When Brendan Loughnane became the 2022 PFL featherweight champion, it was like a dream come true. But his celebration didn’t last too long.
While he was obviously happy to capture the title along with its $1 million grand prize, the Contender Series veteran barely had a month off before putting together his next training camp as the 2023 season loomed on the horizon.
“You don’t get a chance to enjoy no belt,” Loughnane told MMA Fighting. “This comes around so fast. So I won it on the 25th of November, I had December off with family and friends, January 5 I’m back in camp getting ready for the next season.
“Really, there’s been no victory tours, no parades, this s*** just comes around quick and fast, and here we are.”
Loughnane said he dealt with a number of injuries throughout the 2022 season, which didn’t deter him from eventually capturing the 145-pound title. While he’s much healthier heading into 2023, Loughnane admitted he contemplated not participating in his third consecutive PFL season, if only because of the mental and physical strain it puts on him.
To add to that, the PFL is starting a “super fight” division this year and has plans to expand onto pay-per-view after going behind a paywall for the first time for the promotion’s championship card which closed out 2022.
Unfortunately, Loughnane said any ideas he had about potentially skipping out on the 2023 season was immediately rebuffed by the PFL.
“I didn’t want to do the tournament again,” Loughnane revealed. “I was told that I had to do it. I was told, ‘This is what you’re doing, you don’t have an option. It’s tournament or nothing. It’s tournament or sitting out for a year.’ So I had to really think about, do I want to sit a year out in my prime? No. Do I want to fight four times in seven months? No. So I had to come up with a happy medium like, OK, well, if you don’t do it, you’re going to lose a year in your prime.
“I lost a year and a half through COVID and I’m 26-4 as a pro now. I’m going to rack up another four wins this year. That will be 30-4. These fights are just coming thick and fast. A few more grey hairs. But I do enjoy it once it starts up and things are getting up, legacy fights like Marlon [Moraes]. Bringing over guys that have got a big name and I can actually get something out of the fight.”
That being said, Loughnane said he doesn’t hold any ill will towards the PFL for giving him an ultimatum about competing in the season-long format or sitting out for the entire year, because he understands why his participation in the tournament was crucial.
“I get it. I know what I signed up for,” Loughnane said. “This is their business model. They want the champions to do the tournament every year. But being a PFL champion means you have to win four fights again. It’s not like the UFC where you just defend your belt once, twice a year. I have to win four fights in seven months to retain my belt.
“That’s why I say it’s the hardest belt to have, because of what you have to go through to get it, and also what you have to go through to keep it. To be a PFL champion two times, you have to win eight fights, which is wild.”
As far as the future goes, Loughnane has yet to decide if 2023 is his final season-long PFL run, but he certainly wouldn’t be the first to bow out. Past champions such as Kayla Harrison have opted not to participate in the tournament, and this year is expected to be Olivier Aubin-Mercier’s final season after he conquered the lightweight division in 2022.
“I say yes [it will be my last year], and I say no at the same time,” Loughnane said. “It’s really difficult. It’s a grind. It’s really hard. It’s the hardest thing I’ve done. This thing is a whole different animal. It scares the f****** life out of me and that’s why I love doing it.
“It’s going to be really hard again this year in 2023, but I feel like I’ve got the right approach now.”
If there was one thing Loughnane really wanted in returning to the 2023 PFL season, it was the opportunity to continue facing newer and better competition. He’ll get that chance with 2021 PFL champion Movlid Khaybulaev back this year, as Khaybulaev is the last person to hand Loughnane a defeat.
Loughnane will also get to test himself against a one-time UFC title challenger in his next matchup when he faces Marlon Moraes on Saturday as the season officially gets underway.
“I’m glad they gave me Marlon right off the bat, because I get real name value out of Marlon rather than these other guys I fought earlier in the season last year,” Loughnane said. “I didn’t really get name value, but now I’ve won 10 out of my last 11 fights, and if you look at the run that I’ve been on — Bill Algeo, Tyler Diamond, Chris Wade, Sheymon Moraes, Bubba Jenkins — big guys, good names, and I think Marlon is a great guy to add to that list and keep building my legacy.
“I think we’ve established I am one of the best featherweights in the world and all the media outlets are now picking up on that. I’m really happy that I’m finally getting the respect I deserve from the media and the people that I really look up to in the sport.”