UFC Vegas 36 saw a pivotal middleweight matchup take place between Darren Till and Derek Brunson. Where Brunson was seeking to extend his win streak, Till was looking to capture a win that would place him back into the top 5 of the division.
After a unanimous-decision loss to former middleweight-champion Robert Whittaker last year, the Liverpudlian Till planned to make a comeback tonight. The 5 round “stress match” with Whittaker as he referred to it, saw him fight through 4 rounds on a torn ACL. This injury on top of a broken collarbone saw him take a 14 month layoff. Leaving him ranked at no.7 going into the Brunson bout tonight.
On the flip side of the coin, the veteran Brunson came in riding a 4-fight win streak. His last win was an absolutely dominant decision victory over fan-favourite Kevin Holland back in March, which saw him control the fight on the ground over the course of 5 rounds. At 38, Brunson was likely aware that not only was this fight his last chance at a title run, but also an opportunity to move towards avenging his last career loss at the hands of current middleweight champion Israel Adesanya.
The first round of the fight saw Till come out strongly on the feet, catching Brunson with multiple straight lefts whilst evading the majority of his opponent’s strikes with ease. To no surprise, this led Brunson to level change and take Till down with a strong double-leg – the fight was now where it favoured him most. Advancing to half-guard, Brunson proceeded to lay some heavy ground and pound onto the Scouser, causing swelling around his right eye. The last 30 seconds saw Till utilise a position-readjustment to get back to his feet and finish the round against the fence. From the outset it was clear that although Darren was lightyears ahead on the feet, the veteran’s grappling was going to pose a genuine problem. A decisive 10:9 round for Brunson.
Going into the second, Brunson’s gameplan had become as clear as day – grapple his way to victory using his decades of wrestling experience. It was stated by Till between rounds that he believed Brunson was tired, but the veteran came out strong regardless. Till was able to fend off multiple double-leg takedown attempts, but was eventually taken to the mat 2 minutes in. From here we were greeted with the same story from round 1 – strong, oppressive grappling. Few opportunities arose for Till whilst he was fighting off of his back, with Brunson able to control him until the final minute of the round, where he was able to get his feet. We again got a glimpse of the Liverpool native’s striking prowess – but nowhere near enough to steal him the round. Another 10:9 round was secured for the Sandford MMA resident Brunson.
With the first two rounds going similarly, R3 never looked extremely promising for Till – although there was still hope in the striking realm. The opening of the third saw Till finally get an extended sequence on the feet – finding success with leg kicks before hurting Brunson with a punch in the second minute. In the midst of the panic, Brunson shot for yet another takedown and although not the most technically sound – was able to land it. Till was yet again on the ground and this time with the immense Derek Brunson in full mount. Wasting no time whatsoever, he took the back of Till and quickly locked in a rear-naked choke, forcing the Englishman to tap. Increasing his win streak to 5, the ever-improving Brunson finished “The Gorilla” at 2 minutes and 13 seconds of the 3rd round.
What’s Next For Derek Brunson
To the surprise of many, Derek Brunson has had a significant resurgence late in his career. In his last 3 fights he’s been able to demolish then undefeated and highly touted prospect Edmen Shahbazyan, derail the Kevin Holland hype train and then submit the biggest name in UK MMA in Darren Till. In my personal opinion, aside from waiting for Adesanya and Whittaker to rematch – he has nothing left to do than to wait patiently for his hard-earned and well-deserved title shot. Regardless of who he fights, it would be a rematch and a chance for him to finally take the strap after 11 years as a pro MMA athlete – solidifying his name and legacy in the sport.
What’s Next For Darren Till
Despite the masses of star power he carries both inside and out of the UK, it would be hard for anyone to deny that Till has fallen off in recent years. He’s now won merely 1 fight in his last 5 and that was nearly 2 years ago. That being said, the future is still bright for the scouser, having headlined 6 UFC cards since his debut in May of 2015. Right now, a step down in competition is definitely needed after so many years of fighting the sport’s elite. Although it is important to recognise that Till has improvements that need to be made, ensure you aren’t foolish enough to follow the narrative that he’s a journeyman.