There is a substantial argument to be made that the consensus favorite runs greater risk of upset in MMA than any other elite sport. The margin for error is so miniscule and the intangibles are so pervasive that yesterday’s doomed underdog can graduate to tomorrow’s formidable contender with just one well-placed blow.
Even now, with an untold number of shocks committed to the record books, fighters whose names are not easily recalled consistently find themselves overlooked by fans, pundits, oddsmakers and, for that matter, opponents.
Although he was far from alone, Donald Cerrone raised more than a few eyebrows after admitting he had never heard of fellow welterweight Darren Till before they were matched in the headlining bout of October’s UFC Fight Night 118 event in Poland.
It took Till (16-0-1 MMA, 4-0-1 UFC) less than a round to acquaint himself with Cerrone, and those fans who were left reattaching their jaws as he pulverized the former lightweight title challenger with a volley of unanswered shots.
UFC President Dana White immediately took to social media to anoint Till the promotion’s next big star and.
And just like that, the Liverpool native was the most wanted man at 170 pounds (via Instagram):
Till couldn’t have been happier.
“All the welterweights were jealous of that and calling me Dana’s new cash cow,” Till told MMAjunkie. “If Dana’s put a target on my back, I want that. I want people to want to come and fight me so I can beat everyone on my way to the title.
“They can say what they want because if they want to come and fight me, then come and fight me. But they’re going to have a hard night because I am hard (expletive).”
Undefeated and well able to turn a phrase or two, Till has been linked with just about every upright welterweight in the intervening months, but the identity of his next opponent matters little to him. Rather refreshingly, the 25-year-old has no desire to jump the queue so as not to be later accused of being the beneficiary of favoritism.
“I just want people to know that I’m willing to fight anyone so nobody can say that I don’t deserve this or that,” the striking specialist said. “It’s not down to me to decide who deserves a shot at me or somebody else. I think we should all just fight each other and find out who the best is.
“Because sometimes a guy is champion but he’s not exactly the best. A lot of people said that about (Conor McGregor), that he got an easy go of it, but I don’t think he did.”
With such little sense of entitlement and being so firmly focused on the task before him, it’s of little surprise that Till’s life has hardly changed since he toppled Cerrone.
In fact, he’s currently the proud owner of a bus ticket while his car is being repaired, and he resides in his uncle’s spare bedroom. Till continues to enjoy the simple pleasures, and the notion of showcasing his newfound success by blowing some of the $50,000 “Performance of the Night” bonus he earned in Gdansk didn’t even occur to him.
“As long as I can eat and buy a pair of trainers (shoes), I’m happy,” Till said. “I’m a very content and happy man. I don’t care about the Mercs and Lamborghinis. You can leave that for the show ponies, who post all that on Instagram. I just want to work hard and talk (expletive).”
Liverpool is a relatively small town, known for revering its sporting sons, but Till has been taken aback by just how recognizable he’s become of late.
“If I go out into the town center or even some local places for a coffee, I just get people wishing me luck or asking if I’m Darren Till,” the Team Kaobon export said. “Honestly, though, that kind of stuff is overwhelming, and you can’t put it into words because it’s unbelievable.
“As I said, it’s only going to get bigger because, by the end of 2018, I really do believe I’ll be world champion.”
Team Kaobon, founded and run by head coach Colin Heron, incubated local talents such as Terry Etim, Paul Kelly, Paul Taylor and Paul Sass, all of whom have competed under the UFC banner.
They are an extremely close group – their bonds forged over countless hours on the mats – and Till gives Heron almost sole credit for the fighter he has become. Heron and Etim were in his corner for the victory over Cerrone, after which they shared a private moment of elation – a brief recognition of a pivotal threshold being crossed.
“It was one of those ‘we’ve done it’ things because it was historic for Liverpool, myself and Team Kaobon,” Till said. “I just tried to keep my cool because the best is still to come, but the ‘Cowboy’ fight did shock everyone. I’ve seen what I’m going to do and know how much I can achieve in this sport, so I’m going to keep my cool until I achieve what I want, which is greatness.”
Mike Perry, another fast-rising star at 170 pounds, was sitting cageside for the bout with Cerrone, and he and Till had a heated exchange during the latter’s post-fight interview. A matchup between the two seemed certain, but Perry subsequently lost to Santiago Ponzinibbio and was recently paired with Max Griffin.
With respect to Perry, Till is currently in a position to fry bigger fish, and he has frequently called out two-time title challenger Stephen Thompson (14-2-1 MMA, 9-2-1 UFC), who bounced back from his loss to champion Tyron Woodley with a unanimous-decision win over Jorge Masdival at UFC 217.
This, Till insisted, was not a ploy to get fast-tracked to a crack at the currently injured Woodley, but to satisfy a curiosity he’s long held.
“I don’t feel like I’ve earned a title shot and, to be totally honest, I don’t even feel like I’ve earned a top-three spot,” the Liverpudlian said. “The only reason why I asked for ‘Wonderboy’ is because I think it would decipher who the best striker is (in welterweight division). But I don’t really care if it’s No. 1 or No. 10.
“He’s an excellent fighter, one of the best, and I don’t want to fight him for an easy route to the title, but because I want to test myself against the best. If he’s the guy to beat me and take all my momentum, then fair play to him. But I don’t believe he could do it.”
When Till entered the octagon to face Cerrone, his team unfurled a flag split down the middle, with the colors of England and his adopted country of Brazil. Till spent his formative years as a fighter in Brazil, having moved there on Heron’s advice after he was stabbed twice in the back at a house party.
He speaks Portuguese and has amassed quite the following in the South American nation, so he is far more equipped to headline an event there than the average European fighter
A showdown with Rafael dos Anjos (28-9 MMA, 17-7 UFC) has been mooted, particularly since the former lightweight champ overcame previous welterweight kingpin Robbie Lawler.
To follow a victory over Cerrone with a win against a man of dos Anjos’ pedigree would certainly solidify Till’s growing reputation as a genuine force in the division. Unsurprisingly, a homecoming of sorts appeals to him, and he is in no doubt as to how the bout would unfold
“A pay-per-view against dos Anjos in Brazil would be huge, and I am totally up for it,” Till said.
“The great thing is, I would go there and beat him in a round because he’s designed for me and is just too scrappy on the feet. I think Conor McGregor would have absolutely annihilated him, and I’m twice Conor’s size. I’m also a similar fighter to Conor – just much better. I would kill dos Anjos, and I just don’t know what he’s doing in this division.”
Perhaps more than ever before, it was abundantly clear just how colossal a welterweight Till is, after he and Cerrone came face to face. Yes, Cerrone is a natural lightweight, but between fights, Till walks around at a whopping 210 pounds.
However, he has missed weight just once, which was prior to his victory over Jessin Ayari this past May, though Till was fighting for the first time in almost two years.
The Englishman knows what an advantage his size is in his current bracket and is positive that it will enable a successful transition when he inevitably moves up not just one, but two divisions.
“In all honesty, I am too big for the division,” he said. “You could see with Cerrone, and I know he’s a former lightweight, but I am huge at this weight. I’m going to spend some time taking over at welterweight, but then I will move up.
“People think I’m joking, but I’m also planning on going up to light heavyweight because I still have years to go and I’m going to continue to grow. I want to be a three-weight world champion.”
For a man who has designs on reigning supreme at welterweight, Till is yet to prove he can fight at an optimum level over five rounds. As such, doubts about his credibility will linger until that particular milestone has been reached.
And, while he’s eager to do so, he’s just can’t envision it taking so long to dispatch any potential foe, despite just two of his four UFC victories arriving inside the distance.
“I’ve previously been four rounds, for a title in Brazil, but I want to go five,” he said. “So, if they put me up against ‘Wonderboy,’ let’s see if it can go five rounds. But I don’t believe anyone at this weight can go that long with me because I’m too strong and powerful.”
Somewhat paradoxically, the young Brit is a prizefighter not overly enamored by money, but still had enough savvy to become the first mixed martial artist to sign with the management company MTK Global, which represent boxers such as Tyson Fury, Carl Frampton and Michael Conlan.
His increased profile, most notably on social media, has made the recently fan-voted “UFC Breakthrough Fighter of 2017″ a viable commodity. His earning capacity has certainly expanded but he leaves such matters to those around him.
“There have been some opportunities, but I just let my coach and management deal with that,” he said. “Money can become as issue in 10 years, but right now, it doesn’t matter to me.
“I’ll become a big star, but I’ll do it my way. I’m going to keep knocking these guys off, then get the title, and when I do, I’m going to be a very active champion. I’ll fight and I’ll fight and I’ll fight.”
While fame has its benefits, it can also engender less welcome consequences, such as certain people crawling out of the woodwork to piggyback on the achievements of others. Till has experienced this ugly phenomenon firsthand.
“It happens, yeah,” he said. “That will happen to people in all walks of life who have success, but I don’t mind, as long as they just say hi, are respectful and don’t look to feed off that success. As long as you have a tight-knit circle around you and listen to what your coaches are telling you, I think you’ll be fine.”
In a sport where a significant portion of fans love nothing more than to dismiss fast-rising stars as hype-infused blowhards, Till has, to date, largely avoided such derision.
A quick glance of his Twitter or Instagram feeds will reveal mainly positive messages and the occasional challenge from a fellow fighter.
“I get 10 percent negative and 90 percent positive, which is crazy because people like to tear MMA fighters down,” Till said. “I’ve just got so much support behind me, whether it be in America, Europe or all over the world. Whenever I post something on Instagram, the reaction tends to be 90 percent positive, when usually it’s 50-50.
“The European and Brazilian fanbase are basically mine – I am the biggest name. If you take Jose Aldo, Cris Cyborg and dos Anjos out of that mix, there’s nobody else, and those fans from Brazil are fully behind me.”
If Till has one complaint, it’s that the UFC has not yet found him his next opponent. It is widely assumed that he will close out the show when the promotion returns to London on St. Patrick’s Day and, as recently as Monday, Gunnar Nelson told “The MMA Hour” he’d be only too delighted to play the spoiler role.
“I kind of just wanted the Christmas over and done with it so I could get back in the gym and get a fight booked as soon as possible,” Till said. “I was expecting to have an opponent booked already, but I suppose they’re just waiting for the right fighter and the right event.
“I’m not too bothered if I end up fighting Gunnar. Obviously, Gunnar is a great fighter, but I think a win over ‘Wonderboy’ or dos Anjos would spiral me closer to the top. But I want to take the hard way there and not have people saying I’ve had it easy, because I haven’t. And that’s why I couldn’t care less who they book me against. That’s just my mentality.”
Now back training at full tilt, Till is so determined to harness the momentum the seismic win over Cerrone garnered that he’s even resisted the urge to return to Brazil and spend time with his young daughter.
“I want to go back at the right time,” he said. “At the moment, my girlfriend is working away, and I could have a fight coming up. And, even though I’m not seeing my daughter, I want to fight now, so I can pick the right time to fly her back to me. I speak to her all the time, and she misses Daddy, but it’s so good to have that contact at the moment.”
For more on the UFC’s upcoming schedule, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.
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Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie
Read the full article here: Life after 'Cowboy' win? Darren Till has bus pass, resides in uncle's spare bedroom