When Darren Till he burst onto the scene with a first round TKO of Cowboy Cerrone, and then beat Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson in a razor thin close decision in his hometown of Liverpool, England, he was hitting headline after headline with his brash valor and seemingly unshakable determination to be the greatest fighter in the history of the sport.
And it wasn’t long before he got his opportunity after just a year of being in the top ten, he was scheduled to fight the current welterweight champion, Tyron Woodley.
Long story short, unfortunately for Darren Till, Woodley made fairly quick work of the Brit, and then some months later he was knocked out cold by Jorge Masvidal in front of a British home audience. And so it seemed as though all those high aspirations and powerful McGregor-esque speeches had quickly come to nothing. Or so we thought.
At the behest of commentators, fans and no doubt coaches, Till moved up to middleweight, beat Kelvin Gastelum fairly handily in a decision, and then lost a unanimous (but close) decision to Robert Whittaker.
This makes Till 3-3 during the time since he became a contender in the UFC in 2017, which at first glance doesn’t look like the record of someone on the cusp of fighting for a championship belt.
However, you do have to take a closer look at the finer details rather than just the numbers alone, to realize that Till’s record doesn’t really reflect where he’s presently at in terms of skillset and leverage in the division.
First of all (and this isn’t news, but it seems that a lot of people need reminding) Till’s title fight with Woodley was pushed way too soon. He simply hadn’t faced enough top ten elite level fighters to take on the champ. What were the UFC thinking?
Secondly, Darren’s ability to take a shot since moving up to middleweight has improved greatly. He hasn’t even come close to being rocked by the much heavier hitting middleweights in Kelvin Gastelum and Robert Whittaker – the way he was at welterweight.
And lastly, his most recent loss was to who I believe is the greatest non-champion in the UFC – Robert Whittaker. Till’s fight with ‘The Reaper’ was more competitive than both Gastelum’s and Jared Cannonier’s – the latter of whom is currently sitting at number 3 in the division and most likely next in line for a title shot.
And, sitting at number 7 in the division, Till is likely just two wins away from another title shot. But the question is, will he be ready this time?
Well, one thing Darren Till doesn’t lack is self belief, and he's predicted an early stoppage in his fight this Saturday.
However, I believe this fight with Derek Brunson is make or break for Till at middleweight, certainly within this era. If he loses to Brunson, I doubt that he will ever become the middleweight champion while Israel Adesanya has anything to do with it.
Of course - although they are the outliers of the sport - there are examples of fighters becoming a champion later in their careers – Bisping, Oilviera, Jan Blachowicz. And as Till told Ariel Helwani:
"I will take 20 losses, I will take 55 losses, I will take injury after injury after injury to get where I want to be,".
And while I listen to him say those words, I believe him. But I just feel that Darren’s light is burning as bright as it ever will right now. The energy and motivation that he has is brilliant, but that kind of energy generally has a cap on it in this industry.
If Darren loses another fight, to a contender that is essentially the gatekeeper of the division, I just think that mentally, staying motivated enough to climb back up the insurmountable mountain of a task that is the top ten of the division, injuries and all, with Israel Adesanya on the mountain top will be too great of a task.
Nevertheless, I do think he gets it done, and quite handily.
Against Brunson, who gets hit easily, I think it will be a great opportunity for Till to show off his high level striking. He’s shown great take down defense and strength in the clinch in his last two fights. And if Brunson can’t take him down I think it’s a bad night for the American, and the fight could go a similar way as his Adesanya bout. Perhaps not the clinic that Israel put on, but I do think Brunson will be overwhelmed with Till’s feints, footwork, elbows and timing, and that powerful left hand of ‘The Gorilla’s’ will find it’s home on more than one occasion.
Whether you like Till or not, and whether you think he’ll make it to a title fight or drop off into obscurity, the middleweight division is in dire need of a fresh contender, and Darren Till vs Israel Adesanya would be a huge fight with top-drawer promotional content.
But everything for Darren Till, I believe, is contingent on the outcome of his upcoming bout, on September 4, at UFC Vegas 36.
\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.