The Rise Of The “Gorilla” Darren Till

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On Saturday 8thSeptember Darren Till lost to Tyron Woodley via submission in the UFC welterweight title fight. Liverpool born Till had fallen at the final hurdle in his quest for UFC gold. But the very fact that the 25 year-old Liverpudlian had even fought for the belt is an achievement most professional MMA fighters can only dream of. Till may have lost the battle, but the war in the welterweight division still rages on and it’s a case of when, not if he will have another shot at becoming a UFC champion.

The end of Till’s undefeated streak should give Conor McGregor confidence heading into his lightweight championship match at UFC 229. McGregor will be taking on the undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov. In odds McGregor Khabib, it is the Russian who is tipped to win, at a price of 4/6. If you fancy McGregor to make a successful return to the Octagon, his current price is 6/5.

The local scene

The rise of Till has been expeditious, especially within the UFC Octagon. Growing up in Liverpool, Till has often highlighted the violent lifestyle he lived. He realised his destiny lay in combat sports and he began training Muay Thai at the age of 12.

By 15 he had turned professional and after wreaking havoc on the local circuit he made the transition into MMA aged 17 in 2012, training out of Team Kaobon under renowned coach Colin Heron. This choice would prove life-changing for Till and under the tutelage of Heron and close friend and UFC veteran Terry Etim, he began training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as well as developing his natural striking ability.

Forced to change

Things were going well for Till, until another milestone event changed his life forever. On a night out in his hometown, he was involved in an altercation at a nightclub. In the melee, Till was stabbed twice in the back. Fortunately for Till, the blade narrowly missed an artery.

After recovering in hospital, Heron made a call to his old coach Marcelo Brigadeiro in Santa Catarina, Brazil. In order to get away from the distractions in Liverpool the decision was agreed to relocate Till, where he could continue his training undistracted. This move would prove to be the turning point in Till’s mixed martial arts career.

After impressing as an amateur, Till turned professional and set the Brazilian MMA circuit alight, winning 13 fights in a row, 8 of them in 2013. The UFC had taken note of Till’s rise and gave him the call to replace an injured fighter against Wendell de Oliveira at UFC Fight Night 67 in Brazil with only 9 days’ notice. Till won by TKO In the second round to kick off his UFC career in style.

Till’s next challenge was Nicolas Dalby. After coasting through the first round, Till picked up an injury to his shoulder and was forced to fight with one arm, which put him on the back foot. Despite the relentless pressure from Dalby, he held out for a majority draw, picking up a Fight of the Night bonus along the way.

The injury Till suffered in that fight kept him on the sidelines for well over a year and after battling some personal demons he returned to the Octagon in May 2017 to face Jessin Ayari. Unfortunately Till missed weight and surrendered 20% of his fight purse to Ayari.

His long layoff was the reason behind this, although Till has always been a big welterweight, meaning he often has to cut down a lot to make weight. Despite the setback, Till dominated the fight and won by unanimous decision.

On 1 August 2017, Till signed a new five-fight deal with the UFC and he next faced Bojan Velickovic, extending his undefeated streak with another unanimous points victory. Just two months later, it was announced that Till would face his toughest test yet, in perennial veteran Donald Cerrone. Despite Cerrone’s experience and resume, Till demolished “Cowboy” inside the first round, finishing him out with a flurry of strikes and earning another performance of the night award.

The victory catapulted Till into the limelight and he landed another huge fight with number one contender in the division, Steven “Wonder Boy” Thompson. Till’s weight issues again proved significant when he weighed in 3.5 pounds over the limit. The fight took place at a catchweight of 188 pounds with Till forfeiting 30% of his purse to Thompson.

After an extremely close back and forth fight, Till was given the nod by the judges. Many people were surprised by the result and most media outlets had Thompson winning the fight on points but it was Till who walked away as the new number one contender in the welterweight division.

Battled to the top

Then came the news that Till would indeed face off against the champion, Tyron Woodley. The two men stood on opposite sides of the Octagon at UFC 228 and from the first bell Till lacked his usual swagger. He seemed worried about the takedown threat from Woodley and was tentative with his striking.

In the second round Woodley caught Till flush on the chin with a trademark piston right hand and dropped him. “The Chosen One” wasted no time in controlling Till on the ground and after softening him up with elbows, worked in a nasty D’arce choke that forced Till to tap and concede his unbeaten record.

Till was humble in defeat, admitting Tyron Woodley was the better man on the night.

“There’s no excuses,” Till told Joe Rogan in the post-fight interview. “Tyron was the better man on the night. But make no mistake, I will come back stronger.”

Whether that will be the case remains to be seen, but there’s a famous old saying in the world of combat sport, “You win or you learn,” and Till will surely learn from his first professional loss and return with renewed intent in his next bout.

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