Darren Till takes on Derek Brunson in the main event of this Saturday’s UFC Fight Night card. Till appears to be just one win away from earning a title shot. Can he take the opportunity that is in front of him?
The 28-year-old won his first middleweight fight by split decision against Kelvin Gastelum in November 2019 but has since struggled since. He had a decision loss to Robert Whittaker in July 2020 and has had two scheduled bouts cancelled since then. Till was due to fight Jack Hermansson in December 2020 but had to pull out a month before as a result of an injury.
Just a week before he was due to fight Marvin Vettori in April of this year, Till suffered a broken collarbone in training. This ruled him out of the fight and he was replaced by Kevin Holland. Vettori went on to win and then faced champion Israel Adesanya for the title at UFC 263. Vettori came up short and now Whittaker appears to be the No. 1 contender.
The fact that Adesanya has repeatedly expressed interest in a bout with Till helps the Englishman’s chances of competing for the title. This, coupled with Till’s star power, means that the UFC will not hesitate to put this match-up together if both men emerge victorious from their next bouts.
Till’s prowess as a technical striker has led many fans and analysts to believe that he has the tools to become the first to defeat Adesanya at middleweight. He has utilized his footwork, accuracy and power in his left hand to overcome many of his opponents. However, he does seem to have a problem delivering a high volume of strikes.
Till has an excellent grasp of distance management. He used it to limit the offense of technically proficient strikers like Stephen Thompson and Whittaker. However, his own lack of output has held him back. He got the nod on the judges’ scorecards in close fights with Thompson and the aforementioned Gastelum, but was on the losing side against Whittaker.
His left hand is a potent weapon, but his over-reliance on this has been a weakness in his fights. Till stands heavy on his lead leg. While this does help him generate power in his signature punch, it makes him susceptible to leg kicks. Whittaker consistently landed kicks throughout the contest and this helped him secure the victory.
In spite of this, Till can take positives from his last outing. He was able to have an extremely competitive fight with a former champion. This speaks volumes to Till’s ability. The problems that Jared Cannonier and Gastelum would later have with Whittaker put Till’s performance into perspective.
Till’s constant feinting seemed to make Whittaker uncomfortable and caused the usually precise striker to load up and miss with attempted power shots. He also displayed excellent endurance by maintaining forward pressure until the end of the fight. He managed to do this even after he had suffered an injury to his knee in the second round.
Till makes his return to action this Saturday against the fifth-ranked Brunson. Brunson has a wrestling background but has made great strides in his striking since he moved to the Sanford MMA. At one point it appeared that he had reached his ceiling in the sport. He has since embarked on a career revival and is on a four-fight winning streak.
The 37-year-old has always had knockout power. However, he was often reckless with the way he went about getting finishes. The limitations of this approach were exposed in defeats to Whittaker and Adesanya. At Sanford MMA, under the tutelage of acclaimed coach Henry Hooft, he has improved his transitions from striking to grappling. This was key in his performance against the unorthodox and powerful Holland.
Till will have to be wary of Brunson’s power and his ability to use the threat of his takedowns. The Liverpool native possesses strong takedown defense, but Brunson is likely to earn takedowns. It is imperative that Till throws more output than he has in recent contests and convinces the judges that he is winning the rounds.
If Till is able to deploy feints as well as he was able to against Whittaker, then he is likely to cause Brunson to second guess himself and become hesitant. Despite making advancements in his striking, the American is still somewhat ponderous and hittable, as Holland was able to prove in some moments of their bout.
Till has had one unsuccessful attempt at a UFC title but will have the opportunity to work towards another this Saturday. Brunson is arguably the best he has ever been and will present a tough stylistic match-up. However, Till will know that if he is at his best, then he should be able to beat the 37-year-old. This would help him secure a much-anticipated UFC title shot.
For Till’s critics, this is another example of the UFC continuing to indulge a fighter who has failed to fulfil the potential he showed in his early UFC run. Till’s popularity insulates him from some of the consequences of defeat that the average fighter will be confronted with. He is also in the advantageous position of having the champion being so vocal about wanting to fight him.
With all these factors taken into consideration, Till has a brilliant opportunity to become the No. 1 contender. A loss this Saturday may not be the end of his title aspirations. He is only 28, but it could be the last time the UFC makes a concerted effort to give the Liverpudlian such a big spotlight.
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