On the cusp of the big time once again, British MMA star Brendan Loughnane sits with Tanko Management to tell us his plan to take on the world in a whole new kind of way.
Brendan Loughnane learnt how to fight by scrapping with the guy who lived next door. They’d swing and strike with no protection or padding, they’d rub their wounds better with the palms of their hands, and they’d assemble a makeshift octagon around the back of the house in which to fight.
He’s become one of the best MMA athletes in Britain since then, but in many ways, Brendan is still the noisy neighbour he was all those years ago. Only now, instead of causing a ruckus in the backyard, he’s banging on the door of the big promotions and refusing to leave until they hear him.
Brendan has been a perennial neighbour to the world’s biggest sporting stage for longer than he’d like to remember, a whisker from glory on more occasions that he’d like to count. A last-gasp call-up for The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes earned him a place on the fight card for UFC on FX 6 at the tender age of 22, but it was a fight that came too soon, and he went down to Mike Wilkinson for the first defeat of his professional career.
Brendan then spent years rebuilding his reputation as “the next big thing” in Britain – wiping out five domestic opponents in a row to set up a BAMMA title bout with Frenchman Tom Duquesnoy. After a solid performance, Brendan was convinced he’d done enough to win the fight, but was left aghast as the judges announced a split decision in favour of Duquesnoy. All that mattered was the official result, and the UFC recruiters looking to bring Brendan back to their competition suddenly turned their heads away.
Wilkinson has fought on three mega UFC cards since beating Brendan, whilst Duquesnoy is set to follow suit after his final BAMMA fight later this year. The only two fighters to have ever beaten Brendan are revelling in the limelight of the world’s biggest MMA promotion whilst Brendan remains left behind on British land like a castaway.
Is he frustrated? Of course.
Is he bitter? Not a chance.
Nothing worth having comes easy – especially in MMA – and Brendan understands this more than anyone. Setbacks are in the small print when you sign on the dotted line for a life in Mixed Martial Arts. Today, he sits down with Tanko Management to talk about what’s been and gone, and also what’s in store for the future.
Things have changed since Brendan Loughnane was last here for a long chat. The skies are clear. The sun is out. The weather is warmer. But, most importantly, Brendan is one step closer to the big promotions. It’s felt like a small step at times, but a step is a step nonetheless. He destroyed former UFC veteran Dave Lee at Full Contact Contender 15 back in March, and in doing so managed to cast any doubts aside about his ability to compete at a higher level.
“Setbacks happen. It’ll just make a better story when I do get there.”
The issue for Brendan now is a state of limbo – hovering between domestic events and multimillion promotions abroad. Yet, for a fighter caught between two worlds, Brendan is impressively focused in both a mental and physical sense on this summer afternoon, calmly sipping a mug of lemon tea with TANKO scrawled across the side as he speaks. A ruthlessly hard worker and eternal optimist, Brendan is always looking forward, although that’s not to say it still doesn’t hurt to talk about the loss that kept him away from the UFC – that infamous 2015 BAMMA bout against Tom Duquesnoy.
“I had a UFC contract ready and waiting for me,” Brendan says, wearing an exasperated smirk. “But then the judges gave that fight to Tom – even though I actually beat him.”
“The UFC just took one look at who won that fight result, and then…” Brendan picks up a piece of paper and tosses it to one side. “They saw Tom was the winner and that was that.”
As he recounts the tale of his defeat, Brendan’s rising frustration is ephemeral – swelling, popping and then vanishing from sight within a matter of moments. He looks across the table, smiles and shrugs. “Ah, well. Setbacks happen. It’ll just make a better story when I do get there,” he says.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for Brendan when the biggest victory of his life was snatched away from him by the BAMMA judges, but it never changed his attitude towards Tom Duquesnoy.
“When I was over in Thailand earlier this year training at Tiger Muay Thai, Shay Walsh was there training for his fight with Tom Duquesnoy. It’s such a small world.”
“I’ve always had huge respect for Tom. He’s a great guy and a great fighter. I actually had a good chat with his dad (who always does Tom’s corner). He told me not to give up on the sport and to keep going. That was great to hear.”
The Duquesnoy defeat left the kind of scar on Brendan that can make or break a fighter. At Full Contact Contender 15 – it was clear to see Brendan had been born again. He went into the fight claiming he had a point to prove and promised to finish his opponent – former UFC veteran Dave Lee – quickly. He kept his word, sending Lee wobbling to the ground like a baby deer as early as the first round. Instead of haunting Brendan and holding him back, the “Duquesnoy scar” lies there like a combat wound on a feared army General. Brendan’s been through the battles and has the scars to prove it. Now it’s time for him to win the war.
Today, in Tanko HQ, Brendan is the Yes Man. He spends the brainstorming session resembling a bobble-head figure of himself, nodding along throughout. He’s ready for anything and willing to do whatever it takes to reach the next step – all the while rigidly sticking to his principles. When the conversation drifts over to revamping Brendan’s social media channels, again the fighter is co-operative. “Gimme that blue tick” he winks, signalling his wish for a “verified” Facebook and Twitter account.
It can’t be too long until Brendan gets the “blue tick” he’s been craving. After all, is there any fighter in the country who can actually knock Brendan Loughnane out? It’s an intriguing question that, for a while, appeared unanswerable. The man who’s never lost by TKO or submission wasn’t able to get a decent domestic fight after demolishing Dave Lee, rendering his ability both a blessing and a curse.
But then, just after Easter, up stepped Eden Newton – a lightweight fighter from Manchester with a somewhat cryptic past and mixed fight record. Eden began a frantic game of telephone with promoters in an attempt to lock down a fight with Brendan, and before long a Facebook soap opera exploded as both fighters and their respective entourages weighed in with heated words.
One minute the fight was on. The next, it was off. Then it was on again.
“I’m coming for you Eden, mate.”
Even when promoters from Victoria Warehouse successfully sat the pair down for an on-camera contract signing, the whole contest still managed to fall apart as they bickered over the terms. It was only as recently as June, where Brendan and Eden sat down for a second time, that pen was finally put to paper. The press have billed the fight as a Manchester Grudge Match, and whilst Eden was never Brendan’s idea of a perfect opponent, the Tanko man is happy to take him on.
“There’s a bit of history here, actually” Brendan explains. “Me and Eden are from the same area, and both started off well. But Eden kinda disappeared after a while and I carried on – going to the UFC and all sorts. All of a sudden Eden popped back up, and attacked a bunch of promoters asking for a fight with me. I was like ‘sweet, let’s do it.’ Then, he disappeared again. He was stepping up one moment and backing down the next, so that was frustrating.”
“I’m just glad to have it all sorted” Brendan admits. Suddenly he stares straight ahead, and it’s clear he’s not just talking to us anymore.
“I’m coming for you Eden, mate – you’re gonna regret the day you ever took this fight.”
When you’re an MMA fighter, you’ve just got to keep going. One look at Middleweight Champion Michael Bisping tells you all you need to know about how sticking with it pays dividends.
“Michael Bisping does deserve that title” Brendan says. “He’s put a lot of graft in. He’s fought all the greats. That was his first ever UFC title fight and it could be his last one. I admire what he’s done, but I don’t wanna be exactly like him. I wanna be the first real Manchester lad to win a UFC title.”
It’s not as if Brendan is just sitting back simply waiting for it to happen either. He’s set to board a plane to the states again soon. But this time, it’s going to be a different type of trip.
“The last two times I’ve been to America have been for Dom (Cruz)” Brendan tells us. “I love helping Dom and he’s one of the best guys ever. But I don’t wanna just be in his afterparties all my life. I want to be winning my own titles and having my own afterparties. This time, I’m going over there for me. I’m going to learn as much as I can and do as much as I can to get my name out in America.”
“I want these big fights now. If I didn’t have the skillset to compete in the UFC, the champion (Dom Cruz) wouldn’t be flying me out to help him train, would he? I’ve been to these gyms like Alliance where all these champions are. I’ve seen them and I know I can beat them.”
Brendan has been tantalisingly close to the big MMA promotions like UFC, Bellator and ONE Championship for two years now, but he’s having to remain patient for his opportunity to become a US fight star.
“I speak to Dom saying when you gonna pull this string, when you getting me in?” Brendan jokes. “Dom said ‘I dunno why you’re worried, just take your time’”.
Brendan sits back and beams. “I ain’t worried. It’s just that I’m ready now.
“I have been for a long time.”
Life is complicated and unpredictable enough for those of us who don’t earn our money by punching and kicking someone inside a cage. Nobody in MMA land is immune to the harsh realities that plague us all here in the real world. Anybody can be dealt a poor hand, as Brendan discovered last year when his coach – Anthony Mousah – fell seriously ill.
“Whether I’m fighting in the UFC or fighting in KFC, I will always be there training.”
“Just after the BAMMA fight against Tom, Ant got a blood clot,” Brendan explains. “When I was in Thailand this year, I got a phone call saying he might lose his leg.”
Brendan suddenly looks sullen.
“That was a strange time. Without Ant, this thing…it just doesn’t feel right.”
For a fleeting moment, Brendan isn’t a boisterous, dogmatic MMA fighter anymore: he’s a little boy again. It’s clear as day that Anthony Mousah isn’t just a coach to Brendan, he’s a part of who Brendan is. Without Ant, Brendan Loughnane isn’t Brendan Loughnane.
“For a while, all I could think was: ‘Where is this journey going?’. No one will fight me, I might lose my coach. Things were looking grim. They were pretty dark times.”
Fortunately, Anthony Mousah’s blood clot was operated on successfully.
“They got to it and the operation was a success,” Brendan says jovially, as if learning the news for the first time. “For a moment it looked like we were gonna lose each other there. But Ant is on the road to recovery now and we’ve got a new lease of life.”
If Anthony Mousah had lost his leg, the MMA world might have been robbed of one of its very best fighters. But Tony is still here. Brendan is still here. And the dream of being a UFC, Bellator or ONE Championship title winner is, somewhat miraculously, still very much a possibility.
“There’ve been loads of things like that – hurdles – along the way,” Brendan tells us. “There’s been issues with money, issues with relationships. Setbacks are part of the game.
“You’ve just gotta have belief, that’s half the battle.”
With the Eden Newton fight on the horizon, Brendan finally has something to look forward to. But when there are no specific fights to train for, nothing concrete in the distance, how does he gather the motivation to keep training?
“It’s a good question,” Brendan admits, attempting to conjure up some articulate answer from thin air. He needn’t bother. After a few seconds, he looks up and gives the answer we all expect him to.
“This is me,” he says. “MMA is all I know. It keeps me positive and keeps me going in every other aspect of my life. Whether I’m fighting in the UFC or fighting in KFC, I will always be there training. I took out this contract for life. It’s not just a job to me, it’s a way of life.”
“Even if it all ends tomorrow, it’s been a great journey. I’ve been around the world, met all kinds of good people. I’ve got no regrets.”
Brendan likes to talk in analogies, and in an attempt to sum up where he is in his career right now, he turns to academia.
“If this was an educational facility, I’d be at, say, Master’s degree level. I guess I’m looking for my PhD now.”
He chuckles at the thought.
“‘Dr Brendan’ sounds quite good actually, doesn’t it?”
Those in the houses of the big promotions best keep staring out their windows. The noisy neighbour Brendan Loughnane is prepared to bang down doors for his PhD in MMA.
Ignore him all you like – this kid is going nowhere.