The Severe Spotlight: Caolon Loughran

Long has it been discussed that fighting, and combat sports in general is a cruel mistress. The myriad of variables that must be in an athletes favour for them to achieve a palpable level of success is vast and overwhelming, let alone for a fighter to reach the apex of the sport.

The body must hold up to the arduous hours of punishment, in the name of skill acquisition and readying itself for a fight during camp. The mind must withstand the poverty, the discomfort of doubt, it must disillusion itself to believe that of the thousands of hopefuls; it will be victorious. It must regale and grieve for loss, attempting to rebound to greater pastures.

All of this, in the name of “glory”.

Glory was found for Irishman Caolon Loughran under the rousing, piercing lights of the Fiera Roma. Loughran carried himself with the confidence of a man buoyed not by false confidence but sitting restfully on top of a concrete bench. A bench forged with nights on the floors of Team Kaobon, ground and mixed with the blood, sweat and tears of the journey that brought him to lifting the tricolour to a raucous Italian wall.

The Irishman walked through a coliseum atmosphere, fans baying for war – and found himself one from the moment Rich Mitchell commenced the action. Dylan Hazan played his part in this battle from the outset. The Italian set a pace early, landing a multitude of sharp jabs through the guard of Loughran. The Irishman was looking to counter with his right hand, and low right leg kicks. Hazan did a good job for the opening half of the first round to retract his right leg and keep himself safe from those shots.

It is important to note that inside the first minute, Loughran shows Hazan the front teep up the middle, that shot becomes available due to the exaggerated nature of the reaction of Hazan to remove himself from the line of low kick fire. As he retracts that lead leg, he is hunching his back to elongate the movement, thus leaving his head and chin exposed.

The furious electric tension illuminates the fight as it continues, both men standing as close to the pocket as possible, both loading up with each exchange. The overarching story of the fight remains the same for both fighters through the second minute: Hazan looking to gain respect with his jab and overhand rights, Loughran looking to counter with his own right and low kicks – both exchanging big hooks in the trenches of the pocket.

A big switch left hand from Hazan sends Loughran staggering a few paces backwards with 3:15 left. Here is the first tangible sign of a meaningful difference between the pair – Loughran resets, looks right away for a low kick, doesn’t find it, and so inches back into range as if nothing had happened. Calmly manoeuvring back into his rhythm of pressure footwork, with Hazan the opposite, fervently looking for a method to gain some respite and respect.

2:52 on the clock – Hazan clutches his nose after a big left hook sends him bouncing out of the pocket. As Loughran see’s the angle off has left Hazan’s lead leg trailing – he looks for a low kick. Hazan turns this into an ankle pick. Loughran see’s the danger early and scrambles, launching himself to a turtle faster than Hazan can close the distance, denying first the far hip grip, and second circling into Hazan with a hip post to square himself up, he builds from a four point to standing in a flash. Sign number two.

That failed takedown feels like a momentum shift – coming in Loughran was extremely respectful of the grappling credentials of Hazan and after finding himself in a disadvantageous situation and navigating it with such ease combined with his settling into the timing of Hazan, the Irish fighter’s confidence grows.

The next two and a half minutes see the pocket trade everything but their pocket money. Jabs, counters, and massive shots in the pocket. Loughran however, doing the more intelligent work of slipping and rolling with shots, taking a significant proportion on the arms and shoulders. Loughran also manages to find a home for the low kick as we tick into the last 100 seconds of the round.

The final sixty seconds see Hazan wobbled by the front teep from Loughran. Sensing his man was hurt, Loughran looks to close the distance with more ferocity. Hazan shoots – Loughran sprawls expertly. As they rise the third sign of difference, and the second showing of calm and collection emanates from Loughran. He realises that Hazan maybe hurt but isn’t ready to get out of there, so settles immediately back into his pace.

The gladiator sent in by the natives does not return to the fray for the second round the same man. Hazan must be given all the credit for his showing of toughness, heart and courage in this second round. He, like Loughran has travelled a similarly treacherous road to reach this opportunity. To have the chance to realise it in his home country must have spurred his preparations and potentially his performance inside the cage to a new level altogether.

Yet, Loughran began to cycle through the gears, shattering the tough final defences Hazan had to offer. He landed damaging blows right up the final sequence which begins with an overhand right answer to a Hazan jab, Loughran throws and misses with a left jab before sending a right uppercut rocket right through the middle of the dazed Hazan guard. The Italian falls into a left hook that Loughran sees from a mile away, squaring up and landing a short-left hook of his own.

Wobbling, Hazan desperately tries to regain his balance. Loughran gallops forward and lances a jab, a right hand, and another shovel right uppercut into the fleeing Hazan, two final right hands sends the Italian crashing, crushed to the mat. The follow up ground and pound is par for the course at this level, but nobody in the arena doubted the fight was over.

Emotion floods the arena; the bursting, swelling, explosion of glory and the wrecking, soul wrenching destruction of defeat laid bare. Loughran wheels away, vaulting over the fence, tears flooding down his face. A personal milestone achieved, a rock to grip in the storm that is MMA.

Caolon Loughran, Cage Warriors Champion.

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