Tuesday 25 October 2016

The day I became a UFC fighter, took on The Hooligan ... and lost

UFC fighter Paddy ‘The Hooligan’ Holohan takes down Herald reporter Ryan Nugent at the Straight Blast Gym on the Naas Road
UFC fighter Paddy ‘The Hooligan’ Holohan takes down Herald reporter Ryan Nugent at the Straight Blast Gym on the Naas Road
MMA training at SBG on Naas Rd

As Conor McGregor said, MMA fighting is not for everyone - but I found out the hard way.

This week I tentatively stepped through the door of the gym where 'The Notorious' learned his trade and undertook the majority of his preparation for Sunday morning's mammoth fight with Jose Aldo.

There is a true sense of determination and passion amongst the MMA fighters at Straight Blast Gym (SBG) on the Naas Road.

UFC fighter Paddy 'The Hooligan' Holohan was my mentor for the session.

He is teaching a class of regulars who train every evening and those who feel they can constantly improve with tutelage.

And then there others. Novices like me, in the very early stages.

As Holohan moved towards me in the octagon, with gorilla-like steps, I wondered how I got myself in this situation and more importantly, how would I get out of it.

It wasn't long until I was picked up, spun around, flipped and thrown to the canvas - like a ragdoll.

I was helpless, but this was just a demonstration. I can't imagine what he would do if it was a UFC event.

"Be careful - it gets addictive," Holohan warns.

Unlike other sporting disciplines, everything that is taught begins with practical examples. He says UFC coaches must teach from experience, with a lot of moves coming from moments that went both right and wrong for him in the octagon.


There are many different elements that have to be in place to execute a move such as a take down, or a submission-hold.

"It's not always for the guys that says 'I can fight, so I want to show you how I can fight' - it's for guys that love puzzles and solving things," Holohan said.

"It's a very dangerous game and you're playing for keeps. My aim is to make people be more confident, enjoy life better, and discover what their body can do."

SBG is just a stone's throw away from where McGregor grew up in Crumlin, and is fast becoming too small for its purpose, with close to 600 members and growing.

Holohan, along with coach John Kavanagh, are planning to open a new gym in Tallaght.

With wayward technique and submission holds I couldn't dream of escaping, I wondered if this sport would ever be for me - but I left craving another class.

"John (Kavanagh) has taught me that you have to lose to learn, that's the way it is," Holahan said.

I take comfort in his words. The intrigue of the sport alone makes it obvious why so many get addicted to MMA - and now I'm one of them.

But I won't consider turning professional quite yet.

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