“If we took MMA out, I could’ve still written a book.”
‘A Renaissance Man’ is defined as a person whose expertise spans a significant number of various subject areas.
Paddy Holohan fits the bill but doesn’t necessarily concur with the term. “I see it as resilience,” he explains, “and I’m proud of my resilience.”
Most know Holohan as one of Ireland’s most famous mixed martial artists, a cornerstone of the foundations upon which the sport in this country was built.
Peel back the layers and dig deeper into the surface though and you’ll see there’s much, much more to the man they call ‘The Hooligan.’
In May of this year, Holohan was elected to South Dublin County Council topping the poll in Tallaght South after running as a Sinn Fein candidate.
A venture into politics was seen as a surprise to many but after six months as a councillor, the 31-year-old explains that he believes himself to be less of a ‘politician’ and more of an ‘activist.’
“A politician to me is someone who has an objective to keep up,” Holohan tells Pundit Arena.
“They’re thinking about being elected the next time again and furthering their career, whereas an activist is someone who is in there to make a change now and get people active in the ways of what’s going on.”
Holohan’s new career path has coincided with the writing of his autobiography alongside Pundit Arena’s Richard Barrett, documenting his journey from growing up in Jobstown, reaching the UFC and his untimely retirement from the sport.
The Jobstown native refers to his hometown in the book as “A Darwinian jungle of a council estate,” and despite the challenges of growing up in the area, which Holohan describes in visceral detail throughout, the sense is always there of his love for the place that made him.
Holohan speaks passionately about his desire to educate in his new role. To teach the youth of Jobstown that choosing the right path in life is a decision, no matter how difficult or glamorous their social constructs can often make the wrong path seem.
“For me the idea with Jobstown, what I want to do is, I want to explain to some of the people and educate them on the idea that if you go on and be a criminal or a gangster you get two decisions.
“You get a decision whether you want to be good or a decision on whether you want to be bad and when you start doing something you usually know at the start whether it’s wrong or right and it’s going to end up somewhere.”
“The government has taken away the hope for kids. What are we going to tell kids that are coming out of school?
“‘Right sound, don’t be a gangster go and get a job in Centra,’ and they’re looking at me like, ‘Why? I’d be 30 and still have nothing, I’ll be living in my Ma’s house and if the council take it off my ma or my ma dies then I’ll have no house and I’ll have to live in a hotel.’
“It’s getting to a stage where it is hard to argue with them. As I said, I don’t condone what kids are doing and how wild they get, but I can understand it.”
As a child growing up in Jobstown and for a period in Lenadoon in Belfast, Holohan had challenges around every corner, some of which documented in the book make it difficult to believe his tale is fact as opposed to fiction.
‘The Hooligan’ however is as real as it gets.
What though does Holohan feel was the most challenging part of telling his story over the course of 258 pages?
The former UFC flyweight also explained that he and Barrett “went on a journey together” joking that the co-author was like his “first therapist” throughout the process, as he looked back on some areas of his life he had never re-visited.
“Some of the stuff I’d never visited at all. I’d be getting to the part of a story with Richie and I’d be just about to say it and I’d be saying, ‘I can’t believe I’m talking about this now.’ It was like therapy at times.
“Sometimes it was emotional, sometimes I was full of energy because we’d be reliving fights or something. If you had a heart-rate monitor on me I felt like I was there, I was in the fight as I was talking about it. That’s a part of it that was unexpected.”
It’s almost easy to forget that Holohan is one of Irish MMA’s most popular sons. He joked about being able to still write a book while taking out his whole career in mixed martial arts.
It has been though, the trunk upon which the branches of many of his forays have grown from. The opening of his own gym in Dublin 24. His career in coaching. The No Shame Podcast.
His rare form of haemophilia, Factor XIII, forced him to retire from competing in the sport in 2016 and Holohan admitted that he misses the liberating element of putting your life on the line each time you enter the octagon.
“I miss it terribly. I can still grapple and I do but I don’t get the same buzz. It’s like if you were on a really really heavy painkiller and then you took a really light painkiller.
“It just not the same. To me when I was going out to fight in the UFC I had conceded the fact that death might happen. It’s very liberating. Life is very delicate, life ends quick. One day we’ll wake up and the next day we won’t. I got that from my childhood. I’ve thought about death and I’ve figured death.”
Since his retirement, avenues have opened up for Holohan that may not have been explored had he continued his career in professional MMA.
The ever-confident Holohan though, explains that from a young age he was always one for trying to add more strings to his bow, even if, on the rare occasion, they didn’t quite work out as planned.
“I tried to be a rapper before all of this,” he laughed.
“My ambition was always sky high. When I was a kid we used to mess around with rhythmic Irish poetry. They used to call me ‘Casper’ because my skin was so pale.
“I recorded a CD and all, I was always out there. If you talk to someone I went to school with me they’d say, ‘There was always something in him.’ I did acting in school, I was popular, I was the messer, I was the clown of the class. I was a bit of everything at the time. For me, I was destined to do something good.”
It’s no surprise then, that Holohan, the man with sky-high ambitions and an arsenal of talents, has the biggest job in the country in his sights.
“This year has been crazy. I was elected, I wrote a book, I had a kid. I’ve done some crazy stuff. In years to come people will say to me, ‘What do you want to do now?’ and just to shock people and set the bar high I say, ‘Be the President of Ireland.’ Why not? How refreshing would it be to have someone from Jobstown in Áras An Uachtaráin representing Ireland?”
The story of the man who shouldn’t have made it out alive.
Paddy Holohan is a man who shouldn’t have made it out alive. In his new book, Hooligan, written with Pundit Arena’s Richard Barrett, Paddy delves into his life from childhood to current day, detailing every knock, set back, and achievement along his rocky path to success.
As a young boy growing up between Jobstown in Tallaght and Lenadoon in Belfast, Paddy was bullied for his red hair and thin physique. A near-death experience when he was hit with a brick whilst playing
on his road aged eight deeply impacted him. In his teens he found purpose and focus in the Octagon and was part of the small group of people who fought tirelessly to bring MMA from the ground up in Ireland.
In the Octagon, far removed from the chaos of the outside world, every bout reduced that maze of hardship to one simple proposition: survive – a task made all the more unlikely given Paddy’s rare form of haemophilia, which he hid from the MMA’s top authorities for years.
For the duration of his career, he was never more than one misplaced strike away from death. Why enter the Octagon knowing you might never leave? For Holohan, it would take a journey to the summit
of his sport, and a high-profile fall from grace, to unravel the answer to that question and, with it, finally find some measure of redemption.
Paddy is one of a kind, in so many ways, and through his life, passion and decisions he challenges the lazy stereotypes that can see us subconsciously writing people off so easily.
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