‘What would you do for $1m? I was willing to die’: Brendan Loughnane on life-changing title win

Brendan Loughnane celebrates winning the PFL featherweight title and $1m in New York (Cooper Neill / PFL)
Brendan Loughnane celebrates winning the PFL featherweight title and $1m in New York (Cooper Neill / PFL)

“When we were in primary school, we all used to say, ‘What would you do for $1m?’” Brendan Loughnane reflects, three weeks after his PFL championship bout with Bubba Jenkins in New York City. “I took that mentality into the fight. For $1m, I was willing to die.”

Never again will Loughnane have to ask himself that question; not in a dark bedroom before falling asleep at night, not in a moment of exhaustion-induced existentialism in between gruelling training sessions, nor in the mental desolation that follows a defeat.

Perhaps a young Loughnane would have been willing to eat his least favourite meal for a month, or go without sleep for a week, or take a punch square in the face. The latter would be the most relevant to Loughnane’s eventual reality, of course, though the Mancunian has in fact absorbed thousands of punches over a decade-and-a-half. They have all been part of a venture to claim not only the sort of money that he earned three weeks ago, or a title belt to go with it, but the right to call himself the best in the world.

Loughnane stopped Jenkins via TKO in the fourth round (Cooper Neill/PFL)
Loughnane stopped Jenkins via TKO in the fourth round (Cooper Neill/PFL)

“If I didn’t get this belt, it’d have been like, ‘Wow... is there any justice in the world?’ Justice was served,” the 33-year-old tells The Independent. “I just don’t think Bubba was willing to go to the places that I was willing to go to, for the belt and the money. I think it was pretty evident, when it started getting really tough in the fight, who wanted it more.”

The moment Loughnane secured a fourth-round TKO of his American opponent, teeing off on a shrinking Jenkins with punches against the fence, tears began to trickle down the Briton’s face. As they mixed with the blood and sweat coating his bruised, swollen skin, they made for a gruesome cocktail. Internally, the chemicals in Loughnane created their own, overwhelming concoction.

“I saw the ref about to step in, and I just kept going and going and going, then he stopped it, and I turned away. The first person I locked eyes with... it was weird, it was my dad – of all the people that were there. I just had this moment where I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I’ve actually done it’. It was surreal, very intense. Imagine working for something your whole life and then suddenly it’s there.”

An emotional Loughnane reacts to his victory over Jenkins (Cooper Neill/PFL)
An emotional Loughnane reacts to his victory over Jenkins (Cooper Neill/PFL)

From the outside looking in, Loughnane had won a life-changing world title and a life-changing sum of money, even though various factors mean the prize money is a fraction less than a full $1m. But can someone’s life really change so instantly?

“A lot has changed already,” he insists. “You get looked at different, you get spoken to different, your bank account looks a lot different!” I ask what he means when he says that people speak to him differently.

“People love winners, don’t they?” he says. “It’s just life. I did an interview and they were like, ‘If you wouldn’t have won, people would’ve looked at you the same [as if you’d won]’. I said, ‘No, they wouldn’t’. Let’s be real about it. I felt like I needed the win in order to get the respect that I deserve.”

Loughnane receives his winner’s cheque at the Hulu Theater in Madison Square Garden (Cooper Neill/PFL)
Loughnane receives his winner’s cheque at the Hulu Theater in Madison Square Garden (Cooper Neill/PFL)

Loughnane and I spoke at the start of the season, when he stressed how singular he was in his goal of becoming PFL champion. “I haven’t got kids for that reason,” he said at the time. “Of course I want kids eventually, but... I’m so obsessed with my profession that women don’t get in the way, lifestyle doesn’t get in the way.”

I ask whether it’s too soon to say if his feelings on having a family have changed, but Loughnane counters: “That attitude already has changed, massively. I think it changed the next day.

“I had one goal in mind and dedicated my whole life to that goal. I think it’s important now to make new goals, move forward. I still have the belt as the screensaver on my phone, I need to change it! [I want a] family definitely, business ventures. I’m actually going to Dubai to speak to a few friends about how to break this money up and make it work for me.

“I keep getting asked, ‘What’s the first thing you’re going to do?’ There actually isn’t one thing specifically that I want to do with it – not a nice car or big house. I’ll get by, I’ll make it work for me.”

Loughnane is joined in the ring by loved ones (Cooper Neill/PFL)
Loughnane is joined in the ring by loved ones (Cooper Neill/PFL)

Loughnane has made much more difficult situations than this work for him. In 2019, he put on a searing show on Dana White’s Contender Series, a television programme on which fighters compete for a UFC contract. But UFC president Dana White overlooked Loughnane’s near-15-minute striking clinic, criticising the Briton for trying to take down his opponent with 10 seconds to go. The American’s decision was widely deemed absurd.

In a way, being snubbed by White is one of the best things to have happened to Loughnane, but he insists: “It worked out incredibly well because I made it work out incredibly well; 99 per cent of people would have folded at that point. I was back in the cage three months later, and I’m now 9-1 with the PFL. I didn’t let it affect my goals.”

When we last spoke, in April, Loughnane’s final words were a reflection on his 2021 PFL season, and a promise for the 2022 campaign: “I missed the title barely last year, I will not be missing it this year.”

How does he look back on that pledge? “I told you I wasn’t gonna miss it, and I’m a man of my word,” he laughs.