High Risk, High Reward for UFC Middleweight Darren Till

The Gorilla moves up in an attempt to get back to the winner’s circle.


Among the madness that went down at UFC 244, one of the big stories that got drowned out was the excellent performance Darren Till put on to revive his career.

The formerly undefeated welterweight star who once looked certain for a title had his future derailed by two straight losses. He had been submitted in his title shot by then champ Tyron Woodley and then knocked cold by future BMF Jorge Masvidal.

At six foot tall with a 74-inch reach, the Liverpudlian had always struggled with the cut down to 170 pounds, so in an attempt to get back to the winner’s circle Till decided to move up a division:

The only thing I've been thinking about at middleweight is I want to stay like a welterweight without the cut. So keep everything the same, keep my training the same. I told the trainer I don't want to get big, I don't want to be strong. I don't want to be walking around like I'm on Venice Beach or something. I just want to be a little bit stronger so I can hang with these guys when during takedowns and when they're on top of me on the ground. That's all. So I want to keep everything the same. I think the only thing I want to change is the weight cut.

Not content with just moving up to middleweight, Till decided he needed to challenge one of the best in the division and ended up standing face-to-face with the number four ranked Kelvin Gastelum.

A lot of people keep saying that I have big bollocks taking this fight and I don't see it like that. I'm coming off two losses and I'm probably taking one of the riskiest fights, not even in the middleweight division, but in the whole of UFC. I can't say enough about Kelvin, I've got respect for him but I'm going in there to prove my worth against him.

It was an absurdly risky career move. A third straight loss in the UFC is routinely met with a premature end to a fighter’s contract - the dreaded “pink slip”. Without a win in a year and a half, it would have been understandable if Till’s self-belief had disappeared:

Listen, I may well lose. Could be another knockout. There's nothing really to say about that. Either it is or it isn't. I know what I'm good at and if I do it Kelvin won't touch me, he simply won't lay a glove on me. But then it could go the other way and he could be victorious on that night. We'll just have to see.

But over three rounds, under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden, Till went toe to toe with the fourth-best middleweight on the planet. He kept his distance and landed from range, he outmuscled and outperformed Gastelum.

It was as close as fights come, but the judges finally gave the split decision to Till. The win immediately jumped him to number five on the middleweight rankings and earned a call out from number one Robert Whittaker. Which is exactly the way he wants it:

Where I come from and how we train and how I am as a fighter - I'm here to fight the best. Win or lose, I'm here to fight all these top fighters. I don't really understand the concept of an easier path or easier fights. If that's what you want maybe you should look at another career.