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UFC Fight Night: Stephen Thompson vs. Darren Till Toe-to-Toe Preview - A complete breakdown

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Phil and David breakdown everything you need to know about Thompson vs. Till in England, and everything you don’t about god saving the queen.

Stephen Thompson vs. Darren Till headlines UFC Fight Night 130 this May 27, 2018 at the Echo Arena in Liverpool, England.

One sentence summary

David: Title contention at steakweight.

Phil: Go ‘ed, Portuguese Scouser against a fella from a film called something like Karate Killer, nice one.

Stats

Record: Stephen Thompson 14-2-1 Draw Darren Till 16-0-1 Draw

Odds: Stephen Thompson -125 Darren Till +115

History / Introduction to the fighters

David: It’s been awhile since Wonderboy graced the Octagon. He’s one fight removed from his “Woodley wars”, which means his stock isn’t very high right now. It’s hard to gauge his place in the welterweight hierarchy since a) he won’t be getting a title shot anytime soon and b) he’s been out of action for so long. Still, he’s a really good fighter who should never be allowed to interview with Woodley every again.

Phil:Stephen Thompson finds himself in the weird position of being the clear #2 in the welterweight division, with almost no chance of getting another shot at the current champion. His first fight with Woodley was well-received, but the second one was dire, and the UFC won’t risk another stinker. However, he’s still the kind of blonde blue-eyed protagonist from a terrible ‘90s action movie that the UFC would love to promote. For him it may just be a question of waiting until someone dethrones Woodley, while staying active enough that he doesn’t lose his spot.

David: As I’ve said before, I’m always wary of “British strikers.” Obviously, Brits can strike with the best of them, but usually fighters who get by on one dimension in that region I just have a natural skepticism of: Paul Taylor, Che Mills, Michael Bisping, etc. Wait, Bisping was a champ! Exactly. I’m no longer skeptical. Till possesses an athleticism, and poise that has made him a dangerous fighter for anyone in his weight class. That includes a former two-time title contender.

Phil: When he first came to the UFC, it was hard to tell whether Darren Till was the real deal or an Astra Fight Team can crusher. His opponents on the Brazilian regional scene were not the greatest, and while he obliterated Wendell de Oliveira in his debut, his sophomore effort against Nicolas Dalby was a little more concerning, where he cruised for two rounds before getting his shoulder separated and got beaten down in the third. His breakout was the win over Donald Cerrone, and while “large, aggressive southpaw gets to Cerrone early” is not exactly something which has never happened before, Till is charismatic and confident enough that he’s parlayed it into a fight which (for him) is likely a de facto title eliminator. Weight miss and all.

What’s at stake?

David: All the marbles if Till wins. All the marbles if it’s Thompson — which is to say, not much.

Phil: Like I said, Till is likely looking at being the next in line after the RDA/Covington winner should he manage to beat Wonderboy. If Thompson comes out on top... well, he probably ends up in exactly the same position he is now.

Where do they want it?

David: Thankfully we’re past the point of calling every karate fighter “elusive and enigmatic.” Thompson fights a pretty stripped down style of penetrating offense from his open stance. When he’s got his hips forward, and backside out like he’s strutting for a Sir Mix-A-Lot video, he’s adept at firing hook and sidekicks at range to move in for bigger bullets — like his overhand right. It’s a funny thing about Thompson; he’s so effective at range, but it’s in proximity where he truly punishes people. He fires accurate combinations when he smells blood in the water, and is hard to shake with his raw dinosaur-like wingspan. It wasn’t until the Johny Hendricks fight that he began to mix his blunt force strategy with more philosophical nuance. In that fight he found to land strikes amidst movement, identifying counters, and scoring without moving forwards. Granted, Hendricks looked like he was being operated by a drunken body snatcher, and Thompson was able to locate him with extreme ease, but still — it helped paved the way the five tools karate threat he is now.

Phil: The fight is a matchup of two reasonably one-sided fighters. Wonderboy does a good job of cloaking his predilection for only really throwing from his right side on offense by switching between stances, but this is really a spatial choice, rather than his being a true mirrored fighter like, say, Tarec Saffiedine. In his case, his favoured southpaw stance allows him to spear the opponent with side and hook kicks kicks and pull them into the left cross, whereas in orthodox he’s more about attacking with the right round kick. It is notable that his counterpunching has improved greatly over his time in MMA, as he’s become far more able to land multiple shots moving backwards. That being said, he is still basically still moving backwards as fast as possible with his chin up, but given the huge amount of space which Thompson’s frame and stance grant, only Woodley’s tremendously explosive step-in has been able to be fast enough to actually punish him for it so far.

Till is many things from an athletic perspective, but he is not as blazing fast as Woodley. So, to really get to Wonderboy he’s going to have to feint and force his way inside without overextending into counters. The fence is his friend here, then, but the question is whether he has enough depth in his game

David: Till is a unique fighter of rhythm. Like some sort of fight cuttlefish, he arranges several interlocking parts at once to strike. When he does, it’s something predictable but hard to defend — a lead left kick followed by a straight left. That kick can be high, or low. But that punch is always straight down the pipe. It’s the most pronounced part of his game, but you see why it’s so successful; if you can’t defend the kick, you can’t defend the punch (at least meaningfully). This makes him very hard to counter, because he’s always in position to reset quickly. With a single engagement, he’s like the spread gun from Contra. Obviously, Till is more than just a one-two fighter. He’s got access to all kinds of violent weapons in the clinch, and his general posture on the feet makes a tough fighter to crack down on with a wrestling base.

Phil: Till fights in a Thai style which is a little different from the style one traditionally sees from the Brazilian circuit (or from his Liverpool teammates at Kaobon, for that matters). His style is very “handsy”, as he tends to reach out and manipulate the opponent’s guard and hands, stepping forward with that left cross thrown from a stutter step or straight up, in ways which are, as some have mentioned, fairly McGregor-esque. He does a good job of mixing up that straight with a stepping elbow, but the fact that it’s always that left hand does seem to be an issue: it’s not just a question of the strike always coming from the same general area, but a question of commitment. If Thompson just watches that rear hand at all times, then he’s canny enough to recognize that most of what comes from Till’s right side is likely feints.

Wonderboy’s focus on striking to the exclusion of all else does make him a fairly empty wrestling and clinch threat, and Till has been excellent in the clinch thus far. That handsy, manipulating style allows him to push his opponent into spaces or grab onto a collar. Thompson’s other major issue has been his Machida-esque inability to lead. If Till can pick up a few moments of major clinch offense, and kick at Thompson’s lead leg, Wonderboy may struggle to dig himself out of an offensive hole.

Insight from Past Fights

David: There’s no proxy for Thompson on Till’s resume. But I will say that Till seems well-prepared. Before his fight with Cerrone, I thought Till would win based on Cerrone’s lack of gap control and quickness. Till not only took advantage of this, but actively exploited it. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Till feint his power hand when moving forward — a way to mask his punches when Thompson inevitably moves straight back with his chin in the air. While Till himself isn’t quick with his entries, he’s quick with his strikes, meaning I could see him taking advantage of Thompson’s backward movement the way Woodley did without the same weapon (quick hands instead of quick feet).

Phil: In terms of how his kicks and punches interplay, Jorge Masvidal is not a dissimilar striker to Till: he tends to mix-up his step-in with stomp kicks and cloaks his entries. This approach... did not work at all. The main advantages Till has are as follows: he’s a southpaw, meaning that Thompson’s “rangekeeper” stance (also southpaw) won’t lead to an open stance engagement. He’s much bigger than Masvidal, and just younger and cockier.

X-Factors

David: Missing weight seems en vogue for big fights these days, so missing weight doesn’t feel like much of an x-factor. This is the fight business. Consistency and transparency need not apply. Right Dana?

Phil: The weight miss is the only real one, and it’s hard to tell how significant it is. Weight missers have done very well this year, but Till has been forced to weight in at a maximum of 188lbs before the fight tomorrow. 18lbs seems like a lot, but seeing as he is reportedly north of 200, I genuinely have no idea how it’s going to affect his performance.

Prognostication

David: This is the second time you’ve picked against Till (God save the queen?), which means this will be the second time I’m picking in his favor. I agree it’s stylistically difficult for Till, but I also feel like his singular offense and exchanges favor the ability to threaten. I don’t see Thompson cornering Darren in the kind of meaningful ways that Till can punish him over five rounds. I also think Till’s style will look better if this fight becomes a slog. Darren Till by Decision.

Phil: Till was insistent on calling out Wonderboy, so maybe he sees something that I don’t, but this seems like a tough fight for him. His toolkit simply doesn’t seem deep enough to consistently back Thompson up and punish him. Hand-fighting styles has done poorly against Thompson (Masvidal, MacDonald), and while kickboxing traditionally matches up well with karate, Till isn’t the kind of determined leg kicker that I think could break Wonderboy down. That being said, Till is tremendously tough and if he takes his foot off the gas, I don’t think Wonderboy will exert himself to finish him. Stephen Thompson by unanimous decision.