Paddy Holohan: The man who started the greatest night in Irish MMA

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On July 19th, 2014 I saw my first ever live UFC fight in person. It was Paddy Holohan vs. Josh Sampo.

For years I’d stayed up until the wee small hours of the night to see the best of the best throw down and became a fanatical follower of the most entertaining, exciting sport known to man. I had read article after article (and even written a couple), watched every interview posted and searched the dirtiest outposts of the internet to find old bouts that I hadn’t seen.

Thanks to exams in 2009 I had missed Ireland’s first UFC show but this time nothing was stopping me. Having just joined SevereMMA I wasn’t credentialed for the event but I was there. Section D, Row 16, Seat 91.

As the crowd filled in even I, a rookie UFC attendee, knew it wasn’t the same old UFC event. An hour before the first bout every seat in the place was full. I was used to seeing silent arenas on my laptop as two guys fought on Facebook with 50 people in attendance and only half of them not wearing luminous vests.

9,000 people bought tickets for a Conor McGregor fight that night in Dublin like people would buy tickets for an Anderson Silva fight in Brazil or an Alexander Gustsfsson fight in Sweden.

But those 9,000 were also there early to see and support Paddy Holohan.

After a quick stint on ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ people around the world got a glimpse of Paddy Holohan. They saw he was a stereotypical looking Irishman with flaming red hair and lily white skin who was willing to put it all on the line even with a serious back injury holding him back.

After his loss to Josh Hill on the show, Holohan spoke to UFC President Dana White and promised him something special if he gave him another shot at the big time. Dana agreed and both men stuck to their word as the 19th of July 2014 saw Holohan debut in his home town.

His opponent on the night, as mentioned above, was Josh Sampo. A tough American wrestler who, a couple of hours before the fight, I saw laying on the ground in the hotel fast asleep. Unfortunately for him, it wouldn’t be the last time he’d be in that position that night.

The American walked out to some boos but was mostly respected by an educated crowd who had fought to get tickets for the fastest selling show of all time.

Then Holohan entered. And it all started.

The Tallaght man walked out to a song named 10,000 hours which was not only the title of the documentary on him but also a mantra by which he lived. His life, from the moment he stepped inside of John Kavanagh’s gym, was dedicated to the craft of mixed martial arts. On July 19th, 2014, in front of his adoring home crowd, he reached the highest platform.

Known mostly as a submission artist, a lot of the talk coming into UFC Dublin was of Conor McGregor taking Holohan under his wing in an Iceland training camp and being the catalyst for huge improvements in his striking. It showed early.

Holohan came out loose on his feet jabbing, kicking to the body and grinning from ear to ear as the crowd sang ‘Olé, Olé, Olé’ less than 20 seconds into his fight. Sampo caught him with a big shot but Holohan landed one bigger to uppercut the Gremlin to the floor.

Then he went back to basics. He attempted to pass guard, he defended attacks, he took the back, he sunk in the choke.

Sampo tapped and the crowd erupted.

Literally.

It was like a volcano of beer had opened on top of the Point Depot and was engulfing all below. But nobody cared. They were too busy jumping for joy.

Without that Paddy Holohan win, there was no clean sweep for Irish fighters on that night and one of the greatest events in UFC history might never have been.

For many, like me, it was the first time they had ever attended a UFC fight.

And Paddy Holohan made it special.

Unfortunately, Paddy Holohan had to retire from the sport this week but he can do so after playing a huge part in one of the most special nights of a lot of peoples’ lives.

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Also check out our short documentary about Paddy Holohan’s last fight before the UFC and his teammate Owen Roddy’s bout with Shannon Gugerty.

Podcaster, lead MMA writer and analyst for SevereMMA. Host of the SevereMMA podcast, out every Sunday. Economics and Mathematics graduate from UCC. Also write for Sherdog. Previously of hov-mma and fightbooth. As heard on 2FM, Red FM, Today FM and more. Follow me on twitter for updates @SeanSheehanBA and on Facebook Facebook.com/seansheehanmma