The last time a major mixed martial arts event came to the Manchester Arena was UFC 204, and two of the most-talked-about fighters in England at the time, Paddy Pimblett and Brendan Loughnane, were not on the card. A potential meeting between the two supposedly Ultimate Fighting Championship-bound fighters sent social media threads into convulsions last autumn, but the clash never came to fruition.
While Pimblett had already earned ovations in front of his home crowd under the Cage Warriors Fighting Championship banner in Liverpool, England, Manchester’s Loughnane felt more of a snub, with UFC 204 taking place in his backyard. “The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes” alum on Saturday will get his chance to walk out at the Manchester Arena when he meets Mike Wilkinson in a rematch at Absolute Championship Berkut 54. A controversial loss to Wilkinson at UFC on FX 6 in 2012 sent Loughnane back to the regional scene to rebuild and cost him a spot on the UFC roster.
He put together a five-fight winning streak and built enough momentum to challenge French prospect Tom Duquesnoy for the British Association of Mixed Martial Arts featherweight championship in September 2015. It was expected that a win over Duquesnoy would sew up a UFC contract for Loughnane. Instead, bottles rained into the cage when Duquesnoy was awarded a contentious split decision after three rounds.
“The contract was basically there if I had beaten Duquesnoy,” Loughnane told Sherdog.com. “I was absolutely heartbroken after that loss. It was probably the worst moment of my career. I felt like it happened to me in Australia after ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ when I fought Mike the first time. I got kicked out of the UFC after dropping a decision that I thought I won.
“I went on a five-fight win streak and then I got the Duquesnoy fight, and that loss put me back at the bottom again,” he added. “The Duquesnoy fight hurt the most because I felt it was a convincing win. Nobody gave me a chance and I did it, but I guess life just tests you like that sometimes.”
After coming so close to returning to the UFC at Duquesnoy’s expense, Loughnane has not allowed another fight to reach the judges. Impressive knockouts against David Lee, Eden Newton and Paul Cook have the Manchester masses pining for Loughnane to be given another chance on the sport’s grandest stage.
“I never want to have to rely on someone else to have my hand raised,” he said. “It’s really lit a fire under my arse. What I had been doing up until the Duquesnoy fight was keeping score in my head while a fight was going on. I’d think I was ahead of someone in my head and I’d expect the judges to see that, too. Now, I feel there are no rounds. All I’m focused on is putting my opponent out. I think that mentality has helped me to get the job done.”
In October, Cage Warriors showed interest in bringing in Loughnane for a super fight against Pimblett. Meanwhile, there were also rumblings that he was on BAMMA’s radar for battles with one of its champions. However, when Loughnane signed on to face Cook at Tanko Fighting Championships 2 on Dec. 3, some wondered if he had passed up a valuable opportunity to impress against some of the bigger names in Britain. Instead, he demolished Cook and saw Pimblett’s next outing against Julian Erosa result in widespread criticism of the Liverpool prospect.
“It was funny because the Pimblett thing was going around at the time; he had a terrible performance and I had an amazing performance,” Loughnane said. “I feel like everybody now knows what would happen if Cage Warriors had made that fight. I’ve known all along, to be honest, but I kind of feel like he got exposed in that fight. My performance against Cook is what happens when everything comes together perfectly in a camp. This camp has been exactly the same, so I’m expecting a similar performance against Wilkinson on Saturday night.”
Given his disdain for judges and the fact that he will get a chance to defeat a UFC veteran in front of his hometown fans, one might think the idea of returning to the Octagon looms larger than ever in Loughnane’s mind. However, the 27-year-old remains adamant that revenge serves as his primary motivation heading into the fight.
“Revenge is more important to me than proving I’m worthy of the UFC,” Loughnane said. “I feel like I’ve proven that I’m capable of fighting on that stage on countless occasions since I lost to Mike in our first fight. For years, I’ve said that the decision was wrong, and on Saturday night, I’ll get my chance to prove myself right. We’re two local lads fighting in a big venue close to home this time. I think it has all the makings of a classic.”
Loughnane has always put himself in situations where he is not tied down contractually, which, in theory, would make his transition to the UFC even smoother.
“I’m not contracted to anyone,” he said. “I just sign each fight as it comes, and I do that for a reason. If I had been signed to Cage Warriors or BAMMA, there’s no way that I could’ve taken an opportunity like this with ACB, so it would have hindered me. Taking it fight by fight is the best option for me. The dogs on the street know that a UFC contract isn’t far away, so signing multi-fight deals is crazy to me at this stage.
“Obviously, I’d be open to signing a multi-fight deal with UFC,” Loughnane added. “This is about making money, and signing with them is the best way to open yourself up to that. Saying that, if I beat Mike and [the] UFC offers me 15 grand to fight and ACB offers me 25, I know who I’ll be fighting for.”
Loughnane holds Wilkinson in high regard ahead of their rematch but plans to do all he can to keep his streak of impressive finishes alive in his Absolute Championship Berkut debut.
“To this day, Mike is the hardest guy I’ve ever been hit by,” he said. “He’s been fighting in the UFC, and he has some amazing experience. He’s fought a Swede in Sweden, he’s fought a Brazilian in Brazil and he’s fought a Russian in Russia. Mike has not had it easy, but I feel like I’ve progressed more since the last time we fought. There will be a massive difference to me this time than the Brendan that fought him when [I] was a kid. I’m going to do everything in my power to finish him.”