Muay Thai kickboxer, Darren Till, will duel with Karate master, Stephen Thompson, this Sunday (May 27, 2018) at UFC Fight Night 130 inside Echo Arena in Liverpool, England.
Till — a Liverpool-native who has also lived in Brazil — debuted on the undercard of a Brazilian “Fight Night” event back in 2015. He stopped his foe impressively, but his next fight was a back-and-forth draw that slowed Till’s hype a bit. Unbothered, the striker picked up a dominant pair of decision victories and looked very nasty in the process, leading to a massive step up in competition opposite Donald Cerrone. A single win saw Till elevate from prospect to must-watch contender. Till utterly dominated his veteran foe, picking him apart in short order and finishing him inside the first round. Now, Till is perhaps just one more win away from a title shot, although he will face a very difficult challenge.
Despite being an amateur and professional Muay Thai fighter in England as a teenager, Till fights much closer to an athlete with a Karate background. Previous to the “Cowboy” fight, Till was a lanky Southpaw who relied on accuracy and timing to hurt his opponents, but Till seemed to add on a ton of muscle and size in the lead up to that match.
He’s not lanky anymore, he’s just giant.
The most obvious thing about Till’s fights are his excellent distance management. Early on, Till will advance with his hands high, mostly focused on getting a read. He’ll feint, shoot out some kicks, and even punch a bit, but he’ll commonly back away from exchanges until he has a solid grasp on his opponent’s approach and style.
Once Till is comfortable, he’ll begin playing with that distance. For example, Till commonly leans his head forward, which gives his opponents the impression that Till is within punching distance. When they find out he isn’t, a quick pull back and left cross down the middle is often there to great his advancing foe. Between long kicks and that step back cross, Till routinely traps his opponent on the outside and leaves him hesitant to push forward.
Between pitching a sharp cross from a strong angle and pulling to throw it as a counter, Till routinely finds a home for his left hand. In this week’s technique highlight, we cover both strategies.
Opposite Cerrone, Till did an amazing job of mixing up the angle on his left hand. After landing it straight down the middle, Till began to loop his left around the guard, fire it in something of a shovel hook, or throw a more standard uppercut. Despite the fact that most of his combinations were jab-left hand or feint-left hand, Cerrone had an insanely difficult time defending because of how the left continued to sneak in from different angles (GIF).
Till also makes great use of the classic Southpaw double threat: the left hand and left kick. Till’s cross is crisp and his kicks heavy, so both strikes must be respected.
While the two strikes play off each other brilliantly, Till takes it further than that. Aside from simply feinting one to set up the other, Till will feint his left hand or kick in order to take a small step towards his opponent. Suddenly, that extra few inches that caused his opponent to miss is now erased, while Till has a clear path to punch a foe potentially frozen from a feint.
One part of Till’s game that is distinctly Muay Thai is his use of elbows. While stalking his opponent, Till commonly reaches out and hand-fights, a strategy discussed in the technique highlight. Pulling down on his foe’s hand, Till will fold over his arm into an elbow strike. Against Velickovic, Till also controlled his foe’s lead hand then stepped in with a massive left elbow (GIF). If there is a weakness to Till’s stance and offense, he rarely seems to be in position to check low kicks. Both Velickovic and Cerrone landed a few decent ones, but Till still does a reasonably good job of either pulling his lead leg back or stepping forward into the kick with a cross.
Till’s defensive wrestling is still very much a mystery, and another striker vs. striker match up in Stephen Thompson. For the most part, Till’s range control, footwork and sound defensive wrestling have been more than enough to stop the shot, but he’s never faced anyone remotely near the caliber of a Kamaru Usman or Colby Covington.
He could have no issues or be in for a rude awakening ... it’s hard to say.
Offensively, Till has looked for his own takedowns a couple of times. Opposite Wendell Oliveira, for example, Till showed how great striking defense and wrestling tie in together. Oliveira was swinging wildly and trying to catch the taller man with a looping shot, so Till adjusted by remaining planted and looking to slip. He repeatedly caught Oliveira with underhooks and ultimately took top position when Oliveira attempted desperate throws.
In a more proactive example, Till used an overhook and hand control opposite Jessin Ayari to show his Muay Thai experience. He waited for Ayari to throw a knee and then easily swept the remaining foot, taking top position without expending a bit of energy (GIF).
Lastly, Till’s violent elbows opposite Oliveira deserve a mention. His debut is also his only knockout win inside UFC prior to the “Cowboy” KO, but it landed in style. From half guard, Till allowed his opponent to control his wrist and used that opportunity to fold over an elbow directly into the chin. It landed perfectly, and a follow up elbow or two sealed the deal (GIF).
It’s hard to get a full read on Till’s game. In UFC, he’s only been put on his back by Dalby in the aforementioned third round when he was more focused on surviving than anything else. On the regional scene, he showed a willingness to hunt for submissions from his back, but he was also fighting pretty mediocre competition at the time. Toe hold and inverted triangle submission wins are certainly cool, but it’s hard to tell much from them until he actually grapples with top competition.
Hopefully, a few fights from now, we’ll have more to talk about in this section.
Till is legitimately slick and powerful on the feet, a large Welterweight with the kind of fluid striking that separates great fighters from good ones. At the same time, he’s still fairly untested opposite wrestlers, and Thompson has a habit of mystifying even talented fighters with his unique offense. It may not say much about his wrestling, but if Till is able to get past “Wonderboy,” the likelihood of him eventually capturing a belt skyrockets.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.