There are many interconnected ways to measure a fighter’s success in MMA. Entertainment value, promotional savvy, a loyal fan base, and even earning power. They are prize fighters, after all.
The most broadly understood characteristic of excellence in a fighter’s career, however, is also the most simple: their record. A series of integers on separate sides of an en dash, often used sans context to represent the totality of a fighter’s ability. Some fighters are fortunate enough, on the biggest stages, to receive the benefit of closer examination. Maybe Douglas Andrade isn’t the best bantamweight in the world, despite his 25–3 record. It would be difficult to explain, to the uninitiated, the greatness of B.J. Penn without taking a very deep dive into his 16–14–2 record.
Only when an athlete gets to the premier organizations does resume truly matter; who they beat, who beat them. How they won, how they lost. This is the sort of resume that England’s Brendan Loughnane has been grinding to build for almost seven years.
Loughnane fought his first, and only, UFC bout on the undercard of the Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes finale, in December of 2012. Just 22 years old and with five pro fights under his belt, Loughnane was raw, but there was clearly talent there. A tough kid. Good instincts. Plenty of room to develop into something. He lost that fight, to Mike Wilkinson, in a unanimous 29–28 decision. He never fought in the UFC again.
In the years since, however, he has made himself ready. 12–2 after leaving the UFC, with two razor thin split decision losses. One to Pat Healy in a fight at lightweight, and the other to Tom Duquesnoy—who was considered by many to be the best unsigned prospect in the world at the time. His last six wins – prior to facing Bill Algeo at Dana White’s Contender Series – were via knockout, including a vicious knee KO of Wilkinson—the man who spoiled his UFC debut.
There was no real reason for Loughnane to even be competing on the Contender series (and for that matter, the same should be said for Algeo). He and Algeo are both gifted fighters in the primes of their careers, and both would likely be favored over a not-insignificant portion of the UFC’s featherweight roster. Loughnane has never shied away from the grind, so he accepted the bout with Algeo. And he won. He won convincingly, 30-27 on all three cards.
Their fight was easily the highest level bout ever to take place on the Contender Series, and it was a brawl. There was no doubt about what the best fight of the night was. He brutalized Algeo’s legs and body, busted his face, and never let up on the pressure. Afterward, with his nose visibly contorted, Loughnane pissed blood, and shared the results on Instagram. As he rightfully stated, he really did leave it all in there.
After putting in the work for seven years, creating an incredible fight against a legitimate opponent, and receiving a great deal of punishment, Brendan Loughnane sat in a chair with a camera pointed at his face, and he waited. He waited for an obscenely wealthy man with a pen and paper to decide whether he had done enough, after all of those years, all of those knockouts, and all of those electrifying performances. If he had done enough to receive an opportunity that had seemed to come so much easier to so many fighters. Just an opportunity to fight where he, and most sensible onlookers, know he should be fighting.
Dana White handed out two contracts on that night: one to Yorgan de Castro, a 4-0 heavyweight who finished his opponent in the first round; the other to Punahele Soriano, a middleweight who gassed out and spent large portions of his fight laying on top of his opponent, in a lackluster unanimous decision. “We’re looking for killers,” Dana White told Brendan Loughnane, blood still fresh on his face and in his urine, before explaining that he had lost his opportunity—because he attempted a takedown with ten seconds left in the fight.
Nothing is truly fair, MMA even less so, but it feels as though there have been few moments in MMA history as unfair as that. As the fight came to a close, with commentators showering praise on the gutsy, violent contest, the production crew cut to a shot of Dana White’s dismissive reaction to Loughnane’s attempted takedown. There was something truly disgusting, to me, about that image. Of a Dana Cam, with reaction shots of a man worth hundreds of millions of dollars, judging by the most frivolous of standards whether or not this bruised and bloodied combatant could earn the right to bleed in an Octagon, for the further profit of millionaires. Maybe I wouldn’t have found it as disgusting if Loughnane had at least received the contract which he rightfully deserved. But he didn’t.
Dana White commented post-fight that Loughnane was talented and that he would end up in the UFC some day. Yeah, no shit. The UFC needs talented fighters, but they also need talented English fighters. And they especially need talented English fighters who will bleed for their organization, and who have the public support of major sports stars such as Tyson Fury, Marcus Rashford, and Jesse Lingard. But a millionaire on a TV show, a TV show which serves as little more than an exhibition of his near-unbridled decision making power in the UFC, decided that he had not done enough.
Many fighters get fucked in MMA, but Brendan Loughnane got fucked in front of a television audience, after putting the culmination of his seven years of dedicated improvement on dazzling display. As a fan, a writer, and a person, I found it utterly deplorable. I wish you better outcomes in your future, Brendan. Lord knows you deserve it.