The trick that the UFC likes to exploit is that European MMA fans want to see men from vaguely the same region compete under the UFC brand rather than actually seeing a real UFC quality event. As a British fan I find myself pulling my hair out whenever Michael Bisping is announced as the headliner of a UK card based solely on the fact that he's from here. I want to see the top fighters in the relevant fights—the actual UFC experience. In fact, Bisping getting injured and Lyoto Machida stepping in for the Manchester card gave the UK the biggest, most relevant star it has had perform in the country in years.
But European UFC fans are so enchanted to have the promotion visit them that the events sell out in minutes, no matter how weak the line up and UFC Dublin was no exception despite looking like a Cage Warriors card with higher ticket prices. Two fight cancellations later and there is no-one on this card who will create even a little interest for those who aren't either proudly Irish to the point of not wanting a refund on their tickets, or madly interested in the flyweight division. Buyrates have proven time and time again that the latter is the unicorn of mixed martial arts.
And so as it stands we are left desperately trying to get geared up for UFC Dublin: Holohan versus Smolka with the hope that it doesn't manage to fall apart further before Saturday.
But that is my consumer rant over and you cannot blame the fighters for company decisions. Paddy Holohan and Louis Smolka are good fighters, and stands to be a good fight, no matter what the quality of the overall product is.
If you don't know Holohan, he's a gangly flyweight who lives and dies by his offence. His defence on the feet almost doesn't exist and when he is striking he looks like some kind of Bizarro McGregor. But the undersold factor in Conor McGregor's performances is that no matter what outlandish strike he throws, he gets back into position to box from the fundamentals immediately. Holohan hops from stance to stance, overcommitting and throwing himself off balance like a stoat. This often sees him eating right hands while out of position.
But height and length can be terrific assets in fighting. Holohan's long rear uppercut against Josh Sampo in his UFC debut showed that.
The short run up Holohan takes before many of his attacks is more of a nuisance to him than anything, serving to telegraph rather than hide his efforts. Holohan's striking is—to quote a great man—not five star, but it's competitive.
Where Patrick Holohan comes into his own is on the ground. There he is simultaneously one of the wiliest and most aggressive men in his division. If you needed a reason to bother watching this fight, review Holohan's bout with Chris Kelades. A last minute replacement, Kelades took the decision off of Holohan in that fight, but it was one of the most entertaining fights I've seen at flyweight, largely due to Holohan's constant aggression and toughness.
Almost reversed on a takedown but coming up Miyao style on the leg drag. The fight was full of moments like this.
The first round was all Holohan as he took Kelades down, beautifully passed with his usual knee cut—driving his head under Kelades' jaw and stretching him out thoroughly, and got to Kelades' back. From there he demonstrated another advantage of length within one's weightclass as he locked in the body triangle and began crushing the air out of Kelades while looking for the rear naked choke.
But the fight really took its character as Kelades dominated the second round, finishing the period in the mount and raining punches. When Holohan stood up to get to his corner, he stumbled and was held up by his second. In the third round, clearly still wobbly and slower than usual, Holohan was still coming up with ideas for attacks, slipping punches and hurting Kelades' body. It's unusual to see a man change his strategy effectively in the final round due to tiredness, it's even rarer when they've clearly had their brain rattled with strikes. When taken down, Holohan attacked constantly off of his back using the kimura grip and throwing up triangles but found little success.
Louis Smolka, meanwhile, is best known for his side kick knockout against Richie Vaculik. It was one of those knockouts that was such a spectacle that it went some way to erasing the memory of just how badly he fared in that fight.
Smolka suffers from many of the same flaws that Holohan does on the feet—he relies on his length to lead in unusual ways and land first but takes a lot of right hands when he isn't able to back directly out of range fast enough after throwing.
Both Holohan and Smolka like to retreat on a straight line, which can be problematic.
He has a decent checking left hook that he uses from time to time, but this can get predictable when he repeats it over and over as he did after stunning Vaculik with one in the second round.
Elsewhere on the card, Norman Parke is fighting Reza Madadi who hasn't fought since mid 2013, and Neil Seery is back to take on John Delos Reyes. Seery lost his last bout to Louis Smolka, but I still have a soft spot for him after he shook off a year of ring rust at short notice to make Brad Pickett look bad in front of a home crowd. Anyone who causes a hubbub like that is fine by me.
Bellator is also hosting a card on Saturday night, which you can catch after the UFC's is over, headlined by Brandon Halsey versus Rafael Carvalho. If you like extra-curricular drama that fight is for you. Halsey is undefeated yet fighting to regain his Bellator middleweight title. How? He came in ridiculously overweight in his first title defense against Kendall Grove, beat the snot out of him, and was stripped of the title anyway. Photos of Halsey bragging that he was #shredded at 207lbs only helped to add fuel to the fire of allegations of steroid use and deliberate refusal to cut weight. It was all a bit of an embarrassment for Bellator. Wild speculation aside, he's a powerhouse and worth your time if you are Jonesing for some MMA after the fortnight long drought we've been enduring.
As a final note, Michael 'Venom' Page is fighting on the same card. Now almost four years and nine opponents into his MMA career, Page is matched against 6-3 Charlie Ontiveros (all three losses by TKO). I want to see world beaters coming out of Britain as much as the next guy, but at a certain point you have to question the softballs being thrown at Page.
He's now twenty-eight years old—has already had one career in kickboxing—and has fought no-one of even marginal note even within the B-leagues of MMA. Chris Weidman won a UFC title in that time, and others like Alexander Gustafsson and Conor McGregor were at least starting to fight decently accomplished opponents. You might say he's not those guys, but he's got an 8-0 record, and a near 90% finishing rate. At a certain point there needs to be a step up. At this rate I worry that Bellator might well be attempting to 'develop' Page so slowly that he becomes the Audley Harrison of our sport—only meeting quality opponents once he's already spent all his talent and youth fighting C-listers.
Whatever the state of the cards this Saturday, it feels good to have MMA back.
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