In less than a month’s time, the landscape of mixed martial arts in Ireland is set to change forever when the Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to Dublin for the first time in five years. While five years ago only one Irishman occupied the card, this time around the card is dominated by Irish fighters (and honorary Irish such as Gunnar Nelson).
Not only this, but one gym alone in Ireland, John Kavanagh’s SBGi, has produced four fighters for the event. The latest of these is Dubliner Paddy “The Hooligan” Holohan (9-0-1) who faces Missouri’s Josh “The Gremlin” Sampo (11-3, 1-1 UFC) on July 19th.
“It was a Monday night I got a phone call off John [Kavanagh],” revealed Holohan to Talking Brawls last week. “I knew if I was getting a phone call off him it was good news so just said ‘John this is good news, isn’t it?’, ‘Yes’. I know him too well.”
This means I can do what I love as my job,” he explained. “It means I can maybe buy a house and look after my family properly rather than always being broke.
Good news underplays just what this means to a fighter like Paddy Holohan. The 26-year old appreciates that the step up to the Ultimate Fighting Championship from where he’s toiled so far is a significant one.
“This means I can do what I love as my job,” he explained. “It means I can maybe buy a house and look after my family properly rather than always being broke. As people say, as the saying goes, ‘it’s UFC or KFC’. So that’s what it means to me. I like fighting. I like fighting good guys. The UFC will look after me in all kinds of ways. They look after their guys and they look after them really well.”
Holohan’s teammate Conor McGregor has certainly been “looked after” by the UFC since his debut last year. And on July 19th Holohan and McGregor will share the card with fellow teammates Cathal Pendred and Gunnar Nelson.
“Every time I say this to John, ‘I can’t wait to see what happens next year!,” replied Holohan when asked about what it’s like being part of the team at Straight Blast Gym. “And I’ve been saying that for the last four years and I’m gonna say it now – I can’t wait to see what happens next year!
“I found SBG and I knew I surrounded myself with the people, like everyone I met there was never in it for profit,” he continued. “I’m never in it for anything like that. I knew that when someone’s trying to help you out for no gain or no profit, keep close to them people and you’ll go far in life if you keep them people around you.”
Holohan hasn’t fought since July of 2012, though he did of course compete in an “exhibition” bout trying to qualify for a season of The Ultimate Fighter last year. The inevitable worry for many after such a long lay-off is the dreaded ring rust. UFC president Dana White is adamant that it exists, especially when it comes to stepping inside the UFC’s Octagon as opposed to a smaller show.
“It’s gonna be a big show coming out here in July,” said Holohan. “I mean that crowd will hit everybody. When the door closes and the first exchange goes, I know I’m not thinking about ring rust anyway. You could probably head into SBG there on Concorde and see I’m sparring all the time. I’m sparring with the best guys and guys that are dedicated and want to go far in this sport, so we all want to do it together. Regarding ring rust, I couldn’t tell you to be honest.”
While Holohan will be making his UFC debut on July 19th, his opponent has now fought twice in the promotion with a record of 1-1, losing his last fight by unanimous decision back in February. So how is he preparing for this specific?
“I can only control me and that’s always the way it’s been,” explained Holohan when prompted on how he’s approaching this opponent in training. “And every day I go to the gym I go to improve me. Whether it be stand-up, on the ground, wrestling, everything, against the wall, everything.
“I can’t stop. It’s like I’ve caught a plague or something when I start I can’t stop. I literally can’t stop. I’m sitting there in a restaurant or something and just dazing off somewhere. My young fella will ask me or she’ll ask me ‘what round are you in now?’.”
“I go in to finish all of my fights. If you look at my record I go out there to get that guy out of there. In the gym when you get a guy out of there you get stood back up and told to go again. I’m looking at this like I only have to get this guy out of there once.”
I know I’m part of something so special,” he said. “It’s not going to be on the night; it’s only when you look back at it in a little while that you’re gonna realise just how special this night was.
July 19th will be monumental for a niche sport such as MMA in Ireland. Everybody wants to be a part of it and Holohan is no different.
“I know I’m part of something so special,” he said. “It’s not going to be on the night; it’s only when you look back at it in a little while that you’re gonna realise just how special this night was. The last time the UFC came here I was sitting in that stand, I was saying ‘I want to get in there’. Tom Egan was in there and I wanted in there. Even before The Ultimate Fighter at the Finale in the Mandalay Bay I knew I wanted to get in there. I just feel comfortable walking down and getting in the Octagon. That’s just how I feel.”
“I think if you build up that profile as an Irish mixed martial artist, we’re such a small country,” said Holohan when discussing just how far Irish MMA can go on the world stage. “And if you think of America they’ve been drinking out here well for a long, long time. Our well is full. Our well is stacked to the brim.
“Think of Steve Collins and names like that. These are names that stick around. That’s just the way they are and they turn into legends.”