Brendan Loughnane’s career has certainly been a rollercoaster, and now he stands just two wins away from his first major title, and $1 million.

The 21-3 Mancunian featherweight first came to prominence as a young prospect on The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes in 2012, when he was drafted in to replace the injured Michael Pastou early in the season.

Loughnane reached the semi-finals of the lightweight bracket, eventually losing out to eventual winner Norman Parke via unanimous decision.

Loughnane was handed one fight opportunity in the UFC, and lost out to fellow countryman Mike Wilkinson via unanimous decision in Queensland, Australia as he suffered the first official defeat of his young career.

Back to the grind

The Brit then returned to the domestic scene and amassed a five-fight win streak in the Full Contact Contender and BAMMA promotions before eventually losing a split decision to BAMMA featherweight champion Tom Duquesnoy in September 2015.

Loughane continued to develop and improve as a mixed martial artist, and claimed knockout victories in each of his next six wins, with only a split decision loss, this time to Pat Healy at ACB 75 in Stuttgart, Germany, slowing his momentum.

But after two more impressive stoppage wins, Loughnane finally caught the attention of the UFC’s matchmakers, who booked him to face American prospect Bill Algeo on Dana White’s Contender Series in June 2019.

Disappointment in Vegas

Loughnane dominated the bout with Algeo, outstriking and outgrappling the highly-touted American throughout their three-round matchup. But a late takedown in the final seconds of the bout left a bitter taste in the mouth of UFC president White, who decided that, despite Loughnane’s clear talent, he would not offer him a UFC contract because of that late takedown.

Many watching were dumbstruck by the decision, especially when Algeo eventually found himself earning a UFC fight contract of his own the following year.

But Loughnane, despite his Contender Series frustration, wasted little time in securing a big-time opportunity of a different kind when he signed with the PFL.

Showcase appearances during the 2019 season saw him claim unanimous decision victories over Team Alpha Male prospect Matt Wagy and Brazilian featherweight David Valente before it was confirmed that the Brit would be part of the 2020 PFL season.

However, the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic forced the PFL into a one-year hiatus as the 2020 season was scrapped, leaving their entire roster on the shelf. It meant that, by the time the promotion returned to action for the 2021 season, Loughnane was like a coiled spring ahead of the season opener in April.

Bouncing back

Loughnane let loose all of the frustration of the previous 18 months in a performance full of fire and fury as he demolished former UFC featherweight Sheymon Moraes in stunning fashion in just 125 seconds.

That win put him at the top of the PFL’s featherweight standings and marked him out as the man to beat at 145 pounds.

Paired with gritty grappler Tyler Diamond in his second regular season bout, Loughnane faced a very different challenge, but once again he came through with flying colours as he outbattled Diamond to earn a majority decision win in one of the most exciting bouts of 2021 so far.

Now Loughnane finds himself in the final four of the PFL’s featherweight season, and just two wins away from the PFL 2021 featherweight championship and a cheque for a cool $1 million.

Toughest test

His semi-final opponent is arguably the toughest of his career to date. Russia’s Movlid Khaybulaev is undefeated at 17-0-1, and has a well-rounded fighting style that offers legitimate threat on the mat or in the stand-up.

Khaybulaev is best known for the highlight-reel flying knee he landed on Damon Jackson to score the most spectacular knockout in PFL history in the second round of PFL 2019.

But perhaps the most important performance to note is his most recent outing, where he bossed the cage to defeat two-time PFL featherweight champion Lance Palmer via unanimous decision and in the process eliminate the American from the 2021 season.

With both Loughnane and Khaybulaev preferring to stand and strike, their semi-final matchup on Friday, August 27 could turn into an all-out war. But with both men adept at mixing up their approach and taking matters to the mat, it would be no surprise if a fair portion of the bout played out on the canvas.

Loughane’s test is a significant one. Defeat an unbeaten knockout artist who just handled the former two-time champion. But Loughnane has carried himself with an intensity and confidence from the very start of the season, and he’s backed up everything he’s said so far.

If he wins on Friday night, he’ll be one shot from his first major title, and concrete proof that he’s one of the world’s premier featherweights.

PFL Playoffs: Featherweight and light-heavyweight semi-finals

  • Brendan Loughnane vs. Movlid Khaybulaev – featherweight semi-final
  • Chris Wade vs. Bubba Jenkins – featherweight semi-final
  • Emiliano Sordi vs. Antonio Carlos Junior – light-heavyweight semi-final
  • Cezar Ferreira vs. Marthin Hamlet – light-heavyweight semi-final

Photo credit: PFL MMA