UFC Fight Island 3: A New Chapter for Both Whittaker and Till

Robert Whittaker and Darren Till, UFC Fight Island 3 Face-Off
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JULY 24: (L-R) Opponents Robert Whittaker of New Zealand and Darren Till of England face off during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in inside Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on July 24, 2020 in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Former champion Robert Whittaker is looking to begin another title campaign, but Darren Till is already a step ahead of him when they collide at UFC Fight Island 3.

Former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker has indicated that the last few months have been a soft reset on his career.  After dealing with injuries that kept him from fighting consistently and losing his title last October, “The Reaper” admitted that he was suffering from burnout with the sport.  It got to the point that he actually withdrew himself from a high stakes middleweight bout with top contender Jared Cannonier back in March.  Whittaker would not reveal these facts until months later, leading to rampant speculation that included the widespread rumor that he needed donate bone marrow to his daughter, which was completely untrue.

Leading up to his title bout against Israel Adesanya, Whittaker had blazed a path as one of the best middleweights of the past decade with victories over top contenders Derek Brunson, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, and two victories over Yoel Romero.  For all his success, however, his health affected his ability to stay active and elevate his profile.  Twice he was forced to pull out on short notice from headlining events in his home country, against high profile opponents in Luke Rockhold and Kelvin Gastelum.  After losing to Adesanya, there was speculation of whether his struggles with his health had just preempted what was becoming a brilliant MMA career.  Going into his comeback against Till, Whittaker is in a precarious position.  A win keeps him on the short list in a competitive title picture, but a loss could see him fall to the back of the pack as more contenders jockey for position in the rankings.

Last year, Darren Till turned a disastrous return into an immediate resurgence in a new weight class.  After stringing together several impressive victories in the UFC, Till exploded in popularity and was promoted as the heir apparent to Michael Bisping as the next MMA star to hail from the UK with the potential to bring the country another world title.  After overcoming Donald Cerrone and Stephen Thompson, the latter in front of a sold-out arena in his native Liverpool, Till was thrust into a title fight against Tyron Woodley in 2018.  Till’s title aspirations were brought to a crashing halt that night, but the UFC held steadfast to their commitment to him across the pond.  Till came back last March to headline another event in his home country, but a second round knockout loss against the resurgent Jorge Masvidal brought all of the hype he had built to a full stop.

At the time, UFC President Dana White famously said that perhaps the promotion pushed Till “a little too soon.”  After falling out of a competitive title picture, and his previous struggles to make the welterweight limit, Till elected to move up to middleweight where he shocked top contender Kelvin Gastelum who at the time was coming off the Fight of the Year against Israel Adesanya for the interim title.  Overnight, the Englishman went from being out of the conversation to being on the short list for the middleweight title.  Till has made the most of the attention in recent months, using his social media to mention everyone in his division and beyond.

Stylistically, the battle pits the physicality and versatility of Till against the speed and athleticism of Whittaker.  The former middleweight champion should look to wear down Till with combinations, finishing with leg kicks to slow down his opponent.  Whittaker should look to get out of range after each combination as exchanging in the pocket gives “The Gorilla” the best chance to retaliate with devastating power.  By comparison, Till should look to walk down Whittaker and keep the fight in close-range.  Forcing Whittaker to fight off his back foot will give Till the best chance to open up with power shots and deliver damage.

The winner of the fight figures to have a close eye on the title fight between Israel Adesanya and Paulo Costa next month.  Till figures to be on the short list for the next title shot against either man, but Whittaker is likely to need another victory should Adesanya prevail given the one-sided nature of their bout.  Regardless, both Whittaker and Till are likely to find themselves in a race against top contender Jared Cannonier as the middleweight division continues to shake out in 2020.


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