The erratic and disloyal nature of MMA in the United Kingdom has proven to be a great hindrance for Brits, who have struggled to gain ground at the sport’s pinnacle, with fickle supporters often abandoning any fighter who suffers a setback.
There, of course, have been few to break this mould in terms of universal acceptance. Dan Hardy was the first Briton to challenge for a UFC championship in 2010 and with that feat, the country rallied behind him when he fought all-time great Georges St-Pierre.
It would take another six years until the UK got its first UFC world champion, as Michael Bisping shocked the world on just 17 days notice. Despite this achievement, “The Count” received very little fanfare in the UK, overlooked by mainstream media and fans alike, dismissed due to his residence in California.
It’s this fear of irrelevance and rejection, ever intrinsic in MMA, which drives Brendan Loughnane in his pursuit of greatness, as the Mancunian professes confidence that he will become ‘the best fighter Britain has ever seen’.
Loughnane, 27, takes a featured spot at ACB 65 on July 22, which will mark South Yorkshire’s first time hosting Russian promotion Absolute Championship Berkut. ACB has already scheduled their return to Sheffield on September 23 with a card dubbed ‘The Battle of Britain’.
It was a successful debut for Loughnane (14-2) at ACB 54 in his hometown of Manchester, where he was finally able to avenge his defeat to Mike Wilkinson, almost half a decade after they met at UFC on FX 6.
Loughnane talks about ACB getting him world level opponents
Signing a three fight contract with ACB, the Mancunian; who trains out of All Powers Gym, now prepares for the biggest test of his career against grizzled UFC veteran, Pat “Bam Bam” Healy. A win will likely earn Loughnane a title shot against the 155-pound champion Abdul-Aziz Abdulvakhabov.
Battle tested lightweight Healy, who previously spent time in Strikeforce and the UFC, has had great success against Brits in the past, beating UK legends Dan Hardy and Paul Daley.
“He’s world class,” Loughnane told MMA Plus ahead of his second fight in ACB. “He’s beat world champions, he beat our main two fighters, Dan Hardy, Paul Daley, the guy’s a serious, serious threat.”
It’s ‘world level’ opposition like Healy which Loughnane attributed as one of the major reasons why he made the decision to commit his immediate future to the Russian organisation.
“I think with ACB and these others, KSW and stuff, you’re fighting at the highest level,” said Loughnane. “Let’s not get it twisted, if you’re in ACB, you’re fighting UFC level, world level. So the money has to be right for the fights that they give you. If you’re fighting in BAMMA, Cage Warriors, no disrespect to them but that is European level.”
Will Loughnane join UFC?
Flying the flag for the UK, it is hard to deny Loughnane’s credentials as one of the best the British Isles has to offer, having won his last four fights inside the distance.
He admits there have been talks between himself and the UFC over a return, although that financially the current playing field outside of the world number one offers much more dynamism, especially those who wish to negotiate sponsors outside the limitations of Reebok.
“I think through ACB now, the way they treat the fighters, don’t be surprised if you see a few more moving over and don’t always count on watching the UFC for the best fights nowadays,” said the newly sponsored Foot Asylum athlete. “It’s kind of good that the competition is catching up now.
“If UFC call me, they would have to match what I’m already on first of all. It was a dream of mine to fight in the UFC, but I’ve done it now and if I never do it again at least I can say I’ve done it. I’m the only person from Manchester to ever do it, that’s a big thing to me. It’s kind of crazy how they’ve not come, to be honest, but I’ve held out, and I’ve got some good money off ACB now and I’m happy. So they’d have to come correct if they come nowadays.”
Further discussing financial security, Loughnane credited ACB, explaining how he has now been able to stop teaching to fully focus on becoming the best fighter Britain has ever seen.
“ACB are paying me good (sic) now, so I don’t teach no more, I don’t do anything, I’ve got a decent sponsor and I put absolutely everything into this. I will be the best fighter Britain has ever seen, and I’m not joking when I say that. I try hard all day every day and I have done for the last 10 years. I’m going to put on the best performance of my career against Pat Healy, I think I’m going to show him up like I did with Mike [Wilkinson] and I’m going to keep rising to the top.”
It’s an achievement which will not be easy, however. As many before him have tried, the volatility of the UK MMA scene means most fighters are just one defeat away from insignificance.
“Where are they now?,” said Loughnane, talking about his peers, Paddy Pimblett, Saul Rogers and Martin Stapleton. “No disrespect to any of them guys, but it just shows how fickle MMA is, they’ve lost one fight and nobody even mentions them anymore, it’s absolutely absurd. But you are only one loss away from being unheard of and it’s crazy to me and that’s why I train so hard and that’s why I take these fights so seriously because you can become very irrelevant, very fast.”
Asked about whether or not the capricious nature of the sport worried him, Loughnane closed: “It is scary, yes. Every fight is the most important fight of your life.”