When he steps into the cage this Saturday in Nova Scotia, Paddy Holohan will compete outside of Europe for the first time as a pro MMA fighter. Is he nervous?
“Nah, I’ve choked a Canadian or two in my day,” Holohan said with a laugh. “I love Canada.”
It turns out he’s competed there before in various capacities. But even if he hadn’t, you get the sense he wouldn’t be all that worried about it. Holohan, one of the UFC’s newest flyweights, seems to have a knack—a very deliberate knack, if such a thing is possible—for taking life as it comes.
That should serve him well at UFC Fight Night 54, when he faces unheralded Nova Scotian Chris Kelades, who was chosen to replace Louis Gaudinot on five days’ notice for reasons of sheer logistical expedience.
“I didn’t even know what he looked like,” Holohan said of his original opponent. One thinks it isn’t much different with Kelades.
This is not to say Holohan isn’t thoughtful. He is. Very much so, actually. He's just kind of selective about it, probably as a means of keeping his peace with the chaos the universe serves everyone every hour.
Whatever he's doing, it's working. The 26-year-old flyweight is 10-0-1 as a pro coming into this, his second fight in the UFC.
This may come as a shock, but Paddy Holohan is an Irish name. Not only is he one of the more intriguing prospects in his weight class, but he’s perhaps the newest face in Ireland’s fledgling quest to carve out a place in modern combat sports.
“There’s just a handful of fighters from Ireland to ever compete in the UFC. It’s very rare,” Holohan told Bleacher Report. “I got to join in that gallant band of people.”
You can hear Holohan's passion come through in the expansive, almost lyrical way he discusses martial arts and his own career path. Opponents? Not much to say beyond a couple of warmed-over cliches. But teammates? Dublin? MMA itself? He could write a book.
As a young person, Holohan shuttled between the political ignition points of Dublin and Belfast. By his own admission, he “lived around rough areas.” Confrontation in the streets—and with Holohan in particular—was common.
“I was born an underdog,” Holohan said. “There was anxiety and conflict at a very young age. What you have to figure out is, you have to make a way so that people can’t pick on you without it having consequences.”
Ergo, a trip to the local fight gym to learn some self-defense. When he walked into that gym, he didn’t realize he was also walking into Ireland’s future fighting mecca.
“It was John Kavanagh’s gym, and before too long I couldn’t go back into the normal world,” Holohan said. “I got addicted to something creative.”
Kavanagh is the head coach at SBG Ireland. That’s right: Holohan shares mat time with Irish luminaries like Conor McGregor, Cathal Pendred and others. But those aren’t the only ones working fiendishly to hone their craft for UFC success. Holohan says he's ready to take over, too.
His primary calling card is the submission game, particularly chokes. And that makes sense, when you consider Kavanagh, whom Holohan calls “a mad scientist,” is Ireland’s first jiu-jitsu black belt, and one of his SBG teammates is UFC welterweight standout and grappling wizard Gunnar Nelson.
“We’re a clan, like the old Viking people,” Holohan said of his gallant band. “We get out of bed every morning because we want to help each other. That’s all we care about: helping each other, getting better. Nobody’s ahead of anybody.”
Holohan has had a few down spots in his career, but he addresses those with the same upbeat introspection with which he addresses so many other things. Take The Ultimate Fighter, for instance. More or less on a whim, he tried out for the show’s 18th season, flying to Las Vegas with only a friend, and no coaches, in tow.
Though he made it through tryouts, he was smothered by wrestler Josh Hill in the elimination round.
Holohan maintained—albeit somewhat abstractly—that the experience was all for the good despite the defeat, as it gave him a strong measuring stick both in terms of other fighters and the fighting lifestyle itself.
“It was a really good experience for turning your opponents back into humans,” he said. “Your brain tries to change them, give them abilities they don’t have...Maybe it was a blessing. I didn’t have to go back; otherwise, it would have been a long layoff.”
Not long after TUF, Holohan underwent surgery to fix some balky discs in his back. More lessons learned, as he says he now trains smarter and is over his issues.
“You have to change what you do,” he said. “I pushed too hard and got hurt. I listen to my back now. I learned that sometimes I have to do yoga instead of something else when I need to...I’m not hitting tires or swinging hammers or nothing like that. It’s grappling and real movements you use in the fight.”
Maybe it did all work out, as earlier this year, Holohan got the call to fight in the UFC’s first card in Ireland in several years, joining teammates McGregor and Pendred at the O2 arena in Dublin. Talk about a rush.
“I had my skyrocket, and then we sat down and had a cup of tea and talked it out," Holohan recalled. "But I'd already had my mind made up that they’d put me on the card. No way I’d not be on the card in Dublin. I’d have fought a welter to do it.”
Holohan's was the first bout of the night, and he choked out Josh Sampo, receiving a thunderous ovation from the hometown faithful for the effort.
“It was a lot of feelings at the same time. I was thinking of my son at the moment. I had a vision,” he said of the second he knew he'd won.
Does he expect a repeat performance on Saturday? Back to specifics, Holohan retreats to brevity.
“I wouldn’t want to fight me.”
The Beaten Path is a series at Bleacher Report highlighting intriguing prospects in MMA. For the previous interview in the series, click here. All quotes obtained firsthand. Scott Harris covers MMA and other topics for Bleacher Report and other places. Follow him on Twitter if you feel so inclined.