Single sentence summary:
Phil: SMOLKA-HOLOHAN MAIN EVENT OVERSATURATION NOT IN MY DAY DEATH OF THE SPORT I TELLS YA WHY I REMEMBER WHENZZZzzzzzzz
David: Sweet chin music rocks the party in Ireland against the achy breaky humerus.
Paddy "The Hooligan" Holohan
History Lesson / introduction to the fighters
Phil: Paddy Holohan had a debut as a fairly sizable underdog to well-regarded Josh Sampo. The general read on Holohan was that he was a submission hunter with serious deficits in physicality and striking. A high octane strikes-to-sub finish obviated those concerns, perhaps too much, because the perennially underrated Chris Kelades bullied him in his next fight. A couple of wins over Shane Howell and Vaughan Lee have normalized perceptions of the Hooligan a bit.
David: Holohan's saving grace here is that he'll have the crowd behind him. Unfortunately Smolka is the one standing in front of him. Holohan's a fine fighter, and more adept on the feet than given credit for, but something about the guy still feels like a loss or two away from suffering from Dustin Hazelett syndrome.
Phil: Louis Smolka has had the up-down career endemic to young, talented but raw fighters who aren't carefully managed. If he's been consistent in anything it's been in his inconsistency. He beat Alptekin Ozkilic with sheer physicality, but struggled to match Chris Cariaso technically. His most recent fight announced him as someone to watch, however.
David: Yea. Just to do my annual hockey analogy nobody understands, Smolka is a lot like T.J. Oshie: way worse than advertised, yet advertised for reasons that ring true to his talents. I was kind of shocked to see him take care of Seery the way he did. It's not that he was never capable of beating Seery; I just didn't think he was capable of making Seery look like he didn't belong.
What are the stakes?
Phil: Realistically not much beyond entertainment. Both of these fighters are guaranteed fireworks in the cage, but while flyweight is shallow, it's not like heavyweight or women's 135 where even the top 10 is a wasteland of flawed and ageing fighters. Basically, these guys are fun and all, but there are still fighters who are plain better than them who haven't gotten shots at Johnson yet: Borg, Cejudo, Scoggins, Ortiz, Makovsky etc. The winner might get put in there with one of them, but they'd be a prohibitive underdog.
That said, Smolka's superior athleticism gives him more of a chance than Holohan to break into the upper tiers. I'd also cite his age... but Holohan's actually only 27, despite looking like a dockworker in his late 30s.
David: Holohan definitely looks like a dude working for Frank Sobotka. The stakes in this fight have less to do with causing ripple effects in the division, and more to do with making a pugilism scene so that it takes the heat off the UFC for putting together a card that could find itself being headlined by these two to begin within. If they put on some sort of modern classic, you can bet Dana is paying for the college tuitions all around.
Where do they want it?
Phil: These are very similar fighters who have come to their similar styles from opposite directions. Holohan is the aggressive submission grappler who has added in an unorthodox striking arsenal as a complement. Smolka is an unorthodox striker who has fallen in love with submission grappling.
Holohan's earlier UFC fights were characterized by a sense of high-energy aimlessness on the feet. Even when he dusted Josh Sampo he was just kind of... doing high-octane stuff. A couple of jumping kicks, then a running uppercut which Sampo ducked into. Against Vaughan Lee in particular, he's shown that he's found something to hang the rest of his striking game around, notably a series of swinging crescent and front kicks to the gut. Once in the grappling phase, Holohan is an incredibly aggressive submission hunter and back-taker.
David: I'm curious how a running uppercut becomes part of a fighter's arsenal. It's not exactly John Cusack's ballpoint pen, but if it works...
It's funny how the automatic perception of fighters who rely on grappling is that they are anachronisms; as if Jiu-Jitsu suddenly became an unnecessary art among pugilists. Just because it's harder to win with a submission doesn't mean the mechanics of grappling have lessened. Holohan takes advantage of fighters who feel like learning to grapple defensively is the only jiu jitsu path worth traveling.
Phil: As previously mentioned, Smolka was winning his early fights through sheer athleticism, just repelling Alptekin Ozkilic's wrestling with power and speed. Even looking at more recent fights, when he knocked out Richie Vaculik with Sweet Chin Music... it was cool, but people forget that he was two rounds in the hole by that point. It was only in his last fight that we've seen Smolka's style coalesce at all, where he's developed an incredibly aggressive submission grappling game.
David: At 24 years of age, I can't hold it against him too much. This is typically how fighters with no background in one specific area work. Smolka is still learning what makes him most effective, and I'm happy to see him put most of together.
Insight from past fights?
Phil: Smolka beat Seery. Do I think Holohan would beat Seery? Not really. He just doesn't have the physicality to bust through Seery's stout takedown defense and boxing like Da Last Samurai did. I'm not sure that this necessarily translates into Smolka beating Holohan, though. Smolka took a lot of risks which worked out because Seery is a pretty meat'n'potatoes grappler, but Holohan will be far more willing and capable to punish him for errors.
David: Holohan will get punished for his own errors as well. There aren't a whole lot of fights that give us an idea about how both will potentially interact. Smolka is just now finding an identity while Holohan is efficiently erratic.
Phil: Crowd? They're likely to be restive due to the sad butchery of the card, but Holohan is a fan favorite, and I think they'll be jumping at every bit of offense he puts out there.
David: Does Smolka have Northern Irish in his blood? If he does, expect the big payback in front of Holohan's crowd.
Phil: I'm not sure that this is a popular pick, but I feel like Smolka has brought himself to a hyper-aggressive scrambling style relatively recently. He's got big physical edges, and is a better wrestler, but he's putting himself firmly into Holohan's wheelhouse, who has much more experience in that kind of fight. This fight might be irrelevant in the wider picture, but it should be a ton of fun. Patrick Holohan by unanimous decision
David: Fool! True, submissions tend to be the one area where experience is more than just a buzzword for prospects to be afraid of. But Holohan doesn't have the kind of bruising, physical presence to keep Smolka from doing his thing. Even on the ground I don't think it's a wash, as high octane grapplers tend to leave themselves more open to ground and pound. Louis Smolka by TKO, round 2.