Darren Till for the past year and a half has gone through what he describes as the toughest time of his life after a shoulder injury forced him to the sidelines.
Till wowed the masses with his grounded elbow finish of Wendell de Oliveira Marques in his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut at UFC Fight Night 67 in May 2015. The undefeated muay Thai practitioner’s bilingual post-fight interview, during which he waxed lyrical in Portuguese before addressing the English-speaking audience with his well-enunciated Scouse accent, further enamored those in attendance.
Five months later, in his sophomore UFC appearance, Till shocked onlookers with how easily he handled former Cage Warriors Fighting Championship titleholder Nicolas Dalby. Everything seemed to be going according to plan -- he had two rounds in the bank -- at UFC Fight Night 76 in Dublin, until his shoulder popped out of place. The injury helped Dalby secure a 10-8 round and a majority draw on the scorecards.
“When I felt it go, I just thought if I could stick with him I could win it, because I figured I’d won the first two rounds well,” Till told Sherdog.com. “It’s really a horrible, horrible pain when that happens. In the fight, it didn’t hurt that much because of the adrenaline, but my body just went into shock when it happened. Basically, survival mode just kicked in and I thought, ‘Well, my shoulder has popped. I’ve just got to survive whatever he throws at me.’ I did survive it. I took everything well, and he gave me everything he had.”
Not in his wildest dreams did Till ever think he would face more than 18 months of inactivity. Initially, he struggled to find a fitting medical practice through which to deal with his injury in Brazil. Adding to his agitation was the fact that Till broke up with his longtime girlfriend. Eventually, he made his way back to Liverpool, England, where he took up with Team Kaobon again. Till, who had waited for a booking since the start of 2017, will meet Jessin Ayari at UFC Fight Night 109 on May 28 in Stockholm.
“I’ve just been constantly thinking about my comeback, and right now, I feel like I’m on a path of destruction,” he said. “I’m beasting everyone in the gym. I’m feeling so strong and fit because I’ve been training for a fight since Christmas now. I was able to train before Christmas, but that was just lifting weights and stuff like that. Since Christmas, I’ve been eating well and dedicating everything toward fighting. Fighting is my life, and I’m going to be a champion. I have no doubt about it. I’m so confident at the moment.”
Till had built up plenty of momentum prior to the injury. However, the extended absence will force him to re-introduce himself to UFC fans. He sees it as an ideal situation.
“I know a lot of people have forgotten me because there are a lot of big names coming through,” Till said. “I want people to forget because I want to shock people with this next fight to the point that they leave the place thinking, ‘[Expletive] hell, he’s back.’ People will remember what I’m all about very quickly, but we have to remember that I’ve only had two fights in the UFC. Wait until we see how many people are talking when I’m taking on the top 10 at the end of the year.
“Thinking that people have forgotten about me actually motivates me,” he added. “Maybe some people were writing my career off when I disappeared for so long. I can’t wait until they see what I’ve been doing in my time off. I’ll show them all why I’m one of the best fighters in the world.”
Still on his first UFC contract, it might come as a surprise to hear Till scoff at the talk of heftier paychecks -- a subject about which more and more fighters have grown passionate during his time away from the Octagon.
“Fighters talking about money are really getting on my nerves,” he said. “I saw Al Iaquinta talking s--- saying he should’ve got a bonus after his last fight. Don’t get me wrong: There are fighters who deserve good money. They’re getting it wrong because they’re all looking at Conor McGregor thinking, ‘I should be getting the same money as him.’ It doesn’t work like that. Conor sells. I don’t know what anyone else got into the fight game for, but I got into it to fight. It was never the money. The money is a bonus.
“I would pick the belt over money every time,” Till added. “People are crying because they think they should get paid, but you’ve got to go out there and put on performances to get paid. Until then, you need to shut up. Al’s a good fighter, but he shouldn’t be crying about not getting a bonus. We all do deserve to make good money, but instead of crying about it, he should be out there trying to earn those big checks.”
Till finds his motivation beyond his bank account.
“I’m driving around in a banger at the moment. I don’t care,” he said. “I always say to my friends that if I have a full belly and a nice pair of trainers, I’m a happy man. I still feel that way. I love money, too. I can’t wait to be driving around in a Lamborghini, either, but I want to fight more than any of those things. I’ve dreamt all my life of being a world champion, and I know that dream will come true.”
The 24-year-old Till remains confident he can enter the UFC welterweight title picture within two years. A decisive victory over Ayari could serve to re-energize his stock.
“If I get into a fight with a brawler, it’s not going to go very well for him,” Till said. “In my last fight, Dalby tried to stand with me and I was superior. I wouldn’t even consider Dalby a brawler, so I think this fight with Jessin could be even better for me. He comes to trade, and that’s going to play right into my hands. I feel like it’s definitely going to be a knockout if he plays that game. I think I will make a big statement against him. I want every person in that arena to be talking about me when they leave. That’s what’s going to happen.”