PFL’s Brendan Loughnane: ‘If a fighter says they’re not scared of a KO, they’ve got no brain cells’

Brendan Loughnane was still standing, just, but was frozen in place when Jesus Pinedo’s knee made contact with his chin. Never before had Loughnane been stopped, or even dropped in his MMA career, but that was all about to change.

As Pinedo drilled his knee into the defending champion’s jaw, Loughnane’s knees buckled and his arms splayed for balance, only for a right hook to ensure his descent to the canvas. The fall marked the end of the Briton’s featherweight title defence, with Pinedo eventually collecting the PFL 2023 title and the best part of $1m in prize money.

It was the same haul of gold that Loughnane had collected the year before – the same haul he is seeking this season. But to get his 2024 quest up and running, the Mancunian first had to come to terms with that defeat by Pinedo.

“It was a really foreign experience, and I had to really sit in my thoughts and get past it,” the 34-year-old tells The Independent over Zoom from Phuket, the Thai hub for so much of his training over the last 12 years.

“Me and Volk were actually talking about this, he went through a similar thing recently,” Loughnane continues, referencing Alexander Volkanovski’s loss to Ilia Topuria, which cost the Australian the UFC’s 145lb title. “We trained together here then had a really good conversation about it.

“I’ve been in this game so long now, it was always going to happen at some point, surely. I took my lessons from it, ate my humble pie, came back stronger. Volk and I had similar thoughts on it: ‘Who gives a f***? We’re fighters, this s*** happens.’ I’ve knocked 15 people out; every now and then, you’ll be on the other end of it. Let’s go. Now I can truly say I’ve experienced everything in the fight game.

“I’m just happy that it’s out the way, I know what it feels like. I don’t want to feel it again, but if I do, I’ve accepted it. I’m still here, still alive, still chatting to you. It’s all good.”

Loughnane was back on the right side of a knockout this April, stopping Pedro Carvalho to kickstart his 2024 campaign. The Briton caught Carvalho on the end of a long cross, sitting him down before finishing the desperate Portuguese with a series of accurate, cutting rights.

But for Loughnane, the first battle of the night was to simply get in the cage.

“Of course it’s daunting to get back in there, when the last time you were getting carried out,” he admits. “This is what I tell people: You train months for this moment, you only get half the money if you lose, you put your health on the line, you’re in front of the world in a little pair of shorts, and one slight mistake means your consciousness is gone. So, if anyone tells you they’re not scared of that happening, they have no brain cells.”

Brendan Loughnane celebrates winning the PFL featherweight title and $1m in New York (Cooper Neill / PFL)
Brendan Loughnane celebrates winning the PFL featherweight title and $1m in New York (Cooper Neill / PFL)

Loughnane has had daunting and humbling experiences over the past year, but also validating ones – not least the victory over Carvalho. Before training with Volkanovski, Loughnane sparred with Conor McGregor, whose comeback against Michael Chandler is set for 29 June – one day after Loughnane fights Justin Gonzalez.

“Conor was great, I’m really lucky,” Loughnane says. “I’m glad he’s got a fight now, a bit of focus, a name and a date. That’s what he needed, that’s what we all need as fighters. I’m going to his fight, which is going to be cool.

“And when you actually look down the list: Volk, Conor, Dominick Cruz, Petr Yan, even a little move around with Jon Jones... I’ve trained with them all, mate, I’ve done the rounds.” And in turn, Loughnane’s pedigree is apparent to that cluster of UFC champions. “I like to put myself among them names,” he says. “It’s just nice to know you’re doing the right thing, when them sort of people respect you.

“I actually first trained with Volk when I first came to Thailand; he wasn’t even in the UFC yet. When we connected [this month], we chatted about old times, it was funny. He’s a little brick wall. Top guy, not changed one bit, still down to earth.”

So is Loughnane, despite his title triumph and major payday in 2022. “Obviously you’ve got more money in your pocket, but apart from that, nothing else has changed really,” he says. “I’m still training twice a day, still have the same coaches – the same everything really.”

Plans to build a life outside of fighting have been put on the backburner before, and that remains the case for now: “I’m just in it, I’m in the trenches, and it feels like you can’t have anything else going on. I’m about to fly 28 hours to fight a guy, then I’m going home to see my mum, then to Dubai to sign some paperwork for a property. I’ve got loads of s*** going on.

“But I’m just thinking about Justin Gonzalez and beating him, then I’ll be thinking about the semi-final, then I’ll be thinking about the final and wrapping two belts over my shoulders. That’s it.”