Josh Hedges – Zuffa LLC
Just a year ago, Liverpudlian striker Darren ‘The Gorilla’ Till was the United Kingdom’s best hope of a second UFC champion. Standing across from Tyron Woodley, as a favourite no less, Till was tasked with joining Michael ‘The Count’ Bisping in the elite group of Octagon gold holders hailing from Great Britain. Within seven minutes, Till was locked in a D’Arce choke, gasping for air, as Woodley lodged his final title defense of a gleaming run.
Returning home in March this year, Till clashed with fellow UFC 244 feature Jorge Masvidal, with ‘Gamebred’ spring boarding himself into championship contention via a terrifying second round knockout. Saturday in New York City, the odds have drastically changed for the 26-year-old.
During his siege of the 170-pound title, plenty was made of Till’s sheer size for the division, and in his last successful appearance at welterweight against Stephen Thompson, a botched weight cut brought around clear concern for his future at 170-pounds. Madison Square Garden plays venue for Till’s middleweight rebirth, against a slick boxer and former interim title chaser, Kelvin Gastelum.
The aura the Muay Thai practitioner brings with him to a bout is quite unique. A popular, charismatic and capable fighter who forced almost everyone in the mixed-martial-arts community to really juggle the notion if Tyron Woodley could overcome him. The pressure that comes with an undefeated record ahead of a timely title tilt must be unimaginable, now that the pressure has been relieved, I believe we can see a much more calculated and relaxed Till.
We must remember, Till has only been competing under the UFC banner for four years and despite scoring a 5-2-1 record, the rise to title contender has been relatively timely. Till was pushed considerably by the promotion after his first round stoppage of Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone in Gdansk, and was granted a main-event homecoming against two-time title tilter, ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson. In a tentative display from both men, a late knockdown for Till earned him the judges nod, and ultimately, a title trip against Woodley.
Darren Till’s striking style bares some significant resemblance to former lightweight and featherweight champion, Conor McGregor, in my opinion. A long frame and a long, punishing straight. In his eventual finish of Cerrone, we see the use of a lengthy straight hand to drop the Colorado native. In his early knockdown of Jorge Masvidal and dropping of ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson, we further more see the use of a jab-straight, similar to a setup of McGregor in his stoppages of Chad Mendes and Eddie Alvarez in his first and last Octagon title triumphs.
The boisterous display Till showed against Masvidal in March will lead to almost certain downfall when paired with Gastelum. When exiting exchanges with the Floridian, Till was clipped on the end of strikes, and further invited Masvidal to engage, an almost sure fire signal a competitor was dinged by the shot. Kings MMA mainstay Kelvin Gastelum has fantastically honed his hands, particularly his counter offense, under the renowned Rafael Cordeiro, evident in his stoppages of Tim Kennedy, Michael Bisping, Vitor Belfort and dropping of current middleweight best, Israel Adesanya.
A comfortable weight of 185-pounds may prove career altering for the faltering Merseysider. The evidence is almost stacked ceiling high as to why severe weight-cutting in this sport should be outlawed, case in point, Till’s welterweight run. A competitor is already compromised come fight night due to the effects of weight-cutting, but in the case of Darren Till, his recent form is a clear indicator of such. A middleweight tear and a foundation building victory over Gastelum this week, may reignite the vast potential of the English challenger.