On 8th September in Dallas, “The Gorilla”, Darren Till, gets his shot at UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley. Till will be aiming to go one step further than Dan Hardy, the first Brit to fight for a title in 2010 at this same weight, and join British Champion Michael Bisping who won gold in the middleweight division. Whilst the bout comes under somewhat bizarre circumstances as an interim belt was competed for only in June, the Brit has laid claim to a legitimate shot at the belt.
There are two main concerns coming into this contest, whether Till will make the 170lbs championship weight and whether the fight will be a fight in name only. The Liverpudlian has only made this limit twice in six UFC bouts, completely missing the 171lbs non-title limit twice. Including in his last fight against two time Woodley opponent Stephen Thompson, where a video of his weight cut featured him losing vision whilst cutting the last 11 pounds.
“The Gorilla” is an apt nickname as Till has boasted in the past about how heavy he is, and has a freakishly large frame for the division, without being scrawny like most who are tall or long for their weight class, with weight being easier to cut than muscle like with his opponent Woodley. This accentuates the difficulty of making the weight class from what must surely be around the 200lbs mark.
As with most fighters whose primary job in camp and fight week is making weight, he should and probably will move up in weight at some point. Getting this title shot has irked some given his miss last time out, yet all the talk about his weight issues does seem to be getting to Till. However, he is not the one to be held responsible for this or the June interim title fight being rendered irrelevant. Till simply has to make the most of the chance he has got here.
“If he changes his style even just a little that will increase his chances.”
The other concern is somewhat more aesthetic, although it does have a competitive component. Woodley has a fairly negative public perception, due primarily to how astonishingly mind-numbing his title defences have been. His two fights against Thompson being the most emblematic of this issue. Both of these fights were characterised by extreme inaction with only a sole moment of excitement in both contests.
This was due to Woodley looking for a big right counter punch and Thompson looking to counter with blitzing Karate combinations or with kicks. With both fighters relying on their opponent attacking in order to counterattack, the fight dwindled out disappointingly. This dynamic meant very little happened, which in turn makes judging the winner incredibly difficult, meaning the first fight resulted in a draw and the second fight was only a majority decision.
“this could be another bout characterised by inaction”
The issue here is that when watching Till’s prior fights, especially against Thompson, Till is also a counter puncher with questionable endurance. His decisions have been characterised by serious flagging down the stretch. When this is happening in three round fights it doesn’t exactly bode well for ones endurance in a five rounder. Speaking of five round contests, Till’s fight with Thompson was a total eyesore which many don’t even believe he won. When neither fighter is landing in double digits in a single round without really hurting each other and no grappling it just makes a judge’s job incredibly hard.
The most damage done in the fight was with a Till side kick to the leg which injured Thompson’s knee, of course leading to even less engagement. Whilst Till is a Muay Thai based counter striker as opposed to a Karate counter stylist, the important word there is still “counter”. If neither fighter adjusts to either throw safe combinations to damage or draw out combinations, and if Woodley doesn’t utilise his outstanding wrestling, then this could be another bout characterised by inaction. This would both increase and decrease Till’s chances at success, as in this case who knows what the judges will prioritise and so the decision becomes much more uncertain.
This all means that, assuming Till makes weight, there’s a non-trivial chance he brings the belt back to the UK. However, it’s hard to really assess the likelihood beyond that. If the lack of output last time around was to deal with the extra rounds, that diminishes his chances. If he changes his style even just a little that will increase his chances.
At the fundamental level, a fight between two counter strikers who don’t throw to draw out opportunities for the counter leads to a toss-up of factors that could clinch victory for either fighter. Woodley’s propensity to back himself to the fence and the ever nebulous phrasing of “effective” striking and grappling come into play, as well as the fact that Woodley has shown more of a history of winning these fights in part due to his pure punching power, so that, as well as being the defending champion, is the direction you have to lean in.