome. I would’ve destroyed three disks to get where I am today. I had to get here, that was my mission,” he said.

One of the strangest things about Paddy Holohan’s return to action at UFC Dublin was the fact that he predicted that he would not only be on the card, but that he would be the first fight on the card – all while recovering from a back injury that could have cost him his career. He explained his thought process:

“It wasn’t that I had heard from Dana in advance of being confirmed on the card or anything. To be honest I don’t think Dana White has understood a word I’ve said whenever I’ve been talking to him. He always has a face like he’s thinking ‘what is this kid saying’.

“He just doesn’t understand me and I know that, but I’ll use to my advantage someday. He’ll come up and say ‘Paddy, I told you to this or that’ and I’ll be like ‘sorry Dana, I don’t know what you’re saying’.

“Seriously though, when you’re on the journey you should only ever think of the destination. Forget about the how, the if – forget about it. Your mind will naturally start thinking of how you will react to the bad situations that might get in the way.

“When I knew UFC were coming back I started thinking about who could get on the card. Then I start thinking that they could put me on the card. They know what I’m like, I love to fight and because I’m from Dublin they know I can get the crowd going. I knew it and I think the fact that I was the first fight on the card made it special. Every seat had a bum in it, you don’t get that usually.

“Brad Pickett’s brother came over to me and said: ‘Are you Paddy Holohan? I’m going to watch your fight. I’ve never heard that kind of noise at a weigh-in in my life. I never usually watch the first fight but I can’t wait to see this one’.

“I can remember going on the hop from school so I could sit up and watch Brad Pickett on Cage Rage. For my UFC debut I was sharing a card with him, that’s crazy.”

Remaining unbeaten after a test at MMA’s top table, Holohan highlighted where he thinks a lot of fighters go wrong when they sign on the dotted line to fight in the Octagon.

“The Irish fighters have the skill to mix it up with the best guys from any country. You see other fighters coming into the UFC and they change everything about their games, some people even change their whole training regimes. Don’t ever forget the boat that got you there. That’s always been the best way for me.

“I’ve felt some of the situations I’ve been in could’ve been the UFC, it just wasn’t. Now that I’m in the UFC I feel like I have a bit more freedom. Fights fall through a lot on other shows and for the fighters, they’ve banked their whole lives on the date they have to compete. That’s the worst thing about them shows.

“You aren’t eating as you normally would, you’re not seeing your family or friends a lot, you can’t book a holiday – then BANG – your opponent pulls out and it was all for nothing. And it’s for stupid reasons a lot of the time, it’s not fair on the fighters. I look forward to not having to deal with that in the UFC, they’ll find someone to fight you,” he said.

Holohan, who got some of the loudest ovations over the weekend of the UFC’s Dublin return at the weigh-in and event itself, claimed he expected nothing less from the manic crowd in the Irish capital.

“That’s just Dublin, it’s just mental,” he said. “We nearly break on through to the other side as Tommy Tiernan says. Crowds rarely get to that level where they’re so crazy that it’s like they’re going burst out of the universe, we just get there straight away. That night we were literally on the bar, anything more than that and it would have been a supersonic boom.”

Approaching his UFC debut, Holohan was frustrated by a lot of casual MMA fans who he believes gave him “no credit” in the build up to the biggest test of his career.

Holohan said: “I had a tough fight, it was a very tough debut. People who just started to watch the sport were saying things like ‘is he going to blow his second chance’ in comments on social media. What do you say to these people?

“They gave me no credit, they knew nothing about my career other than I tried out for TUF. I went out there on my own, I was carrying an injury and I didn’t come back and start making excuses. Then these people start spouting like their opinion actually matters – they need to chill out and come along on this journey with us.

“This isn’t football. We don’t have ten other guys in there to throw a few digs into our opponents, we can’t come off halfway through the fight and put on a nice warm jacket and sit on a bench. To get to the UFC you’re putting in endless hours and you go home to your family broke, physically and mentally.”

With no reported injuries from the Sampo bout, Holohan insisted that he is focusing on “family time” at the moment but he is ready to get back into action as soon as the UFC name an opponent for him.

“I’m 100% fit, I’ve just got a lot things to tie up. My son is in camps at the moment and his mother has been taking time off work to bring him and stuff like that, it’s my turn to put in some time now. I’ve had my son a lot since the fight but I’m still heading to the club to teach a few classes and things. I’m just enjoying a little bit of family time now.

“Give me the notice and I’m grand to fight anyone. I don’t have anyone in the division that I would love to fight, the only people I’d love to fight aren’t even in the UFC – they aren’t actually fighters now that I think about it.”

As for his title credentials, the unbeaten flyweight has no reason to believe that he can’t win the championship.

“I could win the belt. One of my best assets is my ability to shock myself. That’s a great ability, it gives me the balls to get into the Octagon and lay it all on the line. When you know you can shock yourself you fear nothing. I knew I had the ability to not only win, but to finish Josh Sampo. That’s how I feel every time I get in to compete so I wouldn’t rule out a run at the title,” he said.

@PetesyCarroll

Peter Carroll is Severe MMA's lead feature writer. He has been featured in many top publications and some rubbish ones too. He also writes for the Irish Daily Mirror and Vice's Fightland.