After capturing his first major MMA title and becoming a millionaire in the process, you’d be forgiven for thinking Brendan Loughnane would be taking things a little easier in 2023. But the Mancunian is having none of it.
Rather than sitting back and enjoying the fruits of his labor in 2022, when he captured the PFL’s featherweight championship and the million-dollar prize, Loughnane is diving straight back into the fray as part of the PFL’s 2023 featherweight season.
He kicks off the PFL 2023 calendar in the main event of PFL 1 in Las Vegas, where he’ll take on former UFC bantamweight title challenger and ex-World Series of Fighting champion Marlon Moraes in a regular season matchup. It’s a bout that will kickstart Loughnane’s attempt to become a back-to-back PFL champion, and one he said he’s significantly better prepared for this time around.
Speaking to Jon Anik and Kenny Florian on the Anik & Florian Podcast, Loughnane said he was ready to jump back into the PFL SmartCage with one notable difference to his past appearances – this time he’s fully fit.
“Maybe I was made for tournaments because I was very, very banged up last year,” he explained.
“In every one of those fights, every single one, I had a different injury. And it is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s really, really difficult to get through that season. I feel like I’ve approached it a bit different this year. I feel like I’ve approached it as a marathon, and I’m a veteran now, I really am. And it’s my third season in a row. I know how to do the quick successive fights now. You’ve got to take your seven days off after, then you start easing back in, you’ve got to keep your weight low all year.
“There’s a few different things that come into factor here. You’ve got to try and take as (little) damage as possible in each fight, because this is its own entity. This isn’t the UFC or Bellator – have a fight, maybe you pick up an injury, have surgery, then your next fight – (in the PFL) you miss one date, it’s over. So I’m fighting conservative now. I’m on the jab. Then, when you see the final come along, I’m ready to go. Let’s fight now, because I know I’ve got a break after this, so it really is its own entity.”
The ultimate aim for any PFL fighter is to win the season, capture the division’s title and pick up the million-dollar check. Loughnane has already done that once, and he admitted he had a brief moment’s pause as he considered his motivation before agreeing to return to the fray for 2023.
“I did ask myself this question, you know? The silk sheets are out now!” he laughed.
“Am I still gonna be able to train to that level? So I got myself to Thailand. I was among Petr Yan, (Rafael) Fiziev, all these guys that I’ve trained with for 10 years, and still competing, still beating personal bests, still getting the eight to nine hours’ sleep. The nutrition (and) the weight’s the same as it was. I just feel like my story’s not written yet.
“The money’s in the bank now. The belt’s on the side. But, Marlon (and) all these other guys, I want to secure my legacy, so when it’s over, it’s really over, and I can be like, ‘I beat this guy, that guy, that guy.’ And if you look at the run that I’ve been on, beating Sheymon (Moraes), Tyler Diamond, Chris Wade, Bubba Jenkins. To add Marlon to that, it’s gonna be a great little streak that I’m on.”
Moraes is heading into the 2023 PFL season looking to revive his fortunes after the worst run of form of his career. Following his TKO loss to Henry Cejudo for the UFC bantamweight title back in the summer of 2019, Moraes’ only victory came via a controversial split-decision verdict over Jose Aldo at UFC 245. Following that victory, Moraes lost four consecutive bouts, all via KO/TKO, before departing the UFC and signing for the PFL. He moved back up from 135 pounds to 145 pounds, but his PFL debut also ended in a TKO defeat, to former Loughnane victim Sheymon Moraes, in November 2022.
Despite his opponent’s poor form, Loughnane recognizes the danger the Brazilian possesses, with first-round finishes of the likes of Raphael Assuncao, Jimmy Rivera and current UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling on his record. Moraes is renowned for being at his most dangerous at the start of bouts, and Loughnane knows he’ll have to use the know-how picked up over 30 career bouts to ensure he doesn’t get caught.
“It’s just gonna take a lot of experience,” he stated.
“I mean, if you are green, Marlon will blast you straight out of there, because he’s like a bat out of hell. I call him the best three-minute fighter on planet earth, because he just goes absolutely wild for three minutes and then just slows right down. It’s like he almost doesn’t know how to pace himself. And, even at this late stage in his career, he’s still doing it. Even though his chin has deteriorated, he’s still doing it. So it’s like, this guy has got one gear, and it’s straight forward. ‘I’m going to try and kill you. If I don’t, then I’m probably going to die myself.’ And that’s pretty much how he fights.”
While Loughnane wants to become a back-to-back PFL champion, he also has some unfinished business with the man who halted his charge in his debut season. Loughnane made it all the way to the semi-final stage in 2021, but was edged by Movlid Khaybulaev via split decision, with the Russian going on to capture the 2021 featherweight championship. It’s a bout Loughnane would love to run back, ideally in the 2023 final.
“I don’t know why I’m doing this s**t again. I really don’t!” he laughed.
“I don’t know why I’m spinning the dice at this thing again, because it is the wildest ride in the world. What’s the hardest thing I could physically do? I was sat there this year, like, ‘OK, I’m done with the tournament now. Let’s just chill out.’ Then the PFL get on the phone, you know, it’s coming around again. And I’m like, ‘F**k. Do I really want to do this again?’
“Now it’s here, I’m super excited. I’m glad they’ve given me Marlon – a bit of legacy, bit of name value for me. But the matchup I’m looking for, everybody knows I’m a different Brendan now, and I want to fight Movlid, and I want to fight him over five rounds for the 2023 belt. That’s what I want.”
And nothing would make Loughnane happier than the chance to avenge that defeat in the 2023 final, with the bout taking place on his home soil in Manchester, England. And, after the PFL successfully held the PFL Playoffs in London in 2022, Loughnane is already campaigning for the promotion to take the PFL Championships to England in 2023.
“I would love it if they went back this year,” he grinned.
“I don’t know the schedule. I know the next one is Atlanta, but can you imagine? Brendan Loughnane, Movlid Khaybulaev, Manchester Arena, 2023, for the belt. Ten thousand, 15,000, whatever it is, we guarantee we sell it out. Now we’re talking! So I’m just throwing it out there for Pete Murray and all the guys behind the scenes. You know where the finals should be!”