A legend of the Irish MMA scene, Paddy ‘The Hooligan’ Holohan has had a unique insight into the sport’s massive growth in popularity. He reflects on his friendship with Conor McGregor and gives his thoughts on the wildly eventful world of the UFC.
Interview: Kyle Mulholland Photography Kathrin Baumbach
PADDY ‘THE HOOLIGAN’ HOLOHAN IS
a man of renown in international MMA. But he is nothing short of a legend on the Irish scene.
During his 10-year career, Holohan rose to prominence within Irish MMA before going on to compete in the UFC. In his fifteen bouts, he netted twelve victories, one draw and only two losses. An alumnus of the Straight Blast Gym – which also produced his longtime friend and team mate Conor McGregor – he made headlines when he won a ‘Fight of the Night’ award in UFC’s Fight Night 54.
Forced into early retirement by health concerns, Paddy hasn’t lost his drive. He has designed and recently opened a new gym, SBG Tallaght.
“There were a lot of late late nights and it was heartbreaking at times,” he says of the battle to get SBG off the ground. “We had our ups and downs. Sometimes it was happening and sometimes it wasn’t – but we got there in the end. The thing that kept me going was that I knew that it was going to be a success, because of the amount of people that were interested in it before I had even started setting it up. That was a huge motivational boost I received from the people of Tallaght – they got behind me big time.”
The gym is a massive modern building, a far cry from the sheds and warehouses Paddy trained in on his road to MMA stardom.
“My own coach was working the doors in town, so he could pay to keep our training gym open,” he says. “We didn’t come from big gyms and stuff like that, so to me a big fancy gym is nice, but it’s not essential.”
THE FIGHTING IRISH
From these humble beginnings, the Irish invasion of MMA began. Spearheaded by Conor McGregor, MMA has seen a cadre of Irish fighters seize the sporting headlines. Paddy insists that this is no coincidence.
“We’re a fighting nation,” he notes. “We’ve been fighting oppressors for 800 years, and fought against Vikings on this land before that. Not too long ago, less than 170 years ago, the country was in famine, so people were fighting to survive as well. It’s probably in our genetic makeup. We’re really durable people and a lot of the attributes that we have as a nation translate well into combat sports.”
The best exemplar of all of this is Conor
McGregor. Holohan has proven to be fiercely loyal to his superstar team mate – and the sentiment runs both ways.
McGregor has almost singlehandedly popularised MMA in Ireland, although his success has created an assumption that a single fight is all it takes to make a fortune – a myth Paddy is quick to debunk.
“People aren’t making mad money at the higher levels,” he explains. “I’ve fought five times in the
UFC and I’ve had a Fight of the Night bonus. I’ve actually fought for 10 years and there’s very little reward in this game if you’re not the right person, you know?
“I think a lot of people look at what Conor has done and make assumptions about the money on offer. What Conor has done is exceptional – there’s no bitterness towards him. If anything, Conor’s helped people earn more out of the sport now. He showed people you have to make it entertainment, in order to get sponsors on board. But to be honest, at the lower levels you’re definitely not making enough money to be able to to compete as a professional athlete – and not have a job.”
Paddy’s own career in MMA was cut short when a rare condition he has lived with all his life finally caught up with him. This disorder, Factor XIII deficiency, means his wounds don’t clot properly; instead they form fragile scabs that are prone to breaking. The risk for Paddy was too great and he had to bow out of the octagon.
“It was hard at the start, like a death,” he reflects. “Sometimes I still get a little bit of a downer from it.”
Despite this devastating blow, Paddy didn’t let it slow him – or not for long at any rate.
“I learned so much about myself through MMA,” he says, “about how far I can push myself and what’s really within me. I feel I could go on and be successful in anything now, because I’ve done one of the hardest things in the world. As my coach says, once you’ve fought a man in a cage, a lot of things seem a lot easier.”
WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT
Many fighters fear a loss of focus when there are no more fights on the horizon – that when the lights go out, they will feel bereft of direction.
“A lot of fighters have said that they expect that scenario to be waiting for them when they finish,” he says. “But my experience is that if you expect stuff then expect nothing, because you don’t ‘expect’. You plan and create your own future.”
Holohan cites his adaptability to Jiu Jitsu, a keystone in his personal philosophy.
“There’s so many lessons to be learned in Jiu Jitsu,” he enthuses. “It’s an incredible thing to do. You can have as much money as you want, you can have all of the attributes, you can have the best girlfriend in the world, but when it comes down to Jiu Jitsu, everyone’s equal on that mat, until you put the time in and earn your skills. What’s the saying? You don’t have something ‘til you have something that money can’t buy.”
Holohan is now hoping to share the lessons of Jiu Jitsu with a new generation.
“I’m actually trying to set up a programme in schools now,” he says. “It’s a mind, body and physical education where you put yourself in difficult situations. So maybe I get someone to pin you down and I say, ‘Okay, you have two minutes to get out of here as many times as you can’. You actually realise that every time you push and pull and lift the guy off, you get really tired. Then I’ll show you a technical way to get out of that position, I’ll show you the things that you should be doing.”
This method of assessing the situation thoughtfully rather than with brute force is the core tenant of his teachings.
“It’s a small lesson,” says Holohan. “You’re getting to put yourself in a bad place over and over again and it doesn’t really matter. If it’s in life or if it’s in bills, the hard times come – so it’s conditioning you for hard times.”
Ever the contender, ‘The Hooligan’ hasn’t fought his last battle.
“I’m planning on changing the future going forward in the sport,” he concludes, “as well with my own fighters. And most importantly, changing hundreds and thousands of people’s lives along the way.”