From Cage-fighting to Politics: Why former UFC fighter Paddy Holohan decided to run for local office in South Dublin

Following a decade-long career as a professional mixed martial arts fighter, Paddy Holohan has shifted his attention to Ireland’s political arena. Back in February,…

By: Karim Zidan | 4 years ago
From Cage-fighting to Politics: Why former UFC fighter Paddy Holohan decided to run for local office in South Dublin
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

Following a decade-long career as a professional mixed martial arts fighter, Paddy Holohan has shifted his attention to Ireland’s political arena.

Back in February, the retired UFC fighter announced his candidacy to represent Sinn Féin, a left-wing Irish republican political party that originated in 1905, in the 2019 Irish local elections. With his sights set on a seat in the South Dublin County Council, Holohan promises to focus on issues such as rising crime rates and housing.

“Ireland is in a critical state regarding our leadership,” Holohan told “They have lost totally contact with the reality of how life is for the people.”

The 2019 Irish local elections will take place on Friday, May 24. Three to seven councillors will be elected in each local electoral area. Holohan, who was born and raised in Tallaght, the largest town in South Dublin, plans to run in the Tallaght South electoral area. The district already has two Sinn Féin representatives, including deputy mayor Cathal King. While Holohan has publicly stated he is “no expert” in the realm of politics, he plans to use his lived experience as a life-long member of the Tallaght community to campaign on issues that matter to the locals.

“I feel I have kept very connected with the people and definitely closer than the leading party’s of this country when it comes to my own community,” Holohan explained. “I’m connected with the problems as I share them, our youth are in a terrible situation and position when it comes to housing and health care in our future. I couldn’t look at my grandkids and say I done nothing to try stop or change this. I have nothing to gain and certainly ain’t in it for profit and that’s why I think I’m perfect for the role. I’m going to try to make a change for the better.”

Holohan’s pivot to politics comes during a transition period in his life. In April 2016, the five-fight UFC veteran was diagnosed with Factor XIII deficiency, a rare blood disorder that causes severe bleeding tendencies. He announced his retirement less than three weeks prior a scheduled UFC bout against Willie Gates in Rotterdam.

The Irishman’s unceremonious departure from the sport following a 15-fight career spanning nearly a decade was as abrupt as it was unexpected. Forced to retire while his SBG teammates such as Conor McGregor pushed ahead in their careers, Holohan decided to keep within arm’s reach of the sport and open his own gym in Tallaght, which he set up with the goal of “helping fix people with Brazilian Jiujitsu the way it fixed me.”

“It wasn’t easy and was sudden but it definitely made me realize who was in my corner in life,” Holohan said of his diagnosis. “I feel in life I have always been my strongest while at my weakest positions. I always know I can fall back on that built-in reaction to adversity.”

The 30-year-old also started a conversational podcast called ‘No Shame,’ which helped focus his attention on areas outside of fighting. While it was always something Holohan wanted to do, he did not expect it to have such a profound influence on his decision to enter politics. Through the podcast, Holohan interviewed many notable figures in Ireland and discussed the issues prevalent in the country’s capital. After two years of addressing the issues on his show, the former fighter decided to try and implement the necessary change himself.

It remains unclear whether Holohan’s history as a prize fighter will act as an obstacle to his political aspirations in Ireland. While the retired fighter believes the “general reaction has been great and very motivational” after he declared his intentions to run in the election, he has also faced a barrage of negative comments.

“There has been some trolls who called me a thug, a brute, a scumbag, but I know them people are probably the ones who the current state of corruption and inequality suits. They are afraid of the coming change.”

Despite Conor McGregor’s status as the most popular combat sports athlete in the world, MMA remains a controversial sport in the Republic of Ireland. Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s Taoiseach (prime minister), reportedly distanced himself from McGregor during a St. Patrick’s Day march in Chicago in March and later revealed that he does not want to be associated with his unlawful actions over the past year. In 2017, Ireland’s Minister of Sport, Shane Ross, promised to clamp down on “disturbing” MMA after the death of a fighter in Dublin in December 2016.

While Holohan is aware of MMA’s troubled reputation in Irish media, he believes his experience as a fighter will serve as an advantage against other politicians. “I know pressure at a level not many people will ever experience. I know how to win and I know how to lose and the true art of hard work.”

And though Holohan’s campaign will focus on addressing the socio-economic issues plaguing Tallaght, he admits that the desire to improve MMA’s image in Ireland would be his only personal goal in political office.

“I see the hard work young fighters put in. They work harder than any athlete in any recognized sport and this is the safest country in the world to compete in MMA, whether amateur or pro. We should be celebrating that fact.”

Outside of his focus on athletes, Holohan believes special attention should be provided to Ireland’s youth. He believes that crime and other major issues will drop if teenagers and young adults are not weighed down with the economic anxieties facing them today, including the inability to buy a home or pay off debts. As a councillor, Holohan hopes to play a small role in shaping the future for Ireland’s upcoming generation.

“I feel people of every class are fed up of working tirelessly and seeing very little for it,” Holohan explained. “People of every class have followed me and seen my work and intentions are true before I ever desired to run and that has stood out. I can break the mould for many who are walking the path behind me. My home of Tallaght is very dear to me and I will always strive to make it a better place for my kids and other people’s kids to be raised in.”

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About the author
Karim Zidan
Karim Zidan

Karim Zidan is a investigative reporter and feature writer focusing on the intersection of sports and politics. He has written for BloodyElbow since 2014 and has served as an associate editor since 2016. He also writes for The New York Times and The Guardian. Karim has been invited to speak about his work at numerous universities, including Princeton, and was a panelist at the South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival and the Oslo Freedom Forum. He also participated in the United Nations counter-terrorism conference in 2021. His reporting on Ramzan Kadyrov’s involvement in MMA, much of which was done for Bloody Elbow, has led to numerous award nominations, and was the basis of an award-winning HBO Real Sports documentary.

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