ESPN – The UFC’s next mainstream star is 25-year-old welterweight Darren Till. And that’s coming from someone who thought Till lost on Sunday.
Till (17-0-1), fighting in his hometown of Liverpool, England, defeated Stephen Thompson via unanimous decision last weekend. Many observers, including retired referee and MMA judging authority John McCarthy, felt Thompson won — but officially, it goes down as the biggest win of Till’s career.
I scored it for Thompson — but before we get sidetracked, allow me to say this was no robbery. It was a close fight. A scorecard in favor of Till is perfectly defensible, and this column isn’t about MMA judging.
This last event, regardless of how it was scored, has me convinced: Darren Till is the UFC’s next big thing.
It might seem like a strange time to promise that, as this will not be remembered as Till’s “breakout” performance. According to FightMetric, he only landed 40 total strikes across 25 minutes. He also missed weight by 3.5 pounds.
He’s not a star yet, but last week proved he has what it takes to become one. The composure and skill he showed, against one of the most stylistically frustrating opponents in the sport, under extremely high expectations, speaks volumes.
It proved Till can compete with the best of this division, and he’s only getting better. He’s 11 years younger than current champion Tyron Woodley, and at least five years younger than the participants in next week’s interim title fight between Rafael dos Anjos and Colby Covington.
It sets the wheels in motion for the full UFC hype machine. Dana White has already said he wants Till’s next fight in Las Vegas. It’s the same formula the company used with its Irish star, Conor McGregor. Hometown main event. Then Vegas.
A title shot is not too far behind.
You’re about to get to know Till a whole lot better; the UFC will make sure of that. And you’ll find he does stand out. It’s the confidence more than anything. He has made it clear his goal is to be the “best in the world.” Not a champion, or even two-weight champion. Those seem like merely means to an end.
His walkout on Sunday, in front of a sellout crowd at Echo Arena, was to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” — and Till happened to hit the arena floor at the exact moment the chorus did. When the crowd booed Thompson after an accidental eye-poke, Till shook his head and waved a finger to silence them.
In an hourlong video with the UFC before the fight, he described, in his Scouse accent, riding the public bus to the gym, and how he hates it when a waiter pours his Coke into a glass for him at a restaurant because he “can do that meself.”
Those may seem like small, insignificant details, but small details can set a fighter apart. Till is interesting and compelling, in a way that’s effortless. Combine that with world-class skill, and you have a potential star.
That’s what I saw on Sunday.