Development of prospects in mixed martial arts is an interesting and ever-changing process. In the early days, it simply involved taking people from different disciplines, locking them in a cage with minimal rules and seeing what happened. As the sport grew, handfuls of regional MMA promotions popped up, and matchmakers from the UFC, Pride and other larger organizations could draw from this growing talent pool. Eventually a framework evolved where someone entering the sport could start as an amateur to get some experience before turning pro, then work their way up through various local and regional promotions, finally reaching one of the “feeder” organizations where success pretty much guarantees that the UFC or Bellator will at least be taking a hard look at you.
Near the top of that feeder-organization food chain is the Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA). It was recently formed when the Resurrection Fighting Alliance (RFA) and Legacy Fighting Championship (LFC) merged. Top fighters from both precursor organizations had success in moving up to major promotions, and the new LFA is positioned to be the premier league for young fighters looking toward entering the UFC. In baseball terms, if UFC and Bellator are the big leagues, then LFA is Triple-A ball.
One of the top young prospects currently signed to LFA is Brendan Allen, a 21-year-old from Louisiana fighting in the middleweight division. Allen has had a quick and interesting rise to prominence, especially considering he first started training in martial arts just eight years ago at the age of thirteen. His entry into martial arts was through jiu-jitsu. As he describes it, “My brother came home from school one day and said he had a friend training. He asked my brother if my father, and me and him would like to come train. He said yes, and my dad came home and we went to the gym where he was training, and once I saw it, I started the very next day.”
After a few years of training in jiu-jitsu, he began to make the transition toward amateur mixed martial arts in his later teen years. “I had always watched it on TV,” says Allen. “I was always tussling with my brother and them, and my dad, and so I figured ‘Why not? Let’s give it a whirl.’” His amateur career started with Fight Force International (FFI), a local promotion in Biloxi, Mississippi. Of his early amateur fights, “All eight are with the same organization, FFI, for which I held an amateur belt,” he says. “The first four, I still know all of my opponents who I fought. The first one was a decision. Two weeks before the fight I was really, really sick, so I didn’t train. I was worried about cardio, so I didn’t want to push too much. I fought a tough guy. It was his debut as well. We didn’t know each other. We got matched, I think, the week of the fight. Before the event, our opponents backed out or something like that. So we fought each other. The second fight, I finished him fast with a rear naked choke. Third fight, I think that was the one I finished with a Mir lock in guard. That was fast. And then the fourth I finished fast too with a rear naked choke in the first.”
In these early fights, Allen was mainly a grappling specialist. It wasn’t that he hadn’t trained striking in his transition from jiu-jitsu to MMA, but more that he just had more confidence in his jiu-jitsu at that stage of his progression. “I was always nervous to stand,” he says. “I mean, I figured I was good at it, but I don’t know, it always seemed like it would be easier to tap everybody and walk out. So, I’d walk in there ready to stand, and then I’d get tired of it, or just ready to get out of the cage, so I’d just shoot a double-leg, or let them shoot, and tap them and go on about my day.”
Building on the experience gained in these first amateur fights, he then took a lesser-used path before turning pro. “I did nationals and worlds through IMMAF and UMMAF,” he explains. The UMMAF is the USA Mixed Martial Arts Federation, which holds an annual amateur national tournament, with winners then moving on to the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation tournament to compete against the best from around the world. In two fights in three days in May 2015, Brendan fought in the nationals, winning and moving on to the world amateur championships held two months later in Las Vegas. He swept through the competition there as well, winning three fights in six days to take the IMMAF 185-pound title.
With multiple fights in just a few days, obviously, weight cutting was an issue. To deal with this, Brendan Allen moved up a weight division. “I was fighting at 170 as an amateur. Then I went up to 185 for the tournament,” he says. “They gave you a certain pound allowance after the first day. They called it scratch the first day: you had to make your weight. So at 185. Then after that on each day they gave you a certain percentage that you could weigh in at. I think the most for mine – I have it written on a card actually they printed that I weighed in with – I think it was like 188, 189, somewhere around there. That was the last day. But this year they switched it, so now you have to make the weight every day. So that sucks for them.”
Following his IMMAF win, he was ready to turn pro. “Everyone around here always asked me, before I even went to that, when I was going to turn pro. After the tournament, I had just fought guys from around the world, beat them, and it was no problem.” With the confidence gained from the tournament, he jumped right into the pro ranks, and took his first pro fight the next month, in August 2015. “I figured there was nothing left for me, so I just went out there and found the closest promotion that was having the closest event, just time-wise, and asked to be on the show. They had already asked me multiple times, but I just reached out to them and told them I accept their offer.”
Early in his pro career, he switched gyms. “I trained with Gracie United, I think until I was 20. I had some conflict there with the guy who owned it, and didn’t agree with some of the things that he had done to me, and I ended up leaving,” he says. Then he moved on to Clementi’s Gladiator Academy, run by former UFC fighter Rich Clementi. “Some of my cousins and friends had trained with Rich a long time ago, and I’ve known him for a while, so that was the man to go see. We had already been friends before then, so it was kind of a natural move for me.”
After just two pro fights, he met another top prospect in Kevin Giles at Legacy FC 52 in March of 2016. He lost that fight but picked up an important lesson in the process. As he explains it, “I just learned to believe in myself more. Just self-confidence is really what came away from it. Nothing technically, or nothing anywhere else.” At just twenty-one years old, he still has lots of room to develop but sees the improvement in mental attitude as the biggest gain at this point in his career. “As far as improved the most, definitely my mental aspect and cardio. Those two would be a combination of they’ve come along the most.” Allen realizes that there is still a lot to learn over the next few years, though. “I mean everywhere can always be improved,” he says, but hesitates before naming an area for special attention. “I guess stand-up. I guess because everyone just doesn’t see it. There’s always so much to be learned and not everything works for every person. Probably stand-up.”
The Giles fight was his first loss as either an amateur or a pro, and since then he has had five straight wins. In December he won the Valor Fights middleweight title, and then signed with the new LFA, where he is a top contender for their vacant 185-pound title. He intends to stay with LFA until the UFC comes calling. “I’m signed with them. I was the first middleweight to sign with them after they merged, so I’m stuck with them now, and I’m very happy to be with them.” Winning the title would be a big step toward getting a break from the UFC, and with Allen’s 7-1 pro record, there is talk of an LFA title fight in the near future. “Well, we’re waiting to release everything on that right now. It’s not going to be with Giles, and I feel I’m right there for the belt. I’m right behind Giles as far as the rankings on our side, and he’s dealing with whatever he’s doing, trying to figure out what he’s doing, and like he said in one of his interviews, it’s not going to wait on him. So, I’m next in line, and other than that, it’s who is going to fight me for it,” he explains. With Giles at least temporarily out of the mix, it looks like the probable opponent will be the undefeated Eryk Anders, although nothing has been confirmed yet. “We’re supposed to receive contracts this week, and I guess they’ll release it either this week or next week. Yes, it’s supposed to be with him,” says Allen.
Winning an LFA title would certainly put him on the UFC’s radar, but that’s not Brendan Allen’s only avenue toward moving up to the number one MMA promotion. On May 23rd, the UFC will begin tryouts for season 26 of The Ultimate Fighter, and Allen plans to attend. With an LFA title fight in the works as well as the TUF tryouts, this gives him two routes toward advancing to the UFC. He’ll take whichever pans out, but of the two, he has a slight preference. His reasoning is, “I would have to go with the TUF house. There are a lot of obstacles there, and you’re not guaranteed a spot in the UFC, but my record shows I do well with tournaments, so that’s kind of taking fate into my own hands. That would be the route I’d rather go.”
In today’s MMA climate, it seems that spectacular performances or flamboyant personalities create career opportunities as much or more than consistently winning. While he has finished all seven of his pro wins – four by submission and three by KO – Allen says that he could improve his performances and become more exciting as his level of competition rises. “Ultimately, it’s really something that I struggle with. I never perform to my best. I just perform right above who I’m fighting, so the better the opponents, the better I fight. The more comfortable I get in there, the more flashy stuff people will see, but usually, my fights end pretty quickly. I like to get in there and get done.” While he looks forward to putting on better and better fights, he doesn’t think he’ll adopt any fake persona in order to get ahead, saying “As far as personality, I am who I am. I won’t change for a sport, or anything for that matter.”
With less than two years as a pro, Brandon Allen has moved up the MMA ladder quickly. He’s on the cusp of an LFA title shot, and has two realistic chances to enter the UFC in the near future. It’s just the beginning, though, and he has ambitious plans for the future. “As far as the rest of the year, we’ll see what happens with the two options on the table right now, as far as the tryouts and the fight that we have right now, and we’ll see which one we go with. Or how TUF goes.” Beyond that, he says, “From there, if we make it into TUF, winning that obviously and getting a contract, and if not, winning the fight we have on the table convincingly – real easy – and then fighting one more time to defend the title that I have earned through LFA and hopefully go to the UFC. Going into the UFC by the end of the year is the goal, and after that, it’s just getting all the wins in the UFC, climbing the ladder, making the money, and showing everyone that you’re the best.”
Take in some highlights from LFA 3, where Brendan makes a mess of another man’s face quite definitely (at 1:19).