Brendan Loughnane says he wants the title and a million dollars ahead of Professional Fighters League clash

When Manchester’s Brendan Loughnane won his match in Dana White’s 2019 Contender Series, but was declined entry into the UFC due to the stylistic preferences of the company’s president, the featherweight made a resolution: he would sign for whatever MMA franchise that promised to keep him busy.

“Touching my 30s, I’ve already had a lot of fights, but I wanted to secure my legacy. I want to fight the best guys out there and when it’s said and done, I don’t want to be sitting in the pub downing pints, saying, ‘I could have done this and I could have done that.’ That’s not going to happen,” Loughnane told Sky Sports this week as he prepares to fight Sheymon Moraes in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Loughnane’s upcoming clash is in The Professional Fighters League. A counter-culture MMA organisation, the PFL fuses combat sports with the structure of team sports – fights are laid out as fixtures, in advance, as part of a season. A winning fighter could thus guarantee the activity level Loughnane craves in his prime years.

“The reason, I did take the PFL is for sheer activity. I’m a fighter that likes to fight. I train all year. I don’t take time off. I don’t get big between fights. I keep my diet good. So, for me, activity was key,” Loughnane explained.

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But then the pandemic struck and the PFL’s 2020 season was swiftly abandoned leaving Loughnane facing a fate he feared so deeply – inactivity.

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“It’s been a turbulent year,” he lamented. “We had a tournament cancelled. I’ve the best part of 18 months off, which is the longest I’ve had off in my whole career. It’s the longest I’ve had to sit down and reassess everything.”

With gyms closed and sparring impossible under distancing rules, Loughnane engaged the rugged determination and accountability that characterises so many men and women in the fight game – taking to the skies to find places he could train.

“I didn’t take my foot off the pedal. I went full throttle, I went to Thailand, did six months there. Went to Dubai, did six months there. And now I’m in Atlantic City, I’m in my final preparations and I feel absolutely fantastic.”

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Loughnane (19-3) fights on Friday in what will not only see him released from the frustration of 18 fight-less months, but also liberated from an extraordinarily intense 17-day pre-fight bubble in New Jersey.

“I’m not going to lie, 17 days is mentally testing, because you get a little part of a hotel that you can walk round, you get fed at certain times, and only the strong will survive in this tournament,” he said.

“I’m used to turning up to a fight, four or five days before, you do your bits of weight cut and then you’re done. This is almost cutting right into my training camp. For me, I’ve had to bring training partners out.”

Loughnane’s need to complete sparring and physical preparation within the bubble, also spurred him into an unlikely friendship with a Belarusian fighter, Mikhail Odintsov who’s flying solo after his team were rejected by US immigration.

“Luckily, I’ve found a guy out here, who’s on his own, who needed a training partner. And he’s almost exactly like the guy I’m fighting, and he’s fighting a guy like me, so it was really weird,” he outlined.

“We kind of partnered up, even though we don’t speak each other’s language, we do Google translate, and we get our work done. We don’t complain.”

Loughnane generously claims it has been a mutually beneficial relationship, but you sense that the human contact has been especially vital for Odintsov – even if conversations are conducted via a smartphone. Messages of gratitude to Loughnane from the Eastern European’s family members attest to the Mancunian’s generosity of spirit.

“I couldn’t even imagine being out here, on my own with no concept of the language and sat in my room. Even if I want something, I can’t ask for it. The guy’s amazing at what he does and it was a real blessing in disguise meeting him,” Loughnane reflected, magnanimously.

The language barrier has been overcome in training. But Loughnane says the big problem for his new friend, Odinstov is now finding someone to steer him through his showdown with Russian Akhmet Aliev on fight night.

“We can’t work his corner. We can’t go in there with google translate. That’s a hurdle we’re not over yet, but we’re working on it,” he said.

Loughnane’s own 2021 PFL season kicks off with a clash with Brazilian Sheymon Morais (11-4). If things go well, if he wins the championship, Loughnane will fight five times between now and October and collect a $1,000,000 winner’s cheque.

And if he wanted activity, he’ll certainly get it. The quarter-finals and semi-finals will see the successful combatants fight twice on the same night. It is a novel – and gruelling – prospect which Loughnane is embracing:

“I’ve had 18 months to prepare, they can’t say, ‘you didn’t have enough time to prepare, Brendan.’ The toughest test will be fighting twice in my night. But in this point in my career, I relish looking forward to trying new things.”

At 31, Loughnane counts himself as one of the first of a generation of fighters who grew up as bespoke MMA competitors – rather than athletes who migrated to MMA from other combat sports like wrestling and boxing.

Friday night’s card is headlined by former UFC Champion Anthony Pettis and with illustrious MMA names competing in organisations like Bellator and ONE, in addition to the world-renowned UFC, Loughnane is impressed by the options open to modern-day competitors.

“I’ve been in this for 13 years now. I’ve watched it go from a sports hall and almost illegal, to being mainstream and being talked about on Sky Sports. I’ve been really glad to ride that wave.”

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