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Paddy Holohan on sudden retirement: 'It feels like a death burial'

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It's been a strange week for now former UFC flyweight Patrick Holohan. Paddy, as he's more commonly known, announced Monday he had been forced to immediately retire from mixed martial arts competition. This was no USADA issue or change of heart about fighting, generally. Instead, he had a rare blood clotting disorder than would prevent him from being medically cleared to fight.

For Holohan, the experience has been bizarre. His condition, known as Factor XIII deficiency, is something he's lived with his entire life. He really never gave it much thought. It's also extremely rare. It's just been a part of his life he's had to manage.

"When I was 8 years of age, I was diagnosed with it. It's an extremely rare kind of thing," Holohan said on Monday's The MMA Hour. "It's called Factor XIII deficiency," he explained. "So, say you get cut and when the cut is healing, the clot doesn't form properly.

"One in 5 million people get it, so it's really rare."

The problem, however, is that "individuals with factor XIII deficiency form blood clots like normal, but these clots are unstable and often break down, resulting in prolonged, uncontrolled bleeding episodes." This has implications not merely for cuts on the skin, but internal bleeding as well.

As Holohan tells it, though, this was never something he was ashamed of or kept secret. He didn't parade the fact that he had this condition, but it wasn't something he tried to keep hidden.

"Not that I haven't told anybody close to me. It's not really a secret. It wasn't as crazy as it sounds," he explained. "Before I was diagnosed, I would have bruising and things like that, but then I was diagnosed and I got the treatment for it.

"At the time, not that I didn't disclose it. I walk into John [Kavanagh]'s gym and at about 19 years of age, I didn't expect to be going to the UFC, fighting in the main event. So, as the process went on and went on, I never denied anything," he went on. "I never hid anything, but then when the UFC found out after the injury in Dublin, they diagnosed that I wouldn't be able to pass me for a medical anymore. They told me they were going to have to remove me contract. It's not their fault, it's not my fault. It's just the way it worked out."

Holohan said he was being treated for a back injury in Dublin when "a team of hemophilia doctors" examined his blood work and discovered the anomaly. He eventually reported the information to the inquiring doctors in the U.S. and when he did, was told competing would be impossible as obtaining a medical license was out of the question. "There's increased chances of cranium bleeds, so that's what it says on the diagnosis of it," he claimed.

"This was just a normal thing to me," Holohan said. "The UFC informed me I wouldn't be able to get passed for a fight license, so what else do you do when you can't get a fight license? I had to retire. I'm grateful for what I got to do in the sport. I got to raise a lot of superstars that came up from the Irish circuit. I got to do an apprenticeship over a really good point in MMA in Ireland."

It's a weird experience, Holohan admitted. For a condition that he has found out carries significant risk, he almost feels as if his life up to this point is proof the risk is so little it's almost not worth taking seriously.

"To me, I am the evidence of me. That's what I think. I train, don't have any issues, any problems. I feel OK. I'm fit. I spar," he said. "I've never really had any issues with injuries to do with this. That's why this never really came to me, like I have to say this. This is like [what] diabetics say to me. That's what it feels like."

Holohan noted he's been taking medication to treat it without incident since he was a kid. He confessed he didn't realize there's an extra risk of cranial bleeding, but to date, never felt like he was competing at a disadvantage. One thing lead to another and he simply didn't give it much thought as his career progressed.

"I should've disclosed this at the start, but you know what? I didn't. I took a chance on it," he argued. "I walked into John's gym, 19 years old, did jiu-jitsu and ended up going up, having a fight and all that happened.

"As I said, I didn't really understand the excess risks involved in fighting. I didn't sit down and analyze that as I was going through fighting. 'Am I at more risk than this guy?' I was just fighting at the end of the day. To me, as I told you, I was always OK. I don't know what to do in this situation now. UFC tells me I can't pass a medical with them. I don't think I pass a medical for any organization," he recalled. "My hands are kind of tied in a way."

As for how he feels, he told Helwani he's all over the place. He knows he's done a lot by any measurement, but for it all to go away in an instant is hard to accept.

"My emotions are going back and forward, like anybody's would be," he confessed. "I can't believe I never get to make that walk again. I can't see how I could unless I could find some way of proving that, I don't know. I'm not a doctor.

"I talked to John about it, but I didn't sit down and tell John. I didn't know the risks. I found out when I kind of looked into this because it became a problem. It's more serious that I thought. All along the way, this has not bothered me. To me, I'm still able bodied. I'm told by the doctors now that this is...you know.

"It doesn't feel real. It feels like a death burial," he lamented. "That's what it feels like. It feels like a death. Even the whole last week when I was in Iceland, it was so relaxing and so nice. I was still training in Iceland, keeping my head nice and clear. That's what I will continue to do. It just feels like my hands are tied now with, I didn't know the situation with this was as serious as it is."

In terms of what's next, Holohan is opening up a SBG affiliate in Tallaght, a southern suburb of Dublin. He'll continue to train and coach and maybe compete in areas of combat sports where he can. The truth is, Holohan said, he never got into MMA to fight in the UFC. He did it because it was fun and there was a strong social support group around him. That's still there and that's what will keep him coming back.

"The thinking there wasn't to go to the UFC for me. This is a good group of people doing jiu-jitsu, everyone's having fun, everyone's happy. That's how it started for me. It's still that same situation.

"It's exciting," he admitted. "That's always what I wanted to do. It just lead to the UFC as well, but I'm not going to stop doing that because I don't fight competitively in the UFC anymore."

And the highlight of his career? There were many, but perhaps UFC Fight Night 46 in Dublin, Ireland was the peak. He opened the show with a submission win and the Irish from many camps took the event by storm. For Holohan, it was a moment he couldn't forget.

"As always, when we hit the place, we hit it running," he recalled. "If you look at the consecutive fights that we had, we were putting out fights with a lot of tempo.

"I think that we hit the ground running. It was kind of 'go, go go' and that was my reaction towards it. Get in and fight now because we'd make it through the dark in a way."

Holohan doesn't leave the sport with a distinguished, elite record. He accomplished quite a bit, but never had a the chance to turn the corner into something special. But that's never what Holohan's appeal was about. He was something of an everyman and the consummate Irishman. For him, competing was about representing country, team and maybe a little of his own eccentric side.

"To me, fighting is like jigsaw pieces, little bits and little sequences," he said. "I was always trying to execute sequences that we'd been practicing in the gym that John had been showing me and the whole team has been working on together. That's what it's about. Doing it in a loyal atmosphere. That's what it's always about," he claimed.

But as always, Holohan found a way to leave his mark on things, in life and in the cage.

"Sometimes there's a dash of just scrapping in there as well," he acknowledged.