Mixed martial artist Brendan Loughnane tells Fiona O’Brien why his next battle is the ultimate grudge match
One of the brightest up-and-coming stars of domestic mixed martial arts has pledged to have cemented his place amongst the top dogs come the end of this year. Manchester-Irish fighter Brendan Loughnane will face old-time rival Mike Wilkinson in a hotly anticipated featherweight bout in his hometown in March.
Although Loughnane came out on the wrong side of the judges’ decision in December 2012 he is confident he will come up trumps in the Manchester Arena in a little over two months, and he plans to use the resultant win to dominate the sport for the rest of the year.
We look at how the two north-west fighters careers have taken very different paths
Brendan Loughnane has been competing as an MMA fighter for the past ten years, having first got into it when he was inspired by his next door neighbour. The Manchester-Irish competitor has an impressive record across his career, winning all eight of his amateur fights and is currently at 13-2 since turning professional in 2009.
But his next fight, and the upcoming year, is where he is really targeting establishing himself as, first-off, he fights a competitor he lost to over four years ago.
“Over Christmas everyone is talking about indulging and enjoying themselves, but there is no let-off for me.
“The next fight is only a couple of months away and I need to make sure I keep my weight down,” says proud Mancunian Brendan.
— Brendan Loughnane (@Brendan264) December 31, 2016
The 27-year-old is concentrating so hard on his next fight that he took himself to Thailand for a training camp over the Christmas period to stave off any temptation and to ensure he is in top condition for the start of 2017.
UFC is the pinnacle of the sport and mixed martial arts’ highest-profile promotional organisation, where Conor McGregor and the best athletes in the world take to the octagon in the most competitive, and lucrative, of fights. Since the sport has grown massively over the past decade the UFC used to broadcast their own reality-TV series where fighters would be placed in a house and filmed while being trained by the game’s top coaches and professionals.
Mike Wilkinson, Brendan’s next opponent, was selected to be in the series The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes, and Loughnane joined the panel when another competitor, Michael Pastou, withdrew with a bicep injury. The series was a play on words with ‘The Ashes’ as it saw Team Australia take on Team UK.
— Mike Wilkinson (@M_WilkinsonMMA) July 8, 2016
Wilkinson was signed up to the UFC having won the contract bout while Brendan had to build up his reputation again in regional MMA fights. The Wigan native would go on to lose his next UFC fight, his first professional MMA loss, against Rony Jason in Fuel TV 10, before after a year out of action with injury he won a first round KO due to punches in October 2014 against Niklas Backstrom.
The win earned him his first Performance of the Night bonus award, but his plight with injury was not finished as he was subsequently removed from the card at UFC Fight Night 69 due to a shoulder problem ahead of his bout with Alan Omer.
He next fought in February of last year against Makwan Amirkhani and lost by unanimous decision and was thus released from the promotion. After the fight Wilkinson said he was disappointed to have been dropped from UFC, stating that although he had lost he thought his exciting fighting style was enough to hold him in good stead with the promotion.
“Not taking the win away from him (Amirkhani), not making no (sic) excuses, he played it safe. I’m a bit shocked,” he said. “He didn’t want to stand with me. He didn’t want to put a show on. He just wanted to get the win and that will only get him so far.
“For me, I want to be kind of a prizefighter. I want to put a show on for the fans, have wars, fights like Diego Sanchez and Gilbert Melendez.
“I want to go out on my shield and I want to make history.”
“Mike seems to be on a bit of a decline, but I know a lot of that has been to do with injury struggles,” says Brendan. “But I am on the up and this next fight is just the start of what I hope to have achieved by this time next year.
“I want to prove that I am the best lightweight fighter around and I feel perhaps I should have won our last showdown.
“There are two or three big names that I would like to be up against in 2017 if I go on to beat Mike, but I’m going to keep them quiet until nearer the time. I want to be top by the end of the year.”
Since their 2012 fight Brendan’s career has taken a completely different direction. He went on an impressive five-fight winning streak which consisted of three unanimous decisions and two TKO from punches.
Then in September 2015 he lost to Tom Duquesnoy by a split decision from the judges, a fight that both he and fans contest he should have won. But Brendan does not let those results get to him.
“In my professional career I have two losses on my record, but both have come from decisions that other people say I should have won, that I feel maybe I should have.
“You can’t let it get you down, it’s one of those things and the nature of the sport.
“So with my next three fights after Duquesnoy I didn’t give the judges a chance of taking a win from me.”
And looking at the record he didn’t. Since then he has recorded three wins from three, with all coming from TKO’s; punches in round one against David Lee in March 2016, elbows in round two against Eden Newton in August 2016 and punches in round three against Paul Cook in December.
And like Wilkinson, who starred in a Manchester United documentary as it focussed on his journey back from injury, Brendan too has been the subject of a fly-on-the-wall TV appearance. The Fight Life TV series Behind the Fighter featured him and his story so far as he prepared for his last fight against Cook, on the popular Sky channel 468 (Freesat 250 and Freeview 90).
“It’s a great way of boosting your public appeal and getting on the map which is important for the sport.”
And showing that the next bout is between two of the game’s brightest and most popular talents, Wilkinson has also confirmed there has been renewed interest to shoot a sequel following his career now that he has been released from the UFC.
“I think this is coming at the perfect time.
“It is going to build my profile up, as they say everything happens for a reason. I’ll brush it off and we’ll go again.”
With the huge profile Conor McGregor has built from the sport in a relatively short space of time, Brendan feels that characters like him can only benefit the UFC and mixed martial arts scene in general.
“It can only be a good thing. If you look at what the profile was ten years ago compared to the last few years the change has been massive.
“And that has only got bigger in the past year or two with Conor bringing it to new heights.”
Both of Brendan’s sets of grandparents were born in Ireland and although Brendan is proud of his roots it is hometown where he truly feels a supportive boost.
“I headlined the 3 Arena in Dublin for an event a while back and that support was crazy. “Some of my other family members have admittedly stayed truer to their Irish heritage, but it was brilliant being in Dublin that night. But I do love to fight in Manchester. It’s where I feel I get my biggest home support. “And the fight against Mike is in the Manchester Arena so I can’t wait for that night.”
Brendan is managed by Tamko promotions, which the business-savvy 27-year-old has a stake in.
“Yeah everything is going really well with the management side of things and we’ve put on a few good shows and looking to secure more for next year.”
The Manchester fighter is also heavily active on his social media feeds and can be followed on Instagram at @brenz264 and on Twitter under the same handle.
“It helps a lot with getting followers and sponsorship. In this day and age it’s one thing to go out and win your fights but it’s another thing making sure people know about it. It is all about profile, otherwise why would promotions book you for fights as they are looking to make money themselves so you need to add to your exposure.”
But for now his eyes are fixed firmly on the prize ahead with Wilkinson the next hurdle before he really launches his quest to become one of the world’s top MMA fighters. Loughnane has moved from lightweight to featherweight and back again, but will drop back down for the fight on March 11 which is dubbed as one of the biggest fights that could be made domestically.