Darren Till takes on dangerous karateka American Stephen Thompson in his hometown of Liverpool in what could prove to be a breakthrough weekend for British MMA.
The UFC likes to have a big name for each territory that it’s looking to advance into. To help him state his case he is looking for a recognisable scalp and there is no better place than Thompson.
Thompson is second only in the rankings to the champ Tyron Woodley for a very good reason. He has only ever been shut down by the champion in a fight – otherwise, even in his only other loss he has shown to be competitive, and when he wins, it is very often spectacular.
Till has a strong kickboxing pedigree, but Thompson, despite being known as a karateka, has a perfect kickboxing record.
He also fights in a manner that has proven hard for seasoned MMA campaigners to figure out; side-on stance, with good movement and equally adept from either orthodox or southpaw.
Till on the other hand has a more square-on, traditional kickboxing stance and this could present Thompson with plenty of opportunity to inflict damage. Added to which, Thompson has an incredibly tough chin, which adds up to a fight in which Till will need to have the perfect game plan to win.
It’s an indication of Till’s appeal that the supremely gifted ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson feels like an afterthought in a fight in which he is the much higher ranked fighter.
The difference with Till from other regional stars is that he seems to have caught the American audience’s attention. He has managed this without any stagey theatrics; his trash-talk seems effortless, is fairly straight-to-the-point and usually seems to cut close to the bone.
He pairs this with an easy brutality in the cage – again, he doesn’t do too much that’s flashy but does the fundamentals well and makes each fight exciting. This has resulted in an unusual amount of investment from the UFC in Till.
This is only his sixth fight in the UFC, but it’s already his second headline spot. In his first, he brutalised perennial fan-favourite and contender American Donald Cerrone, a man who holds the record for joint-most wins in UFC history. After the fight, the quality of his striking was widely lauded, as was his poise on the international stage.
After that victory Till demanded a big name. His original angle was a fight against Floridian badboy Mike Perry; but instead of an unranked fighter, the UFC have matched him up with the welterweight number one contender, Thompson, ¬and are staging the fight in his home town.
Thompson has some understandable gripes with how the UFC have set fights up recently. Two other fighters, both ranked lower than him, are off fighting one another for an interim welterweight belt, while he has been booked against a prospect – in Till’s own words, he feels like Thompson has ‘been forced’ into the fight against his will.
It does however seem like the UFC have some logical reasoning behind their matchmaking. This is the first MMA fight to be broadcast live on British national radio as ‘BBC 5Live Sports Extra’ will be commentating on the evening, a privilege that had never been bestowed on even the likes of first British champ Michael Bisping, or even Irish phenomenon Conor McGregor.
Unlike the last UFC event to take place in the UK – UFC Fight Night London in March, this one has plenty of intrigue and momentum. For established fans it’s arguably a can’t-miss television (or radio); the fighters here are not past their prime or coasting, they are fighting to advance their careers.
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