Brendan Allen considered retiring from MMA as he prepared for his bout against Karl Roberson at UFC 261.
It is a perplexing, yet understandable, mindset to hear from the 25-year-old middleweight. To that point, Allen tallied a 3-1 UFC record after earning a contract on Dana White’s Contender Series in July 2019, including a first-round submission win of Kevin Holland in his debut, but the historically difficult 2020 presented its challenges to Allen, as well. What was supposed to be an initial crack at the Top 15 in the form of a fight against Ian Heinisch fell apart in June when Heinisch pulled out due to injury. The pair were booked again in November but scrapped the day of the fight due to COVID-19 protocols.
Allen accepted a fight against Sean Strickland the next week, which ended with Strickland handing Allen his first UFC defeat and the first knockout loss of his career. It’s a fight Allen finds “frustrating” to think about, given his performance, as well as the on-again, off-again booking with Heinisch. Throw in the emotional toll of having to leave his wife, Suzette, and daughter, Brenleigh, in Louisiana to train at Sanford MMA in Florida for extended periods of time, and it’s easy to see how the grind wore on him. As Allen prepared to fight Roberson, the thought of retirement rattled around his mind, and not for the first time.
“I thought about walking away from the sport, honestly, many times,” Allen told UFC.com. “Even before the last one, I never told anyone. I just kept it to myself, but I told myself that if I won, and I didn’t feel the same way about fighting or get that same rush after a win, not a loss, that I wouldn’t fight anymore because it just showed that I wasn’t really in love with it anymore.”
He went on to lock up a first-round submission victory via straight-ankle lock. When he got his hand raised, Allen realized he still has “the same rush, if not more,” and he put all those thoughts about calling it a career to bed.
“I finally felt like myself,” he said. “I felt like it was fun, and it finally happened – the guy that I was looking to put in the cage, it finally happened. I guess better late than never so, for me, it’s just trying to replay that and keep putting that guy in there, and everything that’s supposed to happen will happen.”
The cathartic victory did more than just reaffirm Allen’s motivation to stay in the fighter’s life. It confirmed some problems he shed light on following his loss to Strickland. Allen admitted he felt “stuck in a routine like a robot” ahead of the bout, and the heaps of frustration he felt toward himself stewed over the holiday period and into the new year. He knew he was “taking things too seriously,” which led to those retirement thoughts before fighting Roberson.
With that in mind, Allen traveled to Jacksonville for UFC 261, where he said he experienced a “perfect” training camp and fight week. Once he felt the jolt from the capacity crowd inside VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena follow him inside the Octagon, he knew he was in for a good night.
“I was just loose, having fun,” Allen said. “I was like, ‘Oh, man. This is gonna be nice.’ I remember throwing the first kick and just kind of seeing his eyes. I thought he was going to be gritty about it and be like, ‘Yeah, come on,’ but then he kind of went to throw a kick back, and I moved and shook my head, ‘No,’ at him. That was when I was like, ‘Yeah, now it’s going to be a fun night.’”
Now, with his sights firmly placed back on cracking the Top 15 and marauding his way up the rankings, “All In” is living up to the moniker.
Confidence? Not A Problem
“I’ll never really tell anyone to their face other than jokingly, but I always feel like I’m better than people when I walk in there,” Allen said.
Clearly, Brendan Allen is not short of confidence. Even as a 23-year-old fighting Aaron Jeffery on the Contender Series, he showed he had the goods to make waves in the UFC. It’s a confidence borne from work as well as an innate need to prove he’s the better man on the night.
That said, he holds that belief while understanding he needs to achieve the results in order for everyone else to give him that same kind of credit.
“It’s just up to me to show it or for them to prove me differently,” Allen said. “That’s just kind of the chip on my shoulder, and it’s going to take a helluva man to knock it off as far as beating me everywhere and hands down just plain beating me to where I know they’re better than me. That’s the man I’m looking to find, and one day, I’ll find him. I just don’t know when.”
Despite a quartet of losses on his professional record, Allen more or less brushes them off and believes they were the result of his own mistakes. Even the Strickland fight, Allen feels like his opponent “just caught” him because of his own error.
I’ll never really tell anyone to their face other than jokingly, but I always feel like I’m better than people when I walk in there.
Sure, that could seem like a dismissive way to look at a loss, but that’s just how confident Allen is in himself and his abilities. He is of the mind that, if he goes out there and performs to the best of his abilities, he can put anyone away in the Top 5 “within three (rounds) no problem.” That’s the version of himself that showed up against Roberson, and it’s the guy Allen believes he can bring to the fight each time out.
“I’ve never just had another man beat me where I’m like, ‘Damn, he’s better than me,’” Allen said. “One day I’m going to find him, but until then, I’m just going to keep looking. I’ve never fought a scrub. I’ve never wanted one. I’m always asking for the best guys, and I feel, even in the UFC, I’ve done just that.”
That line of thinking makes his desire for a Strickland rematch understandable. It’s a consistent line of thinking for Allen, too. He has expressed interest in fighting Trevin Giles, who handed him a submission loss in 2016 (Allen’s third professional fight) when the two fought under the Legacy FC banner.
“I always come back better off of losses,” he said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself and especially when I lose to someone I know I’m better than, which, to me, and obviously I’m partial, I feel like all my losses, I’m better than.”
You can look at Allen’s self-belief and call it cockiness or brashness, but he doesn’t make those claims without putting in the work. He hasn’t had a chance to get back any of his losses although he could because each of the men who beat him (Giles, Strickland, Eryk Anders, and Anthony Hernandez) now fight in the UFC, but it’s that insistent drive to prove he’s better that has made Allen an appealing prospect in the middleweight division.
Driven By Lifelong Competitiveness
Allen has always felt an ultra-competitiveness inside of himself. It cultivated itself as he tried to best his older brother at whatever he did. It festered as his brother and father talked trash to him. It’s what nearly pushed him to tears if he missed a tackle playing little league football.
It’s also what makes Allen keep the bar high for himself in the fight game, which, seems to have worked out pretty well so far. He doesn’t just spew out big statements to catch headlines. He believes it, and not out of naivety, but because of the excellence he expects from himself.
“I just hold myself to extremely high standards that a lot of people can’t even understand,” Allen said. “No one will really see it, but when it’s just me behind closed doors, me by myself, there’s many times where I just look at myself like, ‘I can do better,’ or, ‘I gotta change this,’ or I’m just frustrated at myself. There’s a lot of people that think they know, but they don’t really know, especially in a sport like this. It’s just you and another man. It’s not a team effort. There’s a team effort in preparation, but when it comes to fight night, and you’re actually fighting, it’s just you and another man, and you’re both trying to hurt each other.”
In the wrong head, that kind of mentality might prove detrimental to an athlete, but for Allen, he makes sure to counterbalance it by keeping everything in perspective.
Allen said he tries to focus on his overall goals, which include, but are not limited to, providing for his family. He admitted to acting “childish financially” in his early 20s, which is frankly understandable, but he’s getting to a point where he can provide for them the way he wants.
“I just try to think what’s my overall goal,” Allen said when asked how he balances self-critique with self-belief. “What’s important in my life is my kid and my niece and my family, so I just have to take a step back and look at it and see what would make them proudest and what will give them something to look up to and be proud of. Then, I just try to follow that road. I always try to be a couple steps ahead as far as how I think in life and how I think.”
After his win at UFC 261, Allen opted to drive straight back home to Louisiana to surprise his wife and daughter, arriving home at 6 a.m. to take them out to breakfast. Allen joked that it was pretty difficult because he “doesn’t normally” keep secrets from his wife, but the opportunity to surprise her was well worth it.
For a person in his mid-20s, Allen seems like he’s got it pretty figured out. He battled some doubt and demons, but he also understands how young he is and how he “grew up in the sport.”
“I haven’t even hit my prime yet,” Allen said. “I feel like I’m always still growing as a person, as a fighter. I’ve grown up in this sport, and I still feel like I’m growing. I’m getting better, and I already feel like I’m one of the best in the world. I’m only getting better. That’s kind of the worst part is that I have the resume that I have, and I’m only 25, and obviously I just want to keep growing that resume and just keep being competitive because, for me, that’s the real thing.
Primed To Make A Run
Part of Allen’s comfort in his last fight came from a comfort with his relatively new home at Sanford MMA after spending the early portion of his career fighting representing the Roufusport crew out of Milwaukee. The bout against Roberson was Allen’s third camp in Florida, and clearly, the best yet.
Working with one of the best MMA minds in Henri Hooft and sharing the gym with the likes of Michael Chandler, Gilbert Burns, Robbie Lawler and Vicente Luque gives Allen every opportunity to soak up the wealth of MMA knowledge there.
“It’s hard not to get better, and now, the coaches know me,” Allen said. “They know how things work for me in my brain and what I can do and my potential. Just started putting stuff into me that works for me, clicks with me, and they just understand me now. It usually takes me a camp for that to happen.”
The distance from his family makes the choice tough, but worth it. His goal for 2021 is to win the rest of his fights for the year to get to a point where he can buy a place in Florida sometime in the first half of 2022.
His next chance to earn that full paycheck comes in July as he steps in to face undefeated up-and-comer Punahele Soriano. The fellow Contender Series alumnus provided two jaw-dropping knockout wins in his first two UFC fights, but what’s really appealing to Allen is Soriano’s unblemished record, especially because he finds himself in the rare spot of being the more experienced man in the matchup.
“If I can’t have an ‘0,’ nobody else can have an ‘0,’” Allen said. “Obviously, ‘0’s come with hype trains, especially at this level. I want to take that. That’s not just for Puna. That’s for anyone. But also, that was me thinking before I got offered him. When I got offered him, I was like, ‘Ah, but what does it really do for me to fight a guy so much below me?’ Or at least I feel like he’s a lot below me. He hasn’t fought anyone that’s really any good. The level of competition has been far, far different.
“It’s a lot different when you step in there,” Allen continued. “I’m a lot meaner, and so I don’t know. He’ll find out himself, and I’ll find out about him. We’ll see how hard that left hand is, and we’ll see how good that wrestling is.”
As Allen eyes the middleweight rankings, he believes he’ll find himself worthy of a Top 10 or Top 5 bout in the matchmakers’ eyes come mid-2022.
The fight game is a fickle foundation to make plans, but Allen’s competitiveness and confidence, intertwined with the performances he puts on, creates some relative stability. It took some serious self-reflection, but Allen potentially serves as an example of how considering retirement isn’t a sign of the end of the road. Rather, it could very well be the course-correction to the path that points toward the top of the division where Israel Adesanya currently reigns as king.
“This is my time to make a run,” Allen said. “I finally feel like that last fight was me. It felt like me just like I was sparring. If I can do that, I’ll be up there about midway through next year for sure. There’s nobody through the Top 5, and I think that’s in the Top 5, that can handle this, so we’ll see what happens.”