DARREN TILL will look to join an exclusive club on Saturday night, as he aims to become just the second Brit in history to claim UFC gold when he takes on Tyron Woodley at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas for the welterweight title.
Till has his sights set on joining Michael Bisping in the clubhouse and cap off his meteoric rise to the top since he made his UFC bow back in 2015. The unbeaten Liverpool man earned the shot off the back of his win over Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson back in his hometown in May, where he beat the former title challenger by unanimous decision.
In Woodley though he faces a stern test, as the champion aims to make the fourth defence of the title he won back in 2016, when he destroyed Robbie Lawler in devastating fashion. However, it has been over a year since Woodley was in the Octagon and the timing could be perfect for Till.
Since Woodley’s dull victory over Demian Maia at UFC 214, Till has been in the Octagon three times, edging past Thompson, dispatching Donald Cerrone and a dominant victory over Bojan Velickovic. He has proven to be one of the standout strikers in the sport, as well as having a more than efficient ground game.
In fact Till’s biggest issue could well be before the first bell even sounds, as his size means making the welterweight limit can be a tight affair. He missed it in Liverpool, putting his future in the division in doubt, but he stills finds himself potentially days away from returning home with a brand new title around his waist.
The physical difference between the pair was no more evident than at the announcement of the fight, when they went face-to-face for the first time. Till towered over the champion and providing he makes the weight, it might not be the last time this happens.
Woodley has been allowed to dictate the pace and tempo in his title defences. The first fight he had with Thompson at UFC 205 was enjoyable, however their rematch at UFC 209 was lacking in any real action whatsoever. As for the Maia fight, Woodley barely broke a sweat, as he snuffed all of Maia’s takedown attempts on his way to victory, hardly ingratiating himself with the boss Dana White in the process.
The champion has been better served in the past year as an analyst and his regular disagreements with White. His reign has been in stark constant to his rise to the top, where he was explosive and exciting. However his previous opponents in Thompson and Maia can make for difficult viewing, so perhaps this is the fight he needs to remind everyone what he can do.
In Till, he will not have to go looking for him. Till will pile on the pressure and aim to set traps for the decorated wrestler to fall into. Woodley’s left hand can do plenty of damage, but with Till’s height and reach it will be difficult to detonate one of those bombs.
Woodley’s best opportunity could well come on the ground, but providing Till makes the weight and can come in fresh, keeping “The Gorilla” down could prove just as hard. This is not the sort of fight you want after 13 months of inactivity against a young, hungry challenger.
It is a very close fight with the bookies and they usually get it right. It’s a tough one to pick, but the stars have almost aligned for Till, who has catapulted himself up there as one of the most talked about fighters in the sport. He’s loud and brash, carrying the spotlight as the champion seems to have become an after thought.
Even in defeat, providing it isn’t a blowout, Till’s stock will rise. At 25, he can come again, probably up at middleweight, but for Woodley at 36, it’s hard to see a route back to the top if he loses. Simply put, Tyron Woodley has to win to stay relevant.
Woodley has come back from a long absence before. The night he won the title, was his first fight in 18 months and he was intent on getting the job done in rapid fashion. But, you can only go to the well so many times and this could be a bridge too far for Woodley.