- PFL rising star Brendan Loughnane returns to the cage for Friday’s semifinal showdown.
- He fights Movlid Khaybulaev and is unfazed by his opponent’s “Killer” nickname.
- Loughnane also said MMA has overtaken boxing, and is gaining more credibility among young people.
Mixed martial arts has overtaken boxing as it’s the cool, new thing, according to PFL star Brendan Loughnane.
The 31-year-old striker, who fights Movlid Khaybulaev in Friday’s tournament semifinal at the PFL 9 event in Florida, also said the former two-weight UFC champion Conor McGregor gave the sport more credibility in combat sports.
“I feel like MMA is the new boxing,” Loughnane told Insider this week.
“Everyone wants to learn mixed martial arts as it’s the new, cool thing. Back when I started, nobody cared about it. Everyone thought I was glorified thug, going in cages and fighting.
“Now it’s become big, Conor McGregor’s transcended the sport, and he’s done a lot for the sport, he really has. Kids are turning to MMA now, instead of boxing.”
Loughnane put the breaks on how far MMA can become, saying that in Britain, soccer — the national sport — remains the preferred sport for many kids in inner cities.
“Kids will always play football,” he said. “But in the ‘tougher’ areas … people like to box, people like to fight. We grow up fist-fighting, don’t we, where we’re from.
“You’re either a fighter or a footballer — those are your options. Or you better be able to sing or dance. It’s a tough way out.”
Loughnane is two wins away from a $1 million check
The PFL is unlike other MMA promotions, like the UFC, that build events around standalone matches that propels its winners further up division rankings.
Instead, the PFL structures its year around a season format that includes regular-season matches, playoffs, and end-of-year finals in six weight classes.
The eventual winners head into the new year $1 million richer.
Loughnane is two wins away from winning that money, but even before one strike was thrown in the 2021 season, the featherweight was being tipped to win the entire competition.
“I feel like when you stay around in this sport, there’s something to be said when you take your knocks and come back,” Loughnane said this week.
“Look at the top UFC fighters — Dustin Poirier has been around forever, a load of losses, Jan Blachowicz, a load of losses, but come back around. This sport, you just have to be very resilient.
“That’s what I’ve been, and now it’s my time.”
PFL commentator and analyst Kenny Florian previously told Insider how impressive Loughnane’s striking is, not just because he knows how to strike well, but because of how well he understands foot placement and distance.
“I’ve got a very good striking coach who taught me well from young, and then I did a bit of boxing, then I did a bit of Thai boxing — went to Thailand,” Loughnane said.
“I merged them all together and made my own style. I really liked the taekwondo kicks, side kicks, and the back kicks because not a lot of people know them or the angles they take.
“And so they don’t know how to defend them.”
Trying to defend them Friday is Khaybulaev. Loughnane called the match a classic grappler vs. striker showdown and said he’s unfazed by his opponent’s “Killer” nickname.
“We’re going to get locked in there Friday night, and I’m going to win. He’s a great fighter, dangerous, and knows his way around the cage — a good wrestler.
“[But] nothing major stands out. They’re all the same to me, mate. He’s a killer, I’m a killer.”
The 10-bout PFL 9 event will have prelim matches broadcast on ESPN+ and a main card that will be viewable on ESPN2.