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03rd Sep 2018

How Darren Till earned the chance to become the UK’s second UFC champion ever

The time is now

Darragh Murphy

He’s not the next Michael Bisping. He’s not the next Conor McGregor. He’s not the next Anthony Johnson.

He’s Darren Till.

Till has been compared to each of the above names throughout his meteoric rise to the top of the UFC’s welterweight division.

‘The Gorilla’ comes from a working class background in the northwest of England, just like Bisping. Till’s enigmatic personality has seen similarities drawn with McGregor. While the size advantage which Till enjoys over almost all opponents and the significant weight cut he faces each time he takes to the Octagon has reminded some of a young ‘Rumble’ Johnson.

Few fighters have been able to make their way to a UFC title shot with an undefeated record intact but Till is that good and he’s very much a man of his own.

On September 8, Till will get the chance to become just the second fighter from the United Kingdom to become a UFC champion when he closes out the UFC 228 card against reigning 170lbs champ, Tyron Woodley.

In just over three years, Liverpool’s Till has gone from battering opponents in South America to headlining at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas for the world’s biggest mixed martial arts promotion.

If successful at UFC 228, Till will become one of two reigning UFC champions to be unbeaten, alongside lightweight kingpin Khabib Nurmagomedov.

There is no denying that Till oozes superstar potential and with a win on September 8, he can turn that potential into a reality.

Here is Till’s UFC journey:

UFC Fight Night: Condit vs. Alves – 30 May 2015
vs. Wendell de Oliveira

Till arrived in the Octagon with a reputation for vicious Muay Thai and was pitted against Wendell de Oliveira in enemy territory.

The Scouser needed less than seven minutes to dispatch the vastly more experienced Brazilian, who had over 30 pro fights under his belt at the time.

The broad-shouldered southpaw from Walton proved that he was more than a striker as he used a powerful whizzer to swat a takedown attempt from De Oliveira to one side.

A series of thudding elbows forced the arms of De Oliveira to drop and referee Fernando Yamasaki called a halt to proceedings.

Till was on his way.

UFC Fight Night: Holohan vs. Smolka – 24 October 2015
vs. Nicolas Dalby

Despite his dominant showing in Brazil, Till actually opened as an underdog for his next outing as he travelled to Dublin to meet Nicolas Dalby, who was 14-0 at the time. But the betting line drifted before fight night and by the time he made his walk to the Octagon, the Brit was favourite.

Somebody’s 0 had to go or so it seemed because Till and his Danish opponent fought to a majority draw in the fight of the night.

UFC Fight Night: Gustafsson vs. Teixeira – 28 May 2017
vs. Jessin Ayari

We got the very first glimpse of a possible weight issue from Till when he could only get as low as 176lbs for his clash with Germany’s Jessin Ayari.

Till was coming off a lengthy spell away from the Octagon as he battled a shoulder injury and some personal issues but the Scouser’s ascent could not be halted and he rocked Ayari on several occasions in the opening pair of rounds en route to a unanimous decision win.

Such was Till’s confidence in his stand-up that he fought large portions with his hands at his hips and we saw his ever-improving grappling game as he secured two takedowns for the second consecutive bout.

Ayari has not fought since.

UFC Fight Night: Volkov vs. Struve – 2 September 2017
vs. Bojan Veličković

Till’s ability to deal with a tough veteran was tested next as he was pitted against Veličković, who actually stood slightly taller than ‘The Gorilla’ and enjoyed a significant reach advantage when they met in Rotterdam.

A step-in elbow caused Veličković to drop to his back in the opening frame but it became clear that Till was not being fed stepping stones as the Team Kaoban alumnus failed to put his opponent away.

The judges were required for a third consecutive time but Till’s undefeated record was going nowhere and he found himself on the brink of a top-15 ranking after claiming each round on every judge’s scorecard.

UFC Fight Night: Cerrone vs. Till – 21 October 2017
vs. Donald Cerrone

This was Till’s breakout performance and one which inspired UFC President Dana White to label him ‘The Future’.

Donald Cerrone will go down as a true legend of mixed martial arts and after an unsuccessful shot at the lightweight title, ‘Cowboy’ moved up to 170lbs and dominated his first four opponents in his new weight class.

While Cerrone was coming off a pair of defeats when he agreed to meet Till, nobody doubted that it was going to be the Liverpudlian’s toughest task to date.

260 seconds later, Cerrone hadn’t so much passed on the baton as he had it wrested away with a furious flurry.

The big time had been reached and the rankings had been cracked.

UFC Fight Night: Thompson vs. Till – 27 May 2018
vs. Stephen Thompson

Till had not only never competed in his native Liverpool before but his title eliminator against recent challenger Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson also happened to be his first ever bout in the UK.

The 25-year-old’s homecoming did not exactly go off without a hitch, however.

A family emergency the night before the official weigh-ins on Merseyside meant that Till missed weight for the second time in his UFC career.

After coming in at 174lbs, a stipulation was put in place that Till would forfeit 30 per cent of his purse and weigh no more than 188lbs eight hours before the opening bell.

The fight was a razor-close battle of counter-punchers and some fans believed that ‘Wonderboy’ had done enough but none of the judges in charge of the contest agreed, awarding Till a unanimous decision.

At this stage, it looked like Till might still be one fight away from his first shot at gold as Colby Covington claimed the interim welterweight title two weeks later.

But ‘Chaos’ found himself unable to recover from nasal surgery in time for the UFC’s scheduled unification meeting at UFC 228.

Covington’s loss was very much Till’s gain and here he is, with immortality beckoning in the state where everything – including title challengers – is bigger.