It wasn’t a normal fight week for Darren Till.
While most fighters typically show up to the location of their fight early on in fight week, and sometimes far earlier depending on the location, that wasn’t the case for Till. Ahead of UFC 244, which took place on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Till didn’t show up until later in the week.
The English-born Till, who hails from Liverpool, was dealing with visa issues ahead of the event. These issues came close to preventing him from fighting. Those circumstances certainly aren’t ideal for any fighter, but for Till, who was moving up in weight to take on a legitimate contender, the situation undoubtedly made things more difficult.
Luckily, Till made it to New York on Thursday, though UFC President Dana White admitted that it wasn’t an easy process to get “The Gorilla” across the pond. Ultimately, however, it worked out, he made the 185-pound limit and his fight against former title challenger Kelvin Gastelum was on.
In terms of the fight itself, which served as the co-main event of a stacked UFC 244, it didn’t play out as many had expected it to.
Given Gastelum’s history as an exciting and aggressive fighter paired with the fact that he was coming off of a Fight of the Year contender with current divisional title holder Israel Adesanya, it was assumed that he would present Till with a tough test. But given Till’s reputation as a skilled and powerful Muay Thai tactician, it was also expected that the bout would be a back-and-forth firefight.
That didn’t turn out to be the case, however. In fact, the fight wasn’t necessarily action-packed. In this writer’s opinion though, Till put on an impressive performance. Constantly circling away from Gastelum’s big left hand, Till battered his opponent’s lead leg with kicks and engaged in the clinch when needed to shut down Gastelum’s pressure.
When the scorecards were read, The Gorilla was handed a split-decision victory. He fought not only patiently, but intelligently, implementing a well-thought-out game plan. In addition, the fight proved that Till belongs at middleweight in more ways than one.
First off, the former welterweight title challenger looked massive in the Octagon. His brutal weight cuts down to 170 pounds have been well-documented and there’s no reason for him to put his body through that and re-visit that weight class. And secondly, he proved that he could compete at the weight class, topping a well-respected contender.
During his post-fight interview with UFC commentator Joe Rogan, a common theme expressed by Till was that he silenced his doubters.
“Listen, I proved a lot of f*cking doubters wrong and I want youse to message me tonight and say something about it,” he said.
And there’s certainly some truth to what he was saying, as it began to seem as if some were writing Till off. After rising through the UFC ranks with a 5-0-1 record, Till earned a shot at then 170-pound champion Tyron Woodley. The fight didn’t go his way, however, as he was dropped early on with a big shot and ultimately submitted.
Following the fight against Woodley, Till returned in London this past March and suffered a brutal knockout loss to Jorge Masvidal. Coming off of back-to-back stoppage losses, some felt as if Till was just another overhyped fighter. Even UFC President Dana White admitted that the promotion may have rushed him.
But at the same time, many seemed to forget that he remains only 26 years old. And not only 26 years old but 26 years old with both skill and time on his side. It now seems a bit silly to believe that Till couldn’t turn things around.
The bigger story of the night, however, may be that he proved something to himself. Early on his interview with Rogan, he said that he entered this fight in a bit of a “dark place” due to the two losses and to the circumstances surrounding his arrival to New York.
Dealing With Demons
At the post-fight press conference, he opened up a bit more on what he was dealing with mentally.
“I think I just had some demons I had to deal with after those losses,” he said. “We fighters don’t talk about it, but I was just talking from my heart. Before I fought Woodley, I hadn’t been beat in my life in anything. I felt like a superhuman and then I got beat twice, and nowadays with the media, you get slammed even more, so inside I was fighting a lot.”
Till even went on further, admitting that he was battling whether or not he even wanted to compete.
“Every fight, no matter what any fighter will ever tell you, they will be scared,” Till said via MMAFighting.com. “If they tell you they’re not, it’s a blatant lie. But this fight I wasn’t scared, I was terrified. I wasn’t shaken. I just didn’t want to go. The magnitude of the event, everything, I was doubting, I was thinking of ways to get out of the fight. This was only today and I’m just so scared.
“And then at the faceoff I’m like, ‘Darren, come on, pull yourself together. Now we’re going to win this fight the way we planned. We’re not gonna let him touch ya, and you’re gonna win it.’ I knew it was going to be hard to knock him out, I know I’ve got the power but I know he’s a tough cookie and that’s just how it is. Fighters might not say it, but I’ll always say it, whether it’s good or bad, I’ve been criticized in the past or whatever, but that’s where I was at today as soon as I woke up.”
Proving Something to Himself
Given Till’s comments and his mental state, his win over Gastelum is even more impressive. Coming off of two losses, moving up in weight and taking on a stiff test is tough enough. But battling one’s own mind and persevering through the tough times that come with being a fighter is even tougher.
At UFC 244, Till proved that he could overcome adversity. He proved that he could stick to a game plan and get the job done when needed.
Should he remain focused and positive, the middleweight division may very well have found its newest contender.
Embed from Getty Images