UFC Liverpool: Thompson and Till Battle in a Striker’s Paradise

Darren Till UFC
Darren Till Credit: Gleidson Venga/Sherdog.com

Darren Till was a breakout star in 2017, but he takes a gigantic leap in competition this Sunday when he faces top ranked Stephen Thompson in the main event of UFC Liverpool.

The welterweight division has finally begun to clear itself up as the top contenders in the weight class begin to return to action this month.  This week, break-out star Darren Till will meet former title challenger Stephen Thompson in what is expected to be one of the best stand-up affairs of 2018.  With Tyron Woodley still on the sidelines, where will the division be left when it is all said and done?

For Stephen Thompson, the last two years have seen him go from unquestioned number one contender to the no-man’s land of losing two straight to the champion.  His seven fight win-streak beinning in 2013 saw him dismantle the best the UFC had to offer, including current Bellator champion Rory MacDonald and former champion Johny Hendricks.  To date, Thompson has only lost twice in his six years with the promotion.

But in the business oriented UFC, a third fight with the current champion Woodley is a tough sell in lieu of so many other options.  Thompson remains the top-ranked fighter at 170 pounds but he will likely have to dispatch at least three more contenders consecutively before there’s enough interest to put him in another fight with Woodley.  For his part, “Wonderboy” understands his situation and has tried to get the best match-ups that would make his case.  Most notably, his push for a fight with Rafael dos Anjos in an attempt to knock off the new top contender in the division.  However, the UFC has instead put him in a dangerous match-up with an up-and-comer who fights with a confidence in his striking reminiscent of Thompson himself.

Darren Till has been in the UFC since 2015, but his inactivity and absence with a shoulder injury have given the impression that he has come out of nowhere with his recent success.  “The Gorilla” is ten years younger than Thompson at 25 but has already shown several of the hallmarks that make “Wonderboy” so exciting.  Till uses precise striking to dismantle opponents, none more notable than his break-out victory over Donald Cerrone last October.  At a time when “Cowboy” had lost to only the best in the division, Till’s four minute destruction of the veteran alerted everyone to his presence.

However, the way has not always been paved with gold for Till.  He notably missed weight by six pounds for a fight in 2017.  He has stated he is a large athlete for the weight class, even getting back up to 200 when he stepped into the cage with Cerrone.  Only a victory would put those struggles firmly in the rear-view mirror.  He is currently ranked eighth in the division while Thompson is ranked number one.  He will have the perfect setting for an upset, however, with the fight taking place in his hometown of Liverpool.

Stylistically, the bout pits two of the best strikers in the division against one another.  Thompson is well known for being patient and getting in-and-out with strikes while Till has been adept at walking down opponents.  The two are virtually identical in height and reach so the bout will come down to the execution of strategy more than the use of physicality.

The biggest difference could come down to the kicks, and Thompson’s ability to slow down the offense of Till in the course of the fight which could open up his own attack.  For Till, he should look to use his reach to close the distance with Thompson.  Most importantly, he must pick his spots to come in as Thompson has made a career of dominating fighters with counter-striking.  His best opportunities will be when he can crowd Thompson into a corner and force the American to engage in order to get himself out of the pocket.

Rafael dos Anjos will face Colby Covington for the interim title next month and the winner will lock in the next shot at champion Tyron Woodley.  For Darren Till, an impressive performance could put him in line for a title shot when that business is settled.  But if it takes time for the belt to come into play, he could find himself in a bout against a top contender like Kamaru Usman or Santiago Ponzinibbio before his shot at gold.  Thompson would likely have to go through the same fighters to earn his way back to the belt, unless Woodley were to be removed from the title in which case Thompson would be able to argue a case for an immediate title shot.

Besides the upcoming interim title fight, this is the biggest bout set to take place in the welterweight division so far in 2018 and the winner will take a huge step toward title contention.  However, before the winner can make an argument for a title shot, they will have to survive a battle in Liverpool.