Darren Till vs. Jorge Masvidal headlines UFC London this March 16, 2019 at the O2 Arena in London, England.
One sentence summary
David: Saty will be Saty when it’s Saty
Phil: Cuban cuts and Scouser sarnies
Record: Darren Till 17-1-1 Draw | Jorge Masvidal 32-13
Odds: Darren Till -222 | Jorge Masvidal +200
History / Introduction to the fighters
David: Till’s loss to Tyron Woodley looks a little worse now that Woodley is being dogged for his admittedly listless performance against Usman. But that sets Till up perfectly for this potential opportunity to get back into contention track. Till has propped himself up as a kind of British Winky Wright: a technician who just works as efficiently as possible for as long as necessary without much else worth noting. If that makes him sound boring, that’s not my intent. Just that Till knows how his scone is buttered. Fighting a guy like Masvidal is perfect for what he’s capable of, as well as what he represents.
Phil: Till’s lost to Woodley immediately put him into the Bisping position: a mouthy Brit with defined flaws and an immediate ability to sell almost any fight. That made him perhaps the most called-out fighter in the welterweight division. In general I suspect his career is headed to middleweight: much as he likes talking about how big he is in comparison to everyone else he fights, it’s going to be more of a struggle as he ages out, and he’s already not a particularly quick welterweight. There’s a lot of potential growth there, both physical and technical, and the question in the air is whether it happens, and how quickly.
David: If there’s such a thing as fight roots best described as Technical Kimbo, then Masvidal is that guy. He began his career as an underground king. Then he validated his skills in the big leagues. Despite a real world license to kick ass, and a high ceiling for efficiency — excellent boxer, tough to take down, extremely durable — he’s had a surprisingly spotty career. The loss to Toby Imada was more unfortunate than embarrassing, but the loss to Luis Palomino was more embarrassing than unfortunate. This oddball, backyard pendulum is what has defined Masvidal’s career. With two losses on the egg timer, he’s either poised to swing back into his safe space of technical, momentous boxing, or the penalty box of gravy brain decision making.
Phil: Masvidal’s allegory has always been Mousasi, but the Armenian wanderer has always been insulated by being in far weaker weight classes (and now, a weaker organization). In both cases, it felt like the two men struggled to fully capitalize on their skillsets, cruising through strange losses to objectively less talented fighters. Masvidal has collected by far the more puzzling collection of losses, though. Back in the pre-WEC merger days, it was more common to see people fight across weight classes- GSP for example, fighting future bantamweight Ivan Menjivar. Masvidal did that, too, with the difference that he actually lost to Raphael Assuncao. All that being said, he remains one of the most well-rounded, skilled fighters in MMA. It’s just a question of whether he really shows it on fight night.
What’s at stake?
David: Since this is a welterweight fight, I guess a lot. When the UFC gets champs they’re not sure they can sell, said champ typically gets put through the ringer. What that means for these two strikers is well — who knows.
Phil: There are a lot of hungry fighters who want a crack at the top of the welterweight division and have amassed the streaks to justify it. Luque, Neal, Zaleski dos Santos, etc. The question for these two isn’t so much who wins, as who loses and then has to risk their ranking against one of those guys.
Where do they want it?
David: One of the things I’ve always said about Till is that he has a unique ability to ‘mind the gap.’ He keeps a specific distance to execute a specific attack: body kick, straight left-into-right jab / right jab-into-straight left. It sounds extremely limiting, but it works because he has the perfect physical frame for it: tall, yet wide. Many fighters with Till’s physical tape can be exploited, but not Till. He keeps a calm, patient approach. A little like an accountant. That doesn’t mean he’s inactive, but he can be prone to bouts of inertia. Till’s game works because he’s quietly good at everything else. His clinchwork, wrestling, and general strength ensure that whoever he’s fighting has to inevitably deal with what makes him otherwise efficient.
Phil: Till is a pot-shotter who likes to hang out at a range where he’s insulated by his reach, and probe with leg kicks and a feinted right hand, until he can push someone into the big left. That’s sort of... it? This illustrated his fight with Woodley, which was always going to be a case study in minimalism. Till is someone who clearly has more tools than he shows: he can hit a nice jab when the mood strikes, he’s a strong kicker, and powerful in the clinch. However, you get the impression that he’s developed so much confidence in his minimalist approach that he can sometimes get stuck in it. With that being said, he remains an immensely powerful, huge, and thoughtful fighter.
David: I’ll never forget Masvidal’s backyard match against Kimbo’s “protege.” It’s easy to dismiss those fights as just nonsense. But they are — regardless of the medium, for better or worse — fights. But I also think there’s something to be said for the mentality of actual street fighter. Here’s another dumb analogy. You remember in Event Horizon, when the ship accidentally goes to hell, and the ship itself brings hell with it? I’m not calling Masvidal the Dr. Grant meets Pinhead character that Sam Neil plays. But I am saying that Masvidal reminds me of the ship: that street mentality — where the clock doesn’t exist — he brought back with him that shows up in fights at inopportune times. Even with the dramatically superior technical acumen, Masvidal had that I Got This demeanor. Masvidal’s individual skillsets are glorious are on their own. So much so you’d think that — taken together — he would be the ultimate killing machine. It’s the ghost in the machine that makes Masvidal struggle. Nothing more.
Phil: Masvidal, as mentioned, is good at many things. He has one of the most educated, accurate jabs out there, a clean right hand, a strong body kick and leg kick game, is nasty in the clinch, is a phenomenal defensive wrestler, and is even a legitimate sub threat. What could possibly be the problem? It is his chin? No it is not. Despite his long-standing tendency to get flash knockdowns in the first round of his fights, Masvidal has pretty much never been legitimately finished by strikes. The tendency instead seems to be that Masvidal drops into a sparring mode. He matches his opponent’s pace, engages them in the rhythm and type of fight that they want, and tries to beat them there. Should that be, for example, a mid-range kickboxing bout then he’s probably fine. Even then, though, he still has a couple of flaws which have tended to plague him. First among them is his defense: while he has solid defensive footwork, and can parry strikes effectively, and dissuade with the jab, his head is mostly still right there to be hit.
Insight from past fights
David: Masvidal’s demeanor always reminds me of Mousasi. He’s a fighter who lacks that essential urgency to be a bit more dangerous than he already is. I do wonder if that lack of urgency will help him in this fight. This is like some Orwell analysis. Weakness is Strength. Fighting is Neutral. Laziness is Efficiency. But Till isn’t the kind of fighter who can bully or pressure Masvidal. If Till fights the way he did against Thompson, I like Jorge’s chances of eaking out the small exchanges in the long run.
Phil: The problem with analyzing Till is that he has so few genuinely meaningful fights. His bout with Thompson was basically a glorified sparring session, but that in itself might be useful. Partially because it was a sparring session which Till won. The first few rounds were essentially meaningless, but it was Till that seemed like he had figured out Thompson by the end of it. It speaks well for his chances if he can pull Masvidal into a similarly slow-paced match he might be able to sneak rounds out from under him as well. As in the Thompson fight, he’ll also have the benefit of a hometown crowd oohing and ahing at every strike he lands (or nearly lands).
David: The ole’ Imagine Everyone in the Audience Naked trick. Maybe it’ll help Till if he just pretends that Masvidal is really Askren and charges into a double leg that tears Masvidal’s ACL.
Phil: Till’s weight cut seems like the main one. He came in at 171, but he’s still a huge, young welterweight who is going to grow out of his frame at some point.
David: I still have no real idea, to be honest. I could see Till’s size and presence just slowly wearing away at Masvidal’s otherwise impenetrable exterior. Which is why I switch back and forth: favoring the one or two shots Masvidal should be able to land in the exchanges to build into broad favor from the judges. Then I’m not sure again. I’m not saying I trust Masvidal to win. Because I do. But I don’t. Jorge Masvidal by Split Decision.
Phil: Is Masvidal the more skilled, diverse fighter? Yes he is. Have I seen him lose many fights to less skilled, more limited fighters? Yes I have. Darren Till by unanimous decision.