Most of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s slate in March is a run of interchangeable cards, so it is nice for once to see London actually get the best of the bunch. For a good while now, the promotion has taken its British fans for granted. Aside from Michael Bisping’s 2016 campaign, the UFC has mostly been content to throw together a card full of local fighters as an afterthought and call it a day. This time, a trio of top-tier fights headline UFC Fight Night 147, and English MMA has produced enough interesting prospects that even the undercard provides a solid mix of action and relevance. Add in the earlier start time, and if there is one card to watch in this post-UFC 235 stretch, this is it.
Let us get to the preview for UFC Fight Night “Till vs. Masvidal” on Saturday in London:
WelterweightsDarren Till (17-1-1) vs. Jorge Masvidal (32-13)
ODDS: Till (-240), Masvidal (+200)
Exactly how good is Till? The Englishman has enjoyed a meteoric rise over the past 18 months, and in fact, after missing all of 2016 due to a shoulder injury, Till was basically a forgotten prospect. Before that injury, Till’s UFC career consisted of a brutal knockout of Wendell de Oliveira Marques and a three-round war against Nicolas Dalby, but his first two comeback performances were decision wins that did not spark much excitement. That made it surprising when the UFC plucked Till from the undercard to get a main event spot in Poland against Donald Cerrone, but he came through with a first-round knockout and a star was subsequently born. The UFC even went as far as to relocate a card to Liverpool, England, in May so Till could get a hometown fight against Stephen Thompson. Neither man did much of anything, as Thompson kept Till at bay and nobody decided to lead, but it was a decision win for “The Gorilla” that instantly made him a contender and led to a title shot against Tyron Woodley in September. That was where the wheels came off. Till really had nothing to offer Woodley, landing zero significant strikes before getting tapped in the second round. Looking at the current landscape, it remains unclear what Till’s resume means. A win over Thompson is impressive, even if most observers felt he lost a terrible fight, but with Cerrone’s late-career struggles and the way that Woodley blew open every hole in Till’s game, there is concern that “The Gorilla” may have already peaked. At any rate, Till is still just 26 and there is a new welterweight champion, which opens up the path for another title shot. Till has to get back in the winner’s circle first and that path starts here, back in England, against Masvidal.
It has been a wild ride for Masvidal, who came up on the same Miami street-fighting scene as Kimbo Slice, started his pro MMA career as a teenager and initially made his name competing around the world. Masvidal eventually found a home in Strikeforce before it was absorbed by the UFC, and while he has enjoyed plenty of success, it has been a frustrating tenure in many ways. Masvidal can do just about everything at a high level, but for someone with a reputation as an all-action fighter, he is more than content to coast as soon as he feels he is winning a fight. That focus on winning exchanges rather than consistently winning rounds has cost Masvidal a few fights; four of his six UFC losses have come via split decision, including a 2015 bout against Al Iaquinta that caused “Gamebred” to seek a fresh start at welterweight. He ran into the same issues at 170 pounds -- within three fights, the American Top Team export had dropped split decisions to Benson Henderson and Lorenz Larkin -- but Masvidal eventually wound up stringing together some wins and, like Till, making his mark as a welterweight with a knockout win over Cerrone. After dropping fights to Thompson and Demian Maia -- the latter a close bout, the former a frustrating example of Masvidal not being able to get inside on a longer opponent -- he returns after over a year off to prove that he is still a relevant contender in the division. He still has the talent to do so, but will he finally have the right approach?
This fight will probably be annoying. Till has the capability to be a gigantic knockout artist, while Masvidal has everything to be a whirlwind of violent pressure, but the odds feel low that either man will maximize his talents. At first blush, this feels a lot like Masvidal’s bout against Thompson. Against a longer, powerful striker, Masvidal found himself stuck at range and eventually trying to press his offense to less and less effect, so it is easy to see a fight where Till’s length and power has much the same effect. However, despite beating Thompson in 2018, Till does not seem like he would be nearly as good at following the same game plan. Thompson’s choice to be a defensively sound, low-output counterstriker -- it allowed him to pick off Masvidal but just lost him rounds against Till -- seems intentional, and the Brit’s game does not really have a ton of defensive intentionality. Instead, Till just plods forward and puts out big shots of offense in the hope that he can make his opponent either cave in or panic. If nothing else, Masvidal will not do either of those things, unless Till somehow separates him from his senses. With that said, Till can still hit Masvidal from ranges where he cannot hit back; and Masvidal is traditionally the exact type of fighter who will get the worst of an exchange but focus on the moments where he succeeded and slowly give away the fight as a whole. The shame of this is that Masvidal can probably win easily if he presses his underrated wrestling and grappling game, but instead, this figures to be five rounds of alternating standup exchanges and toxic machismo. It will be a close one, and Masvidal has a history of giving away close fights while Till has done just enough to win them. The pick is Till via decision.
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