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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


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.”


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.”


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.”

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