Two Years On: Darren Till’s Expected Title Destiny
By James Lee
As two years approaches the anniversary of UFC 228 and Darren Till’s sole opportunity at UFC gold, it seems the once exhibition has become a forgotten memory of the past as the landscape of the sport has overtly altered since that fateful night in Dallas.
For the few that were there to witness his title opening though, the entire event will never be forgotten as England assembled in the Deep South to see a Liverpudlian fight for the most coveted prize in combat sport.
When anticipating the circumstances of watching one of their own become only the third British fighter to fight for a UFC title, the desolate and dull scene of Dallas is rarely pictured. As the bright lights of Las Vegas and New York are deemed the pinnacle of combat sport, few can foresee their grand moment being in Texas. Specifically an English fighter with a growing level of stardom like few before.
So as hundreds or maybe thousands of British fight fans found themselves in unfamiliar territory, it quickly became the home destination of Till and his expectancy of global prosperity.
Aside from the unusual conditions surrounding the location, the circumstances encompassing the matchmaking was equally surprising at the time.
As Colby Covington had won the interim title in June of the year, the stars had aligned so he would face the absent champion Tyron Woodley to unify the division. However, as August approached and UFC 228 was in desperate need of a pay-per-view headliner, Darren Till was called upon to fight the dominant American.
A main event against Cowboy Cerrone in his fifth UFC fight followed by a rare hometown engagement against Stephen Thompson in Liverpool propelled Till maybe too far too soon as he found himself with little progression separating a title opening.
As UFC President Dana White lauded him as the future, the pressure could not have been greater, and wasting an undefeated talent like him could not have happened promotionally. Therefore, the hopes of the organisation and the fanbase rapidly weighed on Till to overcome the unlikeable champion.
Surprisingly, he was the betting favourite for the fight, with the community feeling that Woodley would need to use his grappling to retain his title.
The actual contest contrasted to that theory, however. As Till’s hesitancy voided the first round, he entered the second in a completely opposing manner, guiding his left hand aggressively. However, as his power weapon looked to strike his counterpart, Woodley came back with his infamous power right hand to drop the Englishman before embarking on three minutes of ground striking and an eventual submission.
The unexpected nature of the finish left the American Airlines Center in a solemn tone, as the majority in attendance were disappointed at the outcome. Till’s path to glory at the time was reminiscent of a certain Irish fighter, which brought back memories of enamourment to the sport. However, a crowning night in Dallas was not meant to be, as much as it seemed like it was at the time.
Ultimately, and as we recollect on Till’s title shot at UFC 228, it is unclear when his second chance at gold will come. Although he is not in the top five of the middleweight division, his status in the sport has not yet been deterred by defeat as his world-class nature has been proven on numerous occasions.
A win over Kelvin Gastelum last November and a close decision loss to former champion Robert Whittaker two months ago has certainly proved his bright future at 185 lbs, as a dream fight with champion Israel Adesanya has been lauded about for years.
A contest with top contender Jack Hermansson in December is the first step however and providing all goes well, the chance to rectify that Texas night may soon arise for the fighting pride of Liverpool.