Who Takes It? UFC Dublin: Paddy Holohan vs. Louis Smolka

It’s been a “Rocky Road to Dublin,” as the song goes, for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Tonight’s UFC Fight Night event in Dublin, Ireland has been the victim of the injury bug like few before it — losing both its main event and its co-main in recent weeks.

Then, there was the odd controversy over a goofy T-shirt, as we discussed here at MMA Nuts earlier this week.

But apologies have been made, and the show will go on — and, to be fair, with or without its headline bouts UFC Fight Night 76, aka UFC Fight Night Duffy vs. Poirier, ahem, Holohan vs. Smolka, may prove an entertaining night of fights after all.

MMA’s popularity has grown leaps and bounds in Ireland, so there ought to be a hot crowd to help keep the pace up. And, you know what? Headliners Paddy Holohan, who was born and raised in Dublin, and Louis Smolka, one of a long line of great MMA fighters from Hawaii, are pretty damned good at this — and pretty well matched, besides.

Sure, they were scheduled to open the main card just a couple of weeks ago. That doesn’t mean they won’t put on a great fight.

Here’s my take.

A look at Paddy Holohan’s film shows a creative and dynamic young fighter — a long and rangy flyweight at 5’10”, with a dangerous ground game developed with one of the world’s top trainers, John Kavanagh, at SBG Dublin. The 27 year old “Hooligan” was undefeated in the ten bouts to begin his MMA career, mostly in his hometown of Dublin, Ireland.

In his official UFC debut, Holohan fought Josh Sampo on the undercard of a Conor McGregor showcase, last year in Dublin. He was hyped as active off his back and aggressive in his submission game by Dan Hardy on commentary. The former welterweight title contender Hardy expected Sampo, a collegiate wrestling standout from Las Vegas, to take the bout to the mat in short order.

But it was a sharp right uppercut that turned the fight in the Dubliner’s favor. The blow sent Sampo sprawling to the canvas, and Holohan would follow him to the mat. After escaping an armbar attempt, Holohan maneuvered to the back — where a rear naked choke ended the bout at 3:06 of round one, bringing his hometown fans into hysterics.

Next, Holohan found himself on the other side of the hometown advantage — taking on late replacement Chris Kelades in his home province of Nova Scotia, Canada.

Here, Holohan (who entered the Octagon a -405 favorite by some betting systems) started strong. The Irishman opened the fight with a barrage of leg kicks, scored a takedown off a clinch, passed guard nicely, and almost got the finish with a choke in a one-sided first round.

But then he struggled, perhaps surprisingly. Kelades scored hard knees to the body, got a pair of takedowns of his own and dominated the groundwork in the second stanza — working to mount on two occasions. The third was closer, with Holohan landing some good strikes in an early standup exchange — but Kelades was able to take the fight to the mat, keep top control, and land enough strikes to earn the judges’ nod (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)

Holohan bounced back to win his next two bouts, both by unanimous decision.

His opponent, the 24 year old Louis Smolka, similarly cut his teeth in his native Hawaii and in the PXC promotion in the Philippines — before making the jump to the UFC last year. He fights out of Charles Kipili’i Jr’s Hawaii Elite MMA; and like several other big names like rising featherweight star Max Holloway, works with Rylan Lizares on his jiu-jitsu.

The man they call “Da Last Samurai” entered the Octagon a +225 underdog in his debut against Turkey’s Alptekin Ozkilic. Smolka found himself taken down repeatedly, but acquitted himself well on the ground — and scored some good shots in the match’s stand-up exchanges. At 5’9″, Smolka is rangy like Holohan — and used some strong knees from the clinch along with an unorthodox vocabulary of kicks, to take the advantage.

“Smolka is a great example of a guy who favors technique over power,” Kenny Florian remarked on commentary, after Smolka hit a hard elbow shot towards the end of the second stanza.

He would earn the decision based on those stand-up skills, and some great stretches on the mat, including working to mount several times.

Against Chris Cariaso, Smolka found himself in a fast paced dogfight, absorbing leg kicks and right hooks from the southpaw before imposing his clinch game. In the second round, Smolka tried an awkward throw and ended up getting his back taken. That extended sequence could have cost him the fight — but he would escape. Smolka struggled with Cariaso’s quickness as the bout continued. A split judge’s nod ended up going Cariaso’s way.

So, who takes it?

Against Holohan, Smolka would seem to have a minor advantage standing — especially in the clinch. But it’s razor close. Holohan has showed he can hurt with his left hook and has an impressive stand-up arsenal of his own, but I see Smolka out-landing him by just a bit there.

On the ground, Holohan is as nasty as anyone when he takes the back, but can end up flattened out and seemingly out-muscled, as in the Kelades bout. So, Smolka may have the slightest of edges there as well — but only if he avoids getting his back taken. If he makes the same mistake he did in the Cariaso bout, I think he will end up getting finished there.

It’s close. In fact, odds-makers have the bout nearly even, with Smolka a -115 favorite. Like them, I think he’ll have just enough — hit just a few more standing, and keep a bit better position on the mat — to squeak out a three round decision.

It seems right, and it seems sadly right to predict the hometown fans to walk away a little disappointed here. But it should be a good fight.

As always, enjoy the fights!