Watching UFC Fight Night 113 from Glasgow was a difficult task for England’s Brendan Loughnane.
Having gone 9-1 since his last UFC outing as a 22-year-old — a unanimous decision loss to Mike Wilkinson at the TUF Smashes Finale following his semifinal exit to eventual lightweight tournament winner Norman Parke — the Manchester fighter is beginning to question the UFC’s criteria when it comes to finding talent.
“It’s hard to describe how I felt when I was watching UFC Glasgow. There were two guys fighting each other and one of their records was 3-2 and the other’s was 4-2.
“Where is the justice in the fight game if that’s what’s happening?” Loughnane asked.
“Honestly, I was looking at the fights like, ‘What the f**k is going on here?’ As well as that, Danny Henry was given a debut. I’m ranked second in Europe at lightweight and second in Europe at featherweight.
“I checked the rankings and he’s not even in the top 50. This is insane. At this point, I’ve just got to stop thinking about when the UFC is going to give me a call.
“I don’t know what UFC’s criteria are anymore.”
The All Powers fighter got off to an emphatic start with ACB with his first-round finish of Mike Wilkinson in their rematch last March. Loughnane is now tasked with another UFC veteran, Pat Healy, who he meets in the co-main event of ACB 65 on Saturday night in Sheffield.
Healy is the kind of scalp that Loughnane is looking for, and he admits that ACB has taken away some of the urgency he previously felt when it came to penning a UFC deal.
“ACB have given me everything I want. They’re paying me well, and a guy like Pat Healy is a great opponent for me to fight if I’m trying to get more exposure. I really feel that if I take him out comfortably, the world is my oyster,” he said.
“The thing is, I’m probably earning more here than I would in the UFC if you consider the starting rate over there. I see ACB like a world-level promotion now. The way they treat fighters, they’re up there with Bellator and UFC.
“If I get the finish on Pat that’s going to be five finishes in a row. Three of them will have come against former UFC fighters. Again, if the finish comes in the first round that will be all three former UFC fighters finished in the first round.
“It does get to the point where you’re thinking ‘What else do I have to do?’ The call hasn’t come from the UFC so now it’s a case of fight, fight, fight… and then hopefully I’ll underline the fact that I’m becoming undeniable at this point.
“Each time I step in there I’m trying to prove that I’m the best lightweight and featherweight in Europe.”
The problem is, Loughnane believes that he has already proven that exact point.
After he met Tom Duquesnoy at BAMMA 22 in Dublin on Sept. 19, 2015, his supporters fired plastic beer bottles into the cage when the official decision was read out in the Frenchman’s favor.
Loughnane’s despair was evident on the announcement of Duquesnoy as the split decision victor, and shortly after the fight, the European scene discovered why.
“I had a UFC contract waiting for me after that fight. I came up on the wrong side of the decision and the whole arena was booing like crazy. My dream was taken away from me that night. It was one of the hardest things that has ever happened to me.
“That decision has put me back two years,” he explained. “I would be in the UFC and doing well now if I had won. It was a clear robbery. All respect to Tom, he’s a great guy and a great fighter. He’s in the UFC and he’s doing well now, but that was my fight. I clearly won that fight.
“Even though I’ve gone on to get four knockouts since then, I haven’t heard a thing. That just shows you fickle this game is now.”
The Fallowfield native has always let his fighting do the talking for him. Recently, a spat with Liverpool’s Paddy Pimblett sparked interest among the UK masses, but the fight never came to fruition.
Loughnane has continued to put on stellar showcases but doesn’t feel he fits the mold when he sees the lengths that some fighters go to when looking to secure a deal with the world’s flagship MMA promotion.
“It’s hard to be real in a game full of fakes,” he said.
“Really, it’s getting hard for me to use things like Instagram now because of all these fighters putting up so much bullsh*t.
“It’s getting so bad now that they’re waiting for Conor McGregor to post things to see what way they should stand in their own posts. The lack of originality is cringe-worthy and it’s embarrassing.
“They’re using the same kind of wording, the same poses, the same kind of clothes… it’s like ‘F**k in hell, please try to be real to yourself’, you know what I mean?
“At the same time, I’m seeing it working for people and you can’t help but ask yourself, ‘Is this what I need to do?’ It would certainly seem that way.
“It’s getting more and more difficult for fighters to be celebrated for the way they fight. You can’t just be a great fighter anymore; you have to be a lot more than that now.
“The selling aspect is taking precedence over the fighting at this stage, at least it’s beginning to. It’s very hard to say what the game is going to look like in five years time. Hopefully, I’ll be retired by then,” he quipped.
Loughnane has been left on the shelf while plenty of other Europeans have been given chances in the UFC’s featherweight and lightweight divisions. Yet, he still believes that being an exceptional fighter should mean more than how many likes you can accumulate on social media platforms.
“I think there is a choice in what way you approach it, but it only makes more people go for the hype route.
“You can be an absolutely exceptional martial artist who stays true to himself, who goes in there and knocks everyone out. In that situation, regardless of what you do and say, I think people are going to watch you.
“On the other hand, if you’re insecure about your ability, you’re going to have to go around on social media telling everybody how good you are and hope they believe you.
“I think those are the two options these days. I truly believe I’m one of the best in the world, so I think I can stay true to myself as a martial artist. I really feel the other guys that make a lot of noise are forced to go that route to be noticed.”
On Saturday night, the 27-year-old knows that he will have a serious challenge in front of him.
Although Healy carries a two-fight skid into their matchup, Loughnane is well aware of the threats that he possesses that made him one of the most dangerous 155-pound fighters on the Strikeforce books before he eventually signed with the UFC.
“He’s given Khabib Nurmagomedov a tough fight. He’s beaten Carlos Condit, he’s beaten Paul Daley and he’s beaten Dan Hardy. He’s beaten some really amazing names. He’s 2-0 against the English now, so I’ll definitely be looking to pull that back,” he said.
“I was blown away by the guy when I used to watch him in the UFC. He’d just grab guys and rag doll them around. That was only three or four years ago. He’s still very dangerous and he’s massive for a lightweight. That’s going to be huge size difference because I pretty much walk around at 155.
“I’m going to have to use my footwork and really make my shots count. That’s not the kind of guy you want to have on top of you if you hit the ground. There are massive risks in this fight, but as they say — with great risk comes great reward — and that’s how I’m approaching this fight.”
Even if he does get the victory on Saturday in Sheffield, Loughnane lamented that he has no idea if another victory over a UFC veteran will suffice to gain entry to the Octagon again.
“As I said, when I’m watching events put on by the organization that I would ultimately like to compete in, and I’m seeing guys getting in there at 4-2 and 3-2, it’s actually disrespectful,” Loughnane said.
“You can’t help but question what’s going on. I’m 9-1 since my last UFC fight, I was only 22 at the time. I’m currently on a four-fight knockout streak, and my only loss came against one of the top prospects in the sport, Tom Duquesnoy — and I shouldn’t have even lost that.
“I’m tearing through people now. I’m exciting to watch and I’m young. I don’t know what I can do after that. I see some of the fighters in there and they are terrible. I’ve earned everything in this game and it honestly hurts to see other guys sneaking in the back door.
“Ultimately, those guys get found out. They hit a certain level of competition and they fall off. When I get to the UFC, I know I’m going to be ready to take on absolutely anybody they put in front of me.
“On Saturday night in Sheffield, I’m going to show everybody that I can do that.”