Muay Thai specialist, Darren Till, will square off with longtime veteran, Jorge Masvidal, this Saturday (March 16, 2019) at UFC Fight Night 147 from inside 02 Arena in London, England.
Till’s position in the division changed overnight when he squared off with Donald Cerrone in Oct. 2017. Destroying the No. 6-ranked Welterweight in less than one round (watch it) moved Till from a somewhat overlooked prospect to instant contender, sealing the deal with a tight decision win opposite “Wonderboy” Thompson immediately afterward. Those two major wins saw Till earn a title shot opposite Tyron Woodley, but it proved to be too much, too soon. Till was hesitant, giving Woodley all the time and space required to line up his missile of a right hand. Luckily, Till remains just 26 years old, giving him plenty of time to work toward another title shot.
Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
Till has an amateur and professional background in Muay Thai from his teen years, and that experience does express itself occasionally in his chopping kicks or intercepting elbows. However, much of the time Till moves and counters more like an athlete with a Karate background. That’s immediately obvious when we watch Till demonstrate 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 jab at the hands 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 greet 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. Till also does a nice job of mixing his right jab into his offense, alternating between tossing out a jab to the gloves and firing one down the middle. He’ll then switch to a hand trap into a cross, a great way to land the strike (GIF).
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. Even though 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.
Aside from the left kick at range, Till deserves some credit for his lead leg side kick, which worked to great effect opposite Thompson (GIF). In this week’s technique highlight, we analyze why the stomp is so effective opposite Karate-style stances and possible follow up strikes to the side kick.
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. 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).
Defensively, Till banks entirely on distance management to keep him safe. That applies to both kicks and punches; Till doesn’t really like to move his head or check kicks. He’ll block and parry punches of course, but much of the time Till is hoping to manage distance so perfectly that his opponent misses by an inch while Till is still in perfect position to land.
It’s great when it works, but every once in a while Till misjudges and has nothing to defend him from a clean shot.
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” knockout, 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).
Till’s defensive wrestling is still something of a question, but it looked damn good in a couple tries from Tyron Woodley. In general, Till’s range control and conservative kickboxing has kept foes away from his hips, but Woodley had a pair of genuinely deep double leg takedowns. Till managed to get his hips back to avoid the shot and put himself in a body lock instead, which is still a bad position. Despite Woodley’s strength and wrestling experience, Till’s use of overhooks to prevent the level change and keep his hips back was enough to deny the takedown.
It’s hard to get a full read on Till’s grappling game. 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.
Defensively, Till hasn’t looked good from his back, but he’s also never been put there will fresh. Till was fatigued with broken arm against Nicholas Dalby, which is a pretty good excuse for getting beat up on the mat. Meanwhile, Woodley never managed to take down Till, but he did drop him with an absolute hammer of a right and then smash him with a dozen follow-up elbows.
It’s a lot easier to succumb to a d’arce choke when barely conscious already.
Does Till have enough time left at 170 pounds to earn another shot at the Welterweight crown? A Middleweight move seems imminent, which means there’s no time for missteps. Meanwhile, a second consecutive loss absolutely sends Till up to 185 pounds in search of greener pastures, whereas a victory does give him a chance at another title eliminator bout.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown 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.