UFC Fight Night Whittaker v Till: Preview & Predictions
By Cathal Geeney
The Main Event:
This is a fascinating match up which could have a big impact on the future of the middleweight division going forward.
These two fighters have faced their fair share of adversity, both inside and outside of the octagon, in recent years and will be eager to put it behind them with a win on Fight Island.
Whittaker has a strong wrestling pedigree, having competed in Freestyle Wrestling in his native Australia. He even qualified to represent Australia in the 2018 Commonwealth games, only to pull out due to his MMA commitments.
Despite his grappling credentials, it will likely be the striking of the Australian that Darren Till will be most concerned about. Whittaker is light on his feet, throwing lots of feints to maintain the distance before rushing in with a lead jab or a hook. He looks to work off this and follow it up with a combination. The New Zealand born fighter will also mix in some kicks to the legs and body of his opponent.
Like Whittaker, Till is a former welterweight who looks very comfortable at 185 pounds. The Liverpudlian showed a lot of self-belief by making his UFC middleweight debut against a very dangerous striker in Kelvin Gastelum.
Till put in an impressive performance, showing a lot of discipline, and managed to get the victory on points.
Even at middleweight, the twenty-seven year old still looks to hold a lot of power and is a tricky fighter to figure out. Fighting out of a southpaw stance, he likes to control the octagon and feint with his lead right hand in order to land that powerful left.
The former welterweight title challenger demonstrated in his last performance an effective leg kick which I would expect to see on display here again.
Till has built up a solid defensive wrestling base and will be confident it will hold up against any potential takedown attempts.
Given the success in the clinch against Kelvin Gastelum, and the Muay Thai background of Till, this is an area in which he may look to exploit.
I expect this fight to play out on the feet and it will be very interesting to see how they feel each other out in terms of throwing feints and trying to establish a rhythm. Leg kicks could also be an important tool for both fighters. I’m very excited by this one and I’m not surprised the oddsmakers have this this as an even match up.
I’m going to take Robert Whittaker to get the job done. I am expecting him to come back refocused and to have all the tools to outwork Till across five rounds.
Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua v Antonio ‘Lil Nog’ Rogerio Nogueira
The co-main event sees two Brazilian veterans meet for the third time, fifteen years after they first met under the Pride banner. This will almost certainly be their final contest as Nogueira has confirmed this as his retirement fight.
Rua was victorious in their previous two meetings and will be fully expecting to end the trilogy unbeaten.
The former UFC light-heavyweight champion looks to control the centre of the octagon and use feints to close distance and land punches. Facing off against a southpaw, Rua will look to land some kicks to the abdomen from his orthodox stance.
Nogueira is the slightly bigger man and will use his jab to maintain the distance before engaging and landing heavy shots. The Pan American Games boxing bronze medallist has ended three of his last four victories inside the distance and is always willing to brawl. In both of their previous meetings there were some wild exchanges and Lil Nog will be hoping to recreate this, as he possesses some serious power and had Rua badly rocked in their last meeting.
Although both men are Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belts, Shogun will hold the advantage in the grappling stakes having relied on his takedowns to secure the second and third rounds when they last met.
Despite his age, Nogueira has still looked impressive in his last number of outings. However, it has now been over fourteen months out of the octagon since he last made the walk and at forty-four years of age, this is a big ask. Although I would not be surprised if Nogueira were to get a finish, I think the smart pick here is Rua. Shogun is the more balanced fighter and should be able to mix up his striking and grappling to get a victory.
Fabricio ‘Vai Cavalo’ Werdum v Alexander ‘The Mauler’ Gustafsson
Gustafsson is making a return to the octagon after he retired in June of last year, following a disappointing loss to Anthony Smith. In a rather surprising move, the Swede has decided to make his return at Heavyweight and takes on the former UFC heavyweight champion, Fabricio Werdum.
Werdum returned to action in May having served a suspension for a USADA doping violation, losing a split decision against Aleksei Oleinik. Although the Brazilian had some success in the grappling exchanges, it was not the same Werdum of the past.
He looked slow and sluggish and was allowing Oleinik to tee off at him at times. Even in his prime, the Brazilian was a wild striker and was susceptible to being caught as he looked to land. This will not serve well against Gustafsson.
The former light-heavyweight title challenger is a very skilled striker, relying primarily on his fast hands and his 79-inch reach. He likes to feint and counter with combinations as well as mixing in some kicks to his attack.
In terms of grappling, Gustafsson is experienced and has held his own against the likes of Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones in the past, so he will be confident he can stop Werdum’s advances to land a takedown.
I expect Werdum to try and get close to Gustafsson and smother him in the clinch, looking to use his weight advantage to get the bout to the mat. Gus, however, will be happy to keep the fight at distance and rely on his striking expertise.
I’m taking Gustafsson to get the win here as his crisp boxing should be too much for a Fabricio Werdum who looks to be a fighter in decline.