After eight fights in the UFC, there were people prepared to write off Darren Till as a busted flush, an overhyped prospect who had been found out at the top level and would struggle to mix it with the world’s best on the sport’s biggest stage.
Those people couldn’t have been more wrong.
Till’s brand of chirpy confidence, delivered with his distinctive Scouse accent, immediately made him stand out as he made his way up the UFC’s welterweight division. His physical size didn’t hurt, either.
Standing at six feet tall and looking considerably bigger than a 170-pounder on fight night, Till appeared to have a major advantage over his opponents. Until we found out he didn’t.
Going off the rails
Till’s unanimous decision victory over two-time title challenger Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson earned him a shot at then-champ Tyron Woodley. But it proved to be too much, too young for the Scouser as “The Chosen One” submitted Till in the second round to hand him the first defeat of his career and halt his title charge.
Till then looked to bounce back in London this March against Jorge Masvidal and, after dropping “Gamebred”, things were looking good. But Masvidal came storming back and spectacularly knocked out Till to send the Englishman to back-to-back stoppage defeats.
The haters and the doubters came out in force as Till was widely written off. But, those who have followed his career closely knew what needed to come next, and so did Till.
Moving up to middleweight
As it turned out, Till’s run all the way to a UFC welterweight title shot was accomplished in spite of his ability to make 170 pounds, rather than because of it.
It’s highly likely that the Till we saw tear through the opposition at welterweight is a mere shadow of the man who we’re likely to see in 2020. That’s because he’s wisely taken the decision to move up to middleweight, and now the shackles are off.
Many thought he’d made a bad career move when he accepted a fight with top middleweight contender Kelvin Gastelum in his first bout at 185, but at UFC 244 Till produced a performance full of maturity and composure as he defeated not only Gastelum, but a severe bout of pre-fight nerves that had him contemplating pulling out of the fight with a fake injury.
Reasons for optimism
There’s no doubt in my mind that the best is still to come for “The Gorilla”, who will get the chance to fight at his optimum weight and show the world just how good he can be.
He’s still young in the sport and he’s now in the right weight class.
But, more importantly, he hasn’t even filled out into a proper middleweight yet. He’s only going to get stronger at the weight. He will still be big and powerful in his new division, despite moving up.
The middleweight class has a host of killers at the top of the division, but Till just defeated one of them without breaking a sweat. If anything, he fought within himself to get the result he needed. The performances are likely to get bigger and better from here.
The big question now is, after defeating the man who pushed Israel Adesanya harder than any other man in the UFC, could Till even find himself fast-tracked to a title shot in his new division?
If he is, the doubters and the haters will be out in force once again.
The difference this time, however, is this time Till is a little bit older, a little bit bigger and a lot wiser for his past experiences.
Could he really follow in the footsteps of Michael Bisping and capture the UFC middleweight title to become the second Brit to win UFC gold?
Believe me, it’s not as unlikely as it looked six months ago.