Brendan Loughnane: From Ultimate Fighter to lowest point to brink of UFC return?

Brendan Loughnane training
Brendan Loughnane is expecting to fight again in March

The life of a professional mixed martial artist seldom matches up to the glitz and glamour you see on Conor McGregor's Instagram account.

Brendan Loughnane's story has taken him from working the doors at a Manchester nightclub, to being called up to reality TV show The Ultimate Fighter after partying in Ibiza, to losing his spot with the sport's premier promotion.

But it is a story the Manchester fighter hopes is about to have another successful chapter, with a spot on UFC's London card in March a real possibility.

"I've lost everything for this sport," said the 29-year-old, one of the best featherweights in Europe outside the UFC.

"I've lost my health, pretty much every friendship and relationship I've ever had - every girl has gone running.

"I'm going to achieve great things in MMA. That comes with a price and it's a price I'm willing to pay."

'It was absolutely terrifying'

Training twice a day, constantly watching what he eats and travelling to find high-level training partners does not allow Loughnane much of a social life.

The Mancunian has been in MMA for 11 years, having fallen in love with the sport as a teenager because of his neighbour.

"He was an MMA fighter when MMA was unheard of. Back then it was so raw there was no martial arts involved - it was basically like Fight Club," said Loughnane, whose main interest then was football, having played for Stockport County as a junior.

"I didn't want to do it," he said. "I went in and was swinging all over the place. I didn't know what I was doing but I managed to knock him out.

"It was absolutely terrifying. All your mates come to watch you fight and everybody expects you to win."

And his family's reaction?

"It was more about the training leading up to the fights," he added.

"I would come home with both eyes swollen and they would say 'what are you doing?!' but they could see the love I had for it and that I really wanted to do it."

Working doors to make ends meet

As with most budding mixed martial artists, the prospect of earning enough money to get by was remote and Loughnane says he "never thought it would be a career".

During his earlier professional fights, Loughnane would also work with his dad "driving the wagons" before picking up a job as a bouncer on the doors of a Manchester nightclub.

"I was about two foot tall," he said. "People would look at me like 'what I'm not coming in? What are you going to do about it?' - but it was good money for what I was doing, so I did that while fighting."

Loughnane acknowledges that his health is in jeopardy every time he competes but says he was "lucky" to start MMA at a time when it was "coming up".

"I know I'm putting my brain on the line and my health on the line but I'd rather do that than sit in a dead end job," he said. "I might not be as rich but I'm telling you now, I'm a lot happier."

He says it is the competition and "buzz" that appeals to him.

"I never thought I would make any money out of it. I just know that I loved fighting and I get up every day and do it," he said.

From $20m mansion to 'lowest point'

Brendan Loughnane fighting on The Ultimate Fighter
Brendan Loughnane reached the semi-finals on TV reality show The Ultimate Fighter

In 2012, after racking up five wins from his first five professional fights, Loughnane was alerted to trials taking place in London for the UFC's reality TV show, The Ultimate Fighter.

"There were 6,500 people at these trials and only 12 of us were getting in. I was only 5-0 and there were guys with records of 20-1. I was a long shot," he said.

Loughnane was initially told he was second reserve for the show so decided to go on a stag-do to Ibiza, only to get a call from the UFC a day after he returned telling him he was in.

"I hadn't trained for two weeks. The UFC said I had to get on a flight to Australia the following morning and fight so I went out there and did it," said Loughnane, adding the opportunity came "far too early".

"I was 21, but the whole experience was great as I didn't have any kids - no girlfriend, no commitments at home - so for me it was amazing. A nice free holiday to Australia in a $20m mansion, pool tables, tennis courts, swimming pools.

"It was harder for the older guys who had kids and families and wives. I saw them struggling at times."

Loughnane would reach the semi-final before losing to the show's eventual winner, Norman Parke, and although he was rewarded with another fight on the finale show, the UFC chose to let him go.

"I wanted to stop. That was my lowest point. I said to my coach that I'd had a good run but I can't get any higher than what I've just done.

"I went away for six months and realised this was my identity now. A lot of people are relying on me and look up to me for doing this. I've got to this point, so let's crack on."

'People forget you fast - that's hard'

Brendan Loughnane with with former UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz
Brendan Loughnane has been training with former UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz

Loughnane has won 11 of his 13 fights since being released by the UFC and has spent the past six months living and training in California with former UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz.

"We have become really close," he said. "Training with those guys every day has been a blessing. In the gym I go to over there, we have 10 to 15 UFC fighters. I definitely felt when I came back [to England] that I was levels above."

But it is often said that to be a successful mixed martial artist, you have to be selfish and make sacrifices most people are not willing to make, and the Briton agrees.

"If you are cutting weight for a fight, you can't go out for dinner, or you can but you'll be the most miserable person in there. Social events, you can't go," said Loughnane, who concedes that friendships and relationships also break down easily.

"These fights take so much out of your body. I get in from training and I just pass out on the couch. There is no energy for anything.

"I've come back from America and nobody is around. Everyone moves on with their lives. People forget you fast. That's hard.

"I pretty much give up everything for MMA but at the same time the sport has given me so much that I feel it is all worth it."

Making his UFC return in London?

The UFC returns to London in March and Loughnane feels he has unfinished business with the world's premiere MMA promotion, though competing for a $1m prize pot in the Professional Fighters' League is another option.

"I should be fighting in the UFC or fighting at an elite level," he said.

"I'm going to get back in the gym and then in March hopefully we're lining something big up and I hope and pray it comes off."

Loughnane does not know for certain that he will be competing under the lights of the O2 Arena on 16 March, but feels he has a number of options and is hell-bent on being in the best shape possible.

"All I know is that I need to be on-point, fit and strong by March," he added.

"March is cometh the hour, cometh the man."