Four weeks out from the fight I was in the SBG Concorde car park and my phone rang. It was Dr Mick Molloy. He discussed my back injury and told me that he was trying to organise an appointment for me to see a specific consultant. Then he mentioned that when he was going through my files, there was a note that there had been a haemophilia team present at my previous back surgery.
‘Why were those guys there?’ he asked me. In the back of my mind, I always knew this day would come. I felt a knot in my stomach but at the same time, a little weight lifted from my shoulders. I was sick of carrying the burden, and the added stress of trying to deal with everything going on in the gym was really weighing me down. Maybe I should have hung up the phone at that moment and thought about how I wanted to deal with the situation, but I didn’t. I carried on the conversation even though I knew how severe the consequences could be.
Never in human history had a haemophiliac competed at the top level of combat sports, and there was a reason for that; the risks were just too great. I knew right then that Dr Molloy’s discovery would inevitably lead to the end of my career. ‘What is this, Paddy? Why was Dr Ryan’s team there when you were getting the surgery?’
In my head, logic told me that if the haemophilia team could be present during surgery and that was okay, then what would stop them being present outside the cage at my fights? If I could survive back and brain surgery, then surely I could fight. I knew that the minute I started to open up about my condition, I would be treated differently.
I felt like I was walking on a beam across two buildings and if I didn’t get to the other side, I’d fall and my career would be over, and with it, my life.
I couldn’t take that risk so I just didn’t tell people about my blood condition. I had put eleven or twelve years into chasing this dream and I was going to do everything to continue to do so.
The most dangerous aspect of it all, for me, was not dying in the cage. It was my mental health. I knew what type of person I was and that I had struggled with my mental health for my entire life. There was no guarantee that I would come through the trauma of early retirement and that scared me. I cared about Tiernan and Chelsea so much. As Dr Molloy continued to ask questions, I just hoped that I would find the strength to handle whatever was about to come next. I stayed outside the gym and came clean.
‘Listen, Mick. I have a blood disorder. It’s technically not haemophilia. It’s a Factor XIII deficiency. It doesn’t affect my life, and I take fibrogammin for it every three weeks. I take care of it.’
When I first started taking fibrogammin, I was worried that the UFC would find it in my blood, but thankfully it didn’t contravene any drug test regulations. The medication replaces a cell in my blood that dies and that’s it. It increased my cell count to 60% of the normal level, and then eventually I was able to get it up to a normal person’s level by changing the dosage. In my head, I felt safer than the average person because my blood levels were always being measured. In sparring, I never worried about it being dangerous or that I was close to death. It didn’t cross my mind.
I had a constant internal battle over whether I should just come clean and tell people. Ais knew about it, but that was it. Conor didn’t know, Cathal didn’t know, John didn’t know. Even Chelsea didn’t really know. Hiding made it harder, this secret of mine, but I knew I couldn’t keep it hidden forever. It was one of those things that was inside me and I needed to get it out at some point. When I came clean with Dr Molloy, I knew I had set fire to a fuse and there was little chance of it burning out quickly.
‘I’m not your doctor, Paddy,’ he explained. ‘I’m employed by the UFC. I have a responsibility to share what you’ve just told me.’
‘Hold on doctor, I’ve just told you something under doctor-patient confidentiality, so you can’t just share it.’
His counter was simple. ‘Well, Paddy, I can’t sit beside a cage knowing that you’re in there with haemophilia and not say anything about it. I would be liable for your death.’
‘Then why don’t you hand in your resignation so and get the fuck out of here?’
- Hooligan is published by Gill Books, priced at €19.99. You can purchase ‘Hooligan’ here.
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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.