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UFC Fight Night: Donald Cerrone vs. Darren Till Toe to Toe Preview - A complete breakdown

Phil and David break down everything you need to know about Cerrone vs. Till at UFN 118 in Poland, and everything you don’t about the British blue collar.

MMA: UFC 214-Lawler vs Cerrone Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Donald Cerrone vs. Darren Till this October 21, 2017 at the Ergo Arena in Gdańsk, Poland.

One sentence summary:

David: British boxing vs American bloodshed in a battle that won’t be as cordial as Bush and Blair.

Phil: Looking for the next payday to fund his latest hobby of bullride abseiling, Cowboy tries to open up the Till.

Stats:

Odds: Donald Cerrone -155 Darren Till +145

History / Introduction to Both Fighters

David: Cerrone, who could probably hang his gloves up tomorrow and nobody would call it unjustified, as at a weird crossroads. Don’t mistake that last sentence. Cerrone is not old, or even fight old. Well, he’s fight old. But he’s basically peak Cerrone right now. Sure, you’d like to see him answer the phone in less #problematic ways when Quinton Jackson calls, but that’s not Cerrone. He’s no more bound by manners than he is by the pacifist’s instinct. And so we’ve been getting Cerrone operating at full tilt. Which is almost worrying. Somebody’s gonna break him, right? After a fun, but brutal loss to Jorge Masvidal, he went and looked brilliant against Robbie Lawler. He’s always been more hot then cold, but never staying cold for long. Will Till be the Stone Cold Stunner to Cerrone’s career?

Phil: This is pretty much exactly where we were when Donald Cerrone was booked against Myles Jury back in January of 2015 (and somehow only three fights ago for Jury). Cerrone is getting put against a surging young gun that he should beat. Basically it's a loaded gamble from the UFC. If Cerrone gets crushed, then they've got a brand spanking new contender on their hands. If he does Cerrone things to Till, then that's OK as well. It's pretty salient that we were wondering when the wheels would fall off Cerrone almost three years ago, though. That he's kept this consistent since then is a minor miracle, but it isn't one which can last forever.

David: Till came to the UFC like a lot of those British strikers you were never really impressed by, but who put up solid results: Michael Bisping, Paul Taylor, Ricky Hatton, Dan Hardy, etc. Of course, Bisping ended up being champion and is finally on track for the long awaited fight between his acrimony and GSP. Hardy got a title shot, and Hatton was obviously elite in his day. I don’t know if this is an American thing but their talents always seemed to be missing something. Americans don’t trust blue collar work to succeed, so why should its athletic representation be any different? I don’t know where I’m going with any of this except to note personal questions that randomly interest me. I’ve always called it the Rogan Effect, but I’m sure there’s a better explanation. So I’m skeptical of Till as elite, but Bisping’s success has me considering my blind spot with respect to British striking. Till has a strong test to measure that acumen, luckily for us, because this is a damn good fight.

Phil: Till's charisma has got him this fight at least as much as his actual fighting ability did. Perhaps the UFC brass saw a confident young man from the British isles who fought in a slightly in-out style while baiting people for a big left hand and talking himself up as the best striker in the division, and were somehow predisposed to see this as an opportunity for making money. Basically, I share your skepticism. He's a fascinating guy, though, at least partially because he has such a weird, un-British style. As a Brazilian-trained Scouser and Muay Thai crossover, he's an appropriately odd chimera.

What's at stake?

David: Till’s potential trajectory, and Cerrone’s theoretical spiral down. That’s it.

Phil: Cerrone has lost a lot of fights, but I think to lose this one would be the first time we could truly, honestly say that he's on his way down and eventually out of the sport.

Where do they want it?

David: Till is a one-note fighter in a very dynamic way. His offense is kind of limited in some sense. His first pair of fights with Oliveira and Dalby attested to this. But his subsequent bouts have displayed what makes him effective. From his southpaw stance he likes to lead with that left kick that goes hard to the head and the body. But the difference between Till and other fighters with specific lead strikes is the way Till maintains strong positioning from offense. Even in highlight packages this specific, centered rhythm is evident - after the pick, he chambers a left straight and he’s always in great positioning to land both in the same sequence. This effective one two tactic allows him to be effective in other areas, like exploding inside the clinch in proximity and using the jab as sort-of Plan B.

Phil: Till has a tendency to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, but he is massive and powerful, and when he lands it is almost always very hard. Ironically this tends to make him a bit less likely to actually knock people out. He's always looking for that one huge counter shot which will end the opponent's night, so unlike, say, a McGregor who will counter pretty much whatever you give him, Till often lets opportunities slide away while looking for the biggest and most humiliating strike available. However, while a bit one-note (and one-sided) in his attack, he has a fair amount of craft and thought behind his techniques. He feints, he stutter steps, he takes angles, and he mixes up the arc of his left with an elbow. However, it's always that left hand which is the end game. His jab and leg kick are very nice, when he chooses to use them, but I always have the sneaking suspicion that Till thinks his defense and occasional periods of inactivity look a lot cooler than they actually do.

David: Cerrone, as we’ve discussed before, has benefited from moving up in weight. His boxing has not only improved but it’s undergone a sort of punctuated equilibrium. Where it used to be the case that he had no left hook to speak of, now he integrates a wider selection, owed to trainers, coaches, and perhaps just the feeling of not being completely wrecked by the weight cut. I never really thought of Cerrone as a tactician per se. He was well rounded in dangerous ways but there wasn’t a strategic thread connecting all of his talents - at least not tangibly. Against Lawler he founds ways to reset with different tactics, switching to elbows down the pipe to cut through Lawler’s defensive awareness and more impressively overcoming the first round onslaught (itself a great display of strategy). His fragile abdomen is still its own X-factor but nothing in recent history has revealed a fighter slowing down.

Phil: As he's aged and moved up in weight, it is phenomenally impressive that we're not only seeing Cerrone able to hold onto his past skills, but that we're actually seeing him developing new ones. I thought that counter left hook that he put Cote down with was the last new tool that we'd ever see from him, but those elbows off the clinch against Lawler were something special. He always used to be something of a void in the clinch, and was dirty boxed up pretty badly by Dos Anjos, Diaz and even Alvarez in their first round. While Cerrone retains the same macro weaknesses that he did (boxing range, body shots, southpaws, starting slowly), another one has quietly closed itself up.

Insight from past fights?

David: Till is a very composed , so I don’t see him crumbling in the face of Cerrone’s attack. The critical interaction here is gap control (to borrow a hockey phrase). Cerrone is offensively dynamic and dangerous. But he doesn’t close the distance with those weapons. Even his leg kicks - while blistering - are less a feature than a reaction. He’s similar to Jose Aldo in this way, letting offense come to him as a way of gathering information. It can be its own detriment, which is why I favor Till. If Till maintains strong positioning, I can see that left kick to the body being the great equalizer as long as Cerrone gives him the middle gap.

Phil: Till ate a great deal of leg kicks against Velickovic. Admittedly, the Serbian is also a southpaw, and closed stance fights lend themselves to easier leg kicks, but... Bojan Velickovic is no Donald Cerrone, who will chew Till's leg off if he lands those kind of shots.

X-Factors

David: As you mentioned, Till’s perfect plan tomorrow over the good plan today demeanor could be something to watch out for. Against Cerrone, letting opportunities slip away is not how you beat Cerrone. Those gaffes will add up in violent ways.

Phil: It's mostly just whether Cerrone has gotten old overnight. Masvidal is a violent guy, but not exactly the world's biggest puncher. That he knocked Cerrone out twice is somewhat concerning.

Prognostication

David: I could see this being a less dramatic version of Cerrone’s fight with Masvidal as Till scores singular offense looks better to judges in an otherwise active affair. Again, I like Till’s offense at range over Cerrone’s willingness to cut those gaps. Cerrone’s pace will make this competitive, but I don’t see Cerrone’s pace overwhelming Till given Darren’s positioning. Darren Till by Decision.

Phil: I'd be pretty surprised by a Till decision. Low-pace counterstriker just hasn't traditionally been the way to beat Cerrone, because it gives him room to start feinting and mixing up his kicks. That said, he comes out of the gate very quickly, and Cerrone doesn't, so if Till wins, I think it's likely to be the kind of highlight reel performance to get the brass salivating: Till drawing Cerrone into an exchange, and flattening him in the first or early in the second. However, I'm just not convinced that Till can keep the kind of pace that Cowboy can without getting torn up, and his grappling remains a question mark. Donald Cerrone by submission, round 3.