For two years Paddy Holohan was out in the MMA wilderness without an official fight. A recurring back injury that required surgery just wouldn’t behave during the healing process.
During one of the better periods of recovery Holohan took himself to the US to try out for the UFC’s reality show the Ultimate Fighter. Though he lost during the qualifying round, Holohan had made an impression; the straight talking Tallaght man made a verbal agreement with the UFC president Dana White before departing back home.
Roll the clock forward to the 21st of July 2014 and White holds good on his agreement. He’d promised Paddy a place on the fight card when the UFC returned to Dublin and he duly obliged. Paddy would tackle grisly veteran Josh Sampo in his UFC debut. At this stage Paddy’s back was 100pc but there were still lots of questions about the fighter we hadn’t really seen in 2 years.
He was dropping down to a new weight division, flyweight, how would the weight cut go? How had the injury and inactivity affected his sharpness and reactions? He’s going to be the first Irish fighter out into the hysterical O2, how will he cope with the pressure? Just fine, would be the answer to all of the above.
Once Paddy walked out at weigh-in you could just tell he was enjoying mayhem that was UFC Dublin. As he stood on the scales like a Celtic version of Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil, you just knew he was going to be just fine, more than just fine, actually.
UFC Dublin was going to be electric regardless of the results. But once Paddy Holohan set the tone by blasting his opponent early and securing the submission win in the first round, you got the sense that something special was about to happen.
In his next fight in September Paddy took his undefeated record to Canada. The experience was far from perfect and ended with his first career loss. In sport they say you lose or you learn and his coach, John Kavanagh will tell you proudly that Paddy returned to the gym as soon as he was home to begin learning again.
Paddy was quite philosophical after his fight, embracing the fact rather than looking for excuses.
“It gives you questions to answer - Is this for me?" he told independent.ie.
"I’ve dedicated my life to this and sacrificed an awful lot for this but I know this is for me. This is 100pc for me, this sport, this is my career and I’m happy in it.
"You win and you lose and that’s sport at the end of the day. But when I get in there it's not sport to me, I treat it like it real life, like a battlefield. I would have died on the battlefield that day. It is what it is.”
Next up is UFC Fight Night in Boston on January 18th with his SBG team-mates Cathal Pendred and of course, Conor McGregor and because of the date there is an added complexity to the preparation.
When most people are gorging for the Christmas holidays the SBG fighters were on the mats getting ready. Paddy is constantly saying how much he has sacrificed for the sport of MMA but he also recognises the contributions of others.
“It's been truly amazing having your friends help you out Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. It's not easy to get training partners like that”.
On his opponent Paddy is optimistic of his chances.
“He’s long, kind of wild, kind of unpredictable and he kind of reminds me a little bit of me. But I’ve been fighting this style for a long time and if you bring it down to who’s better at this style, it's going be me.”
With four products of Irish MMA fighting in Boston (Norman Parke from Co. Antrim fights as well) the event is leaning heavily on ‘The Fighting Irish’ theme.
This is something Paddy is part to be part of. But he’s also pretty excited for what lies ahead for fellow SBG man Conor McGregor.
“Conor’s my teammate, my friend and I’m a fan. I’ll be delighted to see my friend get a shot at the world title when he wins and maybe to be doing it here, in Croke Park with all the history in that stadium it’ll be unreal to be part of that.”
Paddy is looking to get back to winning ways in Boston and believes he must take control of proceedings to emerge victorious.
“I think it’ll start fast. I’m going to control the fight with my shots and change things up with the takedowns and just put the hands up and fight. For the win, I’d like to find his back and choke him.”