The main event of UFC Fight Island 3 was no doubt the most anticipated middleweight fight of 2020 not involving the name Israel Adesanya. The return of former champ Robert Whittaker, “The Reaper” (or “Bobby Knuckles” if you prefer). A second tough test for ex-welterweight title challenger Darren Till, after he got past Kelvin Gastelum last year.
A possible title shot on the line for the winner. Although these things are never really set in stone.
Till walked out in silence, leaving “Sweet Caroline” to be sung by those watching at home. The English fighter appeared focused and in good spirits as he entered the cage Saturday. Whittaker, for his part, had a walkout track, but was all business when he arrived in the octagon.
With the touch of the gloves complete, the main event kicked off. Till immediately pressed forward, only to meet a jab from Whittaker. That set the tone early: Till the aggressor, but Whittaker firing some heavy counters. Things settled down after the first minute, with Whittaker working in a leg kick. Then, a collision, between Till’s elbow and Whittaker’s chin, with the former champ falling back, hitting the mat and looking dazed. To be fair, Till in part pushed Whittaker down after he connected. Whittaker recovered quickly, lunging for a leg to buy himself some time.
That worked, as they’d go back to the feet, clinch for a spell, and regroup. Whittaker, looking fully recovered, sailed high with a head kick attempt. A straight right, and a leg kick, would land for “The Reaper” before the end of the round.
As dramatic as the opening frame, and knockdown by Till was, there was still a long way to go. Robert Whittaker caught his opponent with a short left hook early in the second. Then Whittaker scored a knockdown of his own, with a lunging overhand right. Tit for tat, from the first to the second. Whittaker, however, charged in and got on top of his opponent, working from guard. Till would survive, bloodied but unbowed, and make it back to his feet. Till pressed forward, perhaps at a more measured pace this time; Whittaker seemed to have his right hand ready to explode.
ROCKET! 🚀@RobWhittakerMMA has Till stunned in RD 2.#InAbuDhabi | @VisitAbuDhabi| #UFCFightIsland3 pic.twitter.com/Xwy5RRDdkY
— UFC (@ufc) July 26, 2020
With a knockdown each split between the opening frames it was easy enough to see the fight at one round a piece. In the third, Whittaker attacked with calf kicks, and again posed some serious danger with that right hand. He went high with a kick or two, missing. Later in the round, Till seemingly had trouble with his eye, but the culprit was unclear, with no obvious eye poke. Whittaker then shot in for a single leg, only to back off after a moment.
Towards the end of the third, Whittaker would change levels for another takedown attempt. Till would pop off an elbow again, but no knockdown this time. No takedown, either. Instead, the clapper, the buzzer, and a fourth round looming.
Round four saw a slightly slower pace. Whittaker was still light on the feet. But the strikes, more often than not single strikes rather than combos, were fewer and further between. Then, prior to the halfway point, a couple of hard strikes, including an uppercut, from Till. Whittaker would look for another takedown attempt with about 90 seconds remaining. He’d try that again in the final minute — but Till was never in any real danger of going down.
The fifth and final round arrived with an uptick in action from both fighters. Again, Whittaker grabbed for a leg. Again, he had to give up on the attempt. Till appeared to have found his range, landing a 1-2 on the ex champ. Another level change, another failed takedown attempt, but Whittaker did land off the break this time.
Then, some late drama. A strike opened up a nasty gash on the side of Whittaker’s head. Leaking blood by the pint, he finally managed to get the fight down. Just before the buzzer. To the judges they went, with all three scoring it 48-47 Whittaker.
We went the distance on Fight Island 🏝 Who took it? #InAbuDhabi | @VisitAbuDhabi| #UFCFightIsland3 pic.twitter.com/AH1tmgz475
— UFC (@ufc) July 26, 2020
So what does the win mean for Whittaker? Post-fight, he was non-committal about where the fight leaves him. It’s back home to his family first, and worries about title contention something to consider later. But maybe it’s enough, following Saturday night, that the UFC has one of its best middleweights back, and in fine form.
Official Result: Robert Whittaker def. Darren Till by unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 48-47)