Dana White’s Contender Series has been a home-run success for the UFC, with the Tuesday night series seeing 195 fighters (plus 11 more from the Brazilian spin-off) signed to UFC contracts.
But one of the biggest storylines regarding the series is about the one that got away.
When Brendan Loughnane competed against Bill Algeo in Week 1 of the third series of the show, hopes on the other side of the pond were high, with the talented Brit finally getting his chance to earn his spot on the world stage.
But, despite winning his fight in dominant fashion, Loughnane ended the night without a contract, as the MMA world debated the rights and wrongs of UFC president Dana White’s decision to snub the Englishman.
On a night that saw White offer UFC contracts to Punahele Soriano and Yorgan De Castro, Loughnane was criticised by the UFC boss for a takedown in the closing seconds of a fight he had all wrapped up as the Englishman completed a well-rounded performance that saw him win every round on all three scorecards.
However, that late takedown left a sour taste in White’s mouth and, with the UFC boss the final arbiter in who gets offered contracts, he opted not to offer Loughnane a shot in the UFC.
Instead, White used the situation to fire a warning shot at future prospects set for action at the UFC Apex as he singled out Loughnane’s late takedown as a demonstration of a fighter looking to play it safe, rather than go for the kill.
For a fighter like Loughnane, whose previous six victories heading into that fight all came inside the distance, it was a slap in the face. For many observers who had followed Loughnane’s career prior to DWCS, it was a missed opportunity to sign one of the best fighters to emerge from the U.K. in recent years.
With Loughnane missing out on his UFC chance, all eyes were on the Mancunian to see where he would eventually land, and his fans in the U.K. didn’t have to wait for long, as it was announced that he had signed with the PFL to compete in their 2020 season.
A pair of decision wins over Matt Wagy and David Valente in showcase bouts gave U.S. fans a glimpse of what to expect in the PFL, but he then had to wait for a full year for his PFL season chance as the COVID-19 pandemic forced the PFL into a one-year hiatus.
When the PFL returned for 2021, Loughnane was all fired up and ready to make an impact, and he exploded into the featherweight season with a blistering first-round knockout of five-fight UFC veteran Sheymon Moraes.
Brendan Loughnane (@BrendanMMA) kicked off his @PFLMMA season in superb style with a first-round finish of Sheymon Moraes. He’s now the man to beat at 145 pounds. pic.twitter.com/IC0hLHWkLe
— Simon Head (@simonhead) April 24, 2021
Loughnane’s statement-making performance wasn’t just impressive, it was also the fastest anyone had finished Moraes in his 22 career bouts to that point.
Both Zabit Magomedsharipov and Andre Fili had managed to put Moraes away previously but, by finishing the Brazilian in just 125 seconds, Loughnane eclipsed both of their performances as he announced his arrival as a serious contender for the PFL’s featherweight championship.
After showing his finishing ability against Moraes, Loughnane showed his willingness to battle in the trenches as he took part in one of the year’s most entertaining bouts against former The Ultimate Fighter semi-finalist Tyler Diamond.
That bout, less than two months after the Moraes bout, saw Loughnane battle back and forth with Diamond in a thrilling encounter as he earned a majority decision win to book his spot in the PFL Playoffs.
His PFL run in 2021 came to an end after another back-and-forth battle as he came up short against the eventual champion, Movlid Khaybulaev, in the semi-finals.
But Loughnane gave the Russian his toughest test in the 2021 season, and his performances proved that he belonged at the top level.
Now, with the PFL’s 2021 campaign in the books, thoughts turn to what might be next for Loughnane.
A return to the PFL seems the most likely outcome, with the Englishman now established as one of the most talented 145ers on the promotion’s roster.
But there have been a few hints that there could potentially be another option in his future – the UFC.
Loughane has been posting to social media about the potential for a bout with former Cage Warriors champion and recent UFC signing Paddy Pimblett.
The pair have gone back and forth on social media for years talking about a potential matchup, which would offer a fascinating all-English clash that would capture the imagination of fight fans in their homeland. Loughnane vs. Pimblett may be England vs. England, but it would also be Manchester vs. Liverpool, with the two cities longtime sporting rivals on the soccer field. Could that rivalry extend to the UFC octagon?
If Loughnane isn’t signed and sealed for a promotion in 2022, it just might.
After two years operating in the midst of a pandemic, venues are beginning to open up and, while the UFC cancelled its planned September event in London, rival promotion Bellator has successfully held events with big crowds in both London and Dublin in recent months.
It means 2022 could well see the UFC return to a more international event calendar, with some of their go-to European cities – London, Dublin, Stockholm, plus a potential debut in Paris, France – all potential venues for events in the coming year.
And with the U.K. offering one of the strongest fanbases in Europe – and arguably the most iconic big-arena venue, The O2 Arena – signing the best available British talent to the roster would seem like a shrewd move.
In some people’s eyes, that would require White to walk back his comments after Loughnane’s performance on DWCS . But, while the UFC president’s decision not to offer him a contract that night understandably made all the headlines at the time, his other post-fight comment about the Brit left the door wide open for Loughnane to get his shot further down the line.
Got the win ✅
"Great fight" ✅
Peed blood afterward ✅
Complimented by Dana White ✅
Offered a UFC contract ❌
So what happened with Brendan Loughnane? He went for a takedown. #DWCS pic.twitter.com/kC7UE9C8XB
— MMA Junkie (@MMAjunkie) June 19, 2019
“That kid is absolutely going to be in the UFC someday,” he told reporters after explaining why he didn’t offer Loughnane a deal on the night.
“He’s got the record, he’s got the skill, he’s got a great story – I think he’s hilarious. Just not tonight, man. Not tonight.”
Rather than walking back White’s original decision from two and a half years ago, signing Loughnane now would simply be the UFC signing a fighter they believe is proven and ready for the biggest stage in the sport.
After his run with the PFL in 2021, Loughnane is most certainly ready.