FIGHTERS have to prepare to go through any obstacle to reach the top of their chosen field. For fighters the highs are monumental whilst the lows can be heartbreaking. There is no place to hide in combat sport. Darren Till is currently on the crest of a wave. 2017 was the year he announced that he’s a major threat within a stacked welterweight division in the UFC. However, he had to rebuild from the brink.
A promising Muay Thai fighter, who like many from Liverpool boxed as a child, Till worked his way up to become the K-1 European champion, but distractions can be the bane of a burgeoning, young talent’s projected rise to the top.
Till, now 25, came through a near career, and life, ending experience. He explained to Fighting Fit, “There was an altercation at home where I ended up getting stabbed and had to spend a couple of weeks in the hospital. My coach got on to me and said you’re getting in trouble and becoming distracted, so he told me to pack my things and go to Brazil.
“I went with the intention of staying for six months, but it was nearly four years in the end. I’ve got a young daughter out there as well. It’s not your typical introduction to MMA, let’s put it that way. I was chucked in right at the deep end, but that’s the sort of challenge that I welcome.
“Learning the ropes in Brazil is hard going to say the least. I was completely out of my comfort zone and I didn’t have much knowledge of MMA, so I was getting thrown about a bit at the start. But, I was beating good guys in my fights and then when it got even tougher around my 10th fight, I kept getting stronger.”
To say learning the sport in Brazil was hard going is an understatement. The country has been a superpower in the world of MMA, producing some of the greatest names in the history of the sport, such as Anderson Silva, Vitor Belfort, Jose Aldo and the revered Gracie family.
Till fought eight times alone during his first year as a pro in 2013, where he was a part of the Astra Fight Team in Santa Catarina. He then made the decision to move to welterweight, also taking a fight in Argentina along the way, improving to 12-0 before a chance phone call came his way, handing him the chance he craved to fight in the UFC.
Till remarked, “There was a last minute pull-out when the UFC were out in Goiania so the UFC got in contact with me, as I was a resident and spoke the language and told me I had nine days to get ready. I was pinned to lose, as he was formerly the #1 ranked fighter in Brazil, but I got the stoppage in the second to announce myself on the biggest stage.”
The man he beat was Wendell de Oliveira and he demonstrated his strong skillset, overcoming a tough opening round, which saw him pinned by the cage and on the receiving end of some wince inducing knees from his Brazilian rival. But in the second round, he got the takedown, smashing his foe with devastating elbows to earn the win. He was now on the ladder.
A majority draw in his next fight with Nicolas Dalby in Dublin earned him his first UFC bonus, before a cocktail of injury and personal issues kept him out and contributed to a failed weight cut in Sweden for his fight with Jessie Ayari last May. Till overcame the difficulty and got the win, before adding another notch to his ledger, as he earned a decision over Bojan Velickovic in September in Rotterdam.
By now, Till’s excellent skillset was accompanied by his self-confidence and boasts that he would be a champion. The UFC gave him a shot and in Gdansk in Poland, “The Gorilla” delivered in a big way. He knocked out fan favourite Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in exhilarating style to gatecrash the top 10 rankings in the 170lbs division.
He added, “There were plenty of people in the sport who doubted that I would beat Donald Cerrone. They won’t be making that mistake again. Don’t ever doubt me. That’s not arrogance, it’s just total confidence and belief in what I can do. With that win I’ve saved myself almost a year’s worth of work, probably three fights or so, and I’m on the verge of securing some massive fights.
“I don’t care who wants to fight me, as I’m ready for it. If they manage to defeat me, then I will accept it like a man and come back even stronger than I was before. We all want to be the top dog in the division and get that belt around our waist, but I know already that the top dog is me.”
One such opponent that he was allegedly on the verge of snaring into the Octagon was Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, as rumours began to circulate that the UFC would look to cash in on the Liverpool star’s status and relevance in the UK, in particular in his hometown and bring the roadshow to Merseyside.
The date was even proposed to be on February 24, the same night the UFC had a card booked in Orlando, Florida, but with claims that UFC President Dana White had seen the potential that Till brings not just to the cage but the build-up and was prepared to move the whole card to Liverpool.
Sadly for Till it wasn’t to be and he is still waiting on tenterhooks to see when his next date with destiny will be. However, he has not turned his back on the fight with “Wonderboy” and remains determined in his pursuit to test the 34-year-old American’s top quality striking credentials.
Till said, “I’m pushing to get the fight with ‘Wonderboy.’ It could have happened and would have been made, I have no doubt about it, for Liverpool on February 24, depending on the Cage Warriors card, but he didn’t accept it. That’s the fight I want, not just for his ranking, but because people are saying he is the best striker in the UFC. Well, I know I’m the best striker in the UFC and I’m going to prove it.
“I’m hanging on at the moment and don’t know what plan they’re going to put my way exactly. I believe in the UFC and Dana White, so I’m sure it will be a good one. A fight in March at UFC London, that ship might well have sailed by now, as I haven’t been confirmed yet, which is a bit frustrating and I need to know if I’m on that card.
“I will backtrack if I have too, as I welcome all challenges, but if I had to pick one opponent now it would be ‘Wonderboy,’ however whoever is thrown my way I will give it everything. The welterweight division is an exciting one to be a part of and I’m still unbeaten in my whole career, five fights in the UFC, which is an achievement in itself, as they’re all animals at this level.”
Adding to his growing list of achievements inside the Octagon, Till has also found himself as one of the leading figures into a potentially new entry into MMA for a major player in the UK boxing sphere, who are looking to test the waters, with Till the chosen one.
MTK Global has built a strong base in the UK in boxing, managing many fighters at all levels of the sport. The roster ranges from former world champions, including one of the biggest names in the heavyweight division in Tyson Fury, to raw prospects looking to make their way and achieve their dreams.
To show how serious they are as they begin a new venture into MMA, they have appointed Kieran Keddle, a former three-time world Muay Thai champion in his own right, as the Head of MTK MMA Operations. Keddle owns the Double K Gym in London and more announcements are expected out of the operation in the coming weeks.
Till told Fighting Fit how the agreement came together and his thoughts moving forward: “I was flown over to Dubai and had a meeting and signed on pretty much straight away. I have a lot of friends in the fight game who are signed on to them, like Liam “Beefy” Smith, so I knew about them, so when they reached out to me I was excited.
“They could come in and change MMA, as they have some big plans going forward. They’ve shown complete confidence in me and I love being a part of it. It was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever had to make. You just have to look at the roster of boxers they have, with guys like Tyson Fury, Carl Frampton and Michael Conlan to know how serious they are.
“They are reaching for the stars and I fitted the requirements they had to make the move into MMA. You never know, it could be the beginning of a new team in the sport and we will grow this relationship together, getting stronger as we go and fulfil what we set out to do.”
Till is vocal in his views on all aspects of the sport and he confirmed that he has no intention on following Conor McGregor’s route and jumping over to boxing.
He explained, “If MMA fighters want to box or a boxer wants to come over to the MMA world, then fair play to them. Let it happen. I have no plans to do it, as I want to be the best in MMA. Both sports are so different, so it will be incredibly hard for whoever wants to test themselves.
“Boxers have 12 rounds, where they really only use their arms and shoulders and you can’t just have a single skill in MMA nowadays, as the competition is so well rounded. But, then an MMA fighter going the other way, has to completely switch their focus to one element, so the muscle memory isn’t what it should be. I love boxing and it will always be in my heart but personally, I think it’s all bollocks and I’m not really a fan at all of people switching sports.”
He also added his views on the growing trend of failed weight cuts and dissent regarding the UFC’s move into early morning weigh-in’s around 18 months ago. Till explained his stance on the company’s decision and how it affects him.
“I’m no expert at all, never claimed to be, and if they are making the sport cleaner and safer, then I have no problem with it. It doesn’t really matter to me and whatever they decide suits me, so if it’s early morning or it goes back to the afternoon’s like it was before then that’s fine.
“I personally like to finish my cut on the Thursday anyway, so the morning’s work quite well for me. As far as I’m concerned, I’ll let it run its course and let the top brass figure it out and decide what is the best way for it go.
“I drop around 35lbs to make the 170 limit, which is a lot. But, I do it in stages and have learned over the years, how to do it right and listen to what my body is telling me, as I know how it functions. There is talk of extra divisions being brought in, but for me that will complicate matters. Just leave it how it is, as it’s down to the fighters to get their weight correct.”
Irish fans have been treated to the rise of McGregor as one of the most influential figures not just in MMA but all sports. Till, although nowhere near as flash as “Notorious” is a fighting man with designs on becoming the star that UK fans will switch their focus to once Michael Bisping calls time on his illustrious career in the near future.
He is unbeaten, talks a good game and most importantly has shown he has real potential to go all the way and become the UK’s second ever UFC champion. The UFC has a real international flavour on all its cards, however hometown heroes are a big draw. Add that to the raucous fanbase that is attached to all British fight nights, the UFC may consider more regular trips to the UK.
With Till at the helm and steering the ship towards British shores, they could well be on to a winner.