With the rapid evolution of mixed martial arts the classic clash of styles is largely a thing of the past. This weekend’s main event is a throwback of sorts to the grappler vs. striker fights of yesteryear as Derek Brunson meets Darren Till at UFC Fight Night: Brunson vs. Till.
While both men have trained all aspects of MMA for years, at their core, they are polar opposites. Brunson brings a high-intensity wrestling attack whereas Till leans on his years of experience in Muay Thai as his most likely path to victory. The differences don’t end with their styles, however. Brunson is on a hot streak, winning four consecutive fights en route to the No. 5 spot in the UFC’s middleweight rankings. Till has not fared as well of late, with losses in three of his last four outings.
The co-main event is a heavyweight tilt that was originally scheduled to pit rising English star Tom Aspinall against Sergei Pavlovich. Pavlovich was forced to withdraw from the fight and instead Aspinall will meet Sergey Spivak. This fight marks the fourth for Aspinall inside the UFC and he is off to a 3-0 start. Spivak too is riding a three-fight winning streak and a victory could put either man inside the heavyweight division’s top 10.
Elsewhere on the main card is the UFC debut of Paddy “The Baddy” Pimblett. The 26-year-old Liverpool native has made a splash in the Cage Warriors promotion and now gets his chance to show off his talents on the biggest stage. He takes on Luigi Vendramini this weekend in a lightweight bout.
The event kicks off at 1:30 p.m. ET followed by the main card at 4 p.m. ET. It can be seen in its entirety streaming on ESPN+. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action this week as they go Toe-to-Toe.
Sumian: If the last couple of years has taught us anything in regards to these two combatants, it is that Brunson is easily one of the most consistent and balanced fighters in the middleweight division. Till is simply not.
Since losing to Adesanya, Brunson has succeeded in reforming his approach to fighting which has resulted in four straight wins against solid competition. The No. 5-ranked middleweight boasts one of the best mixtures of wrestling and knockout power in the UFC today. It has led to a four-fight winning streak over Elias Theodorou, Ian Heinisch, Edmen Shahbazyan and Kevin Holland.
The North Carolina resident looks to calmly stalk his opponents by throwing a combination of punches and kicks to set up explosive takedown attempts. He has also shown his ability to restrain himself from chasing the finish like he did against Robert Whittaker. Brunson has adopted a much more calculated approach when looking to finish opponents. Rejuvenated and looking better than ever, Brunson will look to earn himself a title shot with a win.
Till’s last impressive victory was back in 2017 when he finished an out-of-prime Donald Cerrone using sheer power and a size advantage. Since then, he has turned in a 2-3 record with both victories being closely contested decisions against Stephen Thompson and Kelvin Gastelum. Despite lacking notable wins at middleweight, Till has been able to keep himself in the UFC spotlight due to his popularity, exciting style and entertaining personality.
The Brit certainly has one of the better pure stand-up games in the UFC today and will need to rack up a number of memorable victories to earn himself a title shot in the near future. Currently sitting at No. 7 and still only 28 years old, Till has the attitude and style to become a huge star if he is able to elevate his game to the next level.
It is no secret that the UFC would prefer Till to go out and deliver a spectacular knockout. Then call out Adesynya in exciting fashion. Unfortunately for the UFC and Till, that will not be the case. A calculated, consistent and confident Brunson will look to take the fight to Till and constantly pressure with takedown attempts and clinch work.
Till will continuously look to break away and establish his notorious one-two combination. Expect Till to land a few clean shots,n but this will not be enough to earn a victory. After three rounds of a well thought out game plan, Brunson will earn himself a fifth straight victory. He will need to earn one more key victory prior to earning a title shot, but a win over Till certainly puts him in the title eliminator conversation.
Petela: This fight has the makings for a one-sided affair either way. Either Brunson lands early takedowns and neutralizes Till’s offense or Till lands bombs early that force Brunson off his game and into lazy takedown attempts. However, this fight won’t end up being the clash of styles that it looks to be on paper and will be much more competitive throughout.
That doesn’t mean that Brunson won’t get a takedown or two and do some damage on top. He will. However, this more evolved version of Till will show fans that he is becoming a well-rounded fighter. He will be actively trying to get back to his feet rather than accept the takedown and look to force the referee to stand the fighters up after inactivity.
Brunson’s ultimate goal is to get another crack at champion Adesanya. He knows that he is going to need to be able to hold his own on the feet with Till if he has any chance at doing so against Adesanya. Expect Brunson not to shy away from standing and trading with “The Gorilla”. It will be a close and entertaining fight, but at the end of the five rounds it will be Till who gets his hand raised and gets back on the right track towards being a top middleweight contender.
Sergey Spivak stepped in on late notice to face Tom Aspinall; will the Moldovan fighter make the most of this opportunity and come away with a win?
Petela: At heavyweight anything can happen. At the end of the night taking this fight against Aspinall on short notice will be a poor decision for Spivak. He hasn’t shown the crispest striking or the most devastating power and he will be facing just that against Aspinall. Spivak should have the advantage if the fight hits the mat but Aspinall’s takedown defense is above average. It is unlikely that these two wind up fighting a grappling-heavy contest. Expect Aspinall to pick Spivak apart from the opening bell and score an emphatic finish late in the first round.
Aspinall is, in all likelihood, the future of the heavyweight division. He is rounding out his skill set nicely, picking up his second career submission win in his last fight against former champion Andrei Arlovski. In a division where fighters tend to mature later in their career, the 28-year-old will be a problem for his opponents for a long time. He will put himself on the fast track towards title contention with another impressive performance.
Sumian: I wholeheartedly agree with my colleague on this one. Aspinall is a talent in the heavyweight division who truly has the marketability, skill set and growth path to become a star and future champion. He will dispatch Spivak with relative ease and move on to bigger and better things as he continues his climb in the division.
Paddy Pimblett — do we need to know this name?
Sumian: Most UFC fans already know who Pimblett is due to his recent attention in the media. The 16-3 England native has been all over the press of late due to his outlandish yet entertaining personality and skill set. He makes his debut against Luigi Venddramini who is a dangerous finisher in his own right.
Pimblett is a polished striker who is able to mix up his striking on the feet rather well. The 5-foot-10 lightweight throws calculated kicks and counter rights prior to flurrying for the finish. Despite his striking ability, Pimblett has shown the ability to secure dominant position and pull off a slick submission or vicious ground and pound. Fresh off a two-fight winning streak and still only 26 years old, the Liverpool native is inarguably one of the most anticipated UFC debuts of the year.
Petela: Pimblett has drawn a lot of comparisons to Conor McGregor, as both men are Cage Warriors champions with brash personalities from across the pond. His UFC debut will certainly garner him a lot more attention and a victory will be the first of many on his road to stateside stardom.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Petela: Khalil Rountree Jr. A loss would give him the dreaded three-fight losing streak that is usually a death sentence in the UFC. The times have certainly changed a bit, but without an impressive showing Rountree could find himself forced into leaving the UFC, whether he is ready to or not.
Sumian: Molly McCann. Yes, she has compiled a 3-3 UFC record, but she is currently riding a two-fight losing streak. Unfortunately, she is one of the less entertaining fighters on the roster. If she suffers a third straight loss, I imagine her time with the UFC is shortly coming to an end.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Sumian: Charles Jourdain versus Julian Erosa truly has all the pieces to result in a “Fight of the Night”. These under-the-radar fighters combine for 33 professional finishes in their careers. Jourdain is coming off an exciting third-round finish over Marcelo Rojo. Erosa will look to bounce back from his first loss since May 2019. Expect a fan-friendly affair when the pair meet on Saturday night.
Petela: Dalcha Lungiambula and Marc-Andre Barriault. Barriault got off to a rough start in the UFC but picked up his first Octagon win in his last outing. Based on their resumes, Barriault would look to be the better striker of the two. But Lungiambula has other-worldly power and could close the show in the blink of an eye. This will be a fun fight early on in the event.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Petela: Tom Aspinall. He has been wildly impressive since joining the UFC, picking up finishes in all three of his fights with the promotion. That will continue this weekend. He will pick up his third knockout and third post-fight bonus with a devastating first-round finish over Sergey Spivak.
Sumian: Khalil Roundtree Jr. This is likely the former TUF finalist’s final UFC bout. Despite having a fairly up-and-down career, he is still capable of knocking out anyone who tries to stand with him. Roundtree Jr. will deliver a jaw-dropping knockout when he faces Modestas Bukauskas and ride off into MMA retirement.
Pair this card with…
Sumian: FINISH HIM. Like the iconic fighting game Mortal Kombat, this card is going to feature a number of incredible and memorable finishes. Despite lacking top-notch star power, the night boasts some well-thought out matchmaking.
Petela: A peanut butter and pickles sandwich. On the surface, it doesn’t sound like those two things should ever go together but they make a strangely satisfying pairing. That’s the story of the main event. With opposing styles that might lead you to think this will be one-sided, this fight will turn out to be remarkably competitive and won’t leave a bad taste in your mouth.
Main Card, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN+)
MW: Derek Brunson vs. Darren Till
HW: Tom Aspinall vs. Sergey Spivak
WW: Alex Morono vs. David Zawada
LHW: Modestas Bukauskas vs. Khalil Rountree Jr.
LW: Paddy Pimblett vs. Luigi Vendramini
Preliminary Card, 1:30 p.m. ET (ESPN+)
Women’s FlyW: Molly McCann vs. Ji Yeon Kim
BW: Jack Shore vs. Liudvik Sholinian
Catchweight: Julian Erosa vs. Charles Jourdain
MW: Dalcha Lungiambula vs. Marc-Andre Barriault
BW: Jonathan Martinez vs. Marcelo Rojo
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