Preview: UFC Fight Night 191 ‘Brunson vs. Till’ - Brunson vs. Till

By: Tom Feely
Sep 3, 2021

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UFC Fight Night 191, which was initially slated for London, has been ravaged by visa and injury issues, but what remains of the event figures to provide its share of enjoyment on Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas.

It also looks to be a big day for Liverpool, England, as three-fifths of the main card sees Scousers attempting to prove a point with a significant victory. That includes the headliner, where Darren Till tries to affirm himself as a middleweight contender to watch when he takes on the suddenly surging Derek Brunson. In the co-feature, heavyweight prospect Tom Aspinall seeks his most impressive win to date against Sergey Spivak, who has quietly made a name for himself as a young talent on the rise in an open division. The opener sees the Ultimate Fighting Championship debut of hyped lightweight prospect Paddy Pimblett, who wants to make a statement on the big stage. Beyond that, there is guaranteed action between welterweights Alex Morono and David Zawada, along with some light heavyweight violence potential between Khalil Rountree and Modestas Bukauskas. Throw in the early start time, and this should be a breezy watch.

Now to the preview for the UFC Fight Night “Brunson vs. Till” main card:


#7 MW | Darren Till (18-3-1, 6-3-1 UFC) vs. #5 MW | Derek Brunson (22-7, 13-5 UFC)

ODDS: Till (-180), Brunson (+158)

For being a former title challenger and well-established main eventer for the UFC at this point, there are still a lot of questions to be answered about Till. He came into the UFC in 2015 as an intriguing but unproven welterweight prospect, and he looked like someone to watch through his first two Octagon bouts, as he knocked out Wendell de Oliveira Marques and earned a draw against the much more highly touted Nicolas Dalby. However, Till then missed over a year of action due to injuries suffered in the Dalby fight, and his comeback was not particularly inspiring: Decision victories over Jessin Ayari and Bojan Velickovic felt closer than they needed to be and very much felt like Till finding his sea legs with a passive style. That made it a bit of a surprise when Till got the call for a late-notice main event slot against Donald Cerrone, but he made good on the opportunity with a first-round knockout, at which point it was off to the races. Up next for Till was what figured to be a star turn, as he headlined in his hometown of Liverpool, England, and faced Stephen Thompson. The fight itself was rather terrible. Till stayed patient and Thompson never tried to press the issue, so the result was 25 minutes without much action and a contentious decision for the Brit. That turned out to be Till’s last win at 170 pounds. Tyron Woodley handled him easily in the final defense of his welterweight belt, and then Till became the first victim of Jorge Masvidal’s rise towards superstardom. Till announced a move up to middleweight after the Masvidal loss, and it is still difficult to know what to make of “The Gorilla” in his new weight class. A lot of Till’s success at welterweight came through intimidation and power from his large frame for the division, and his two bouts at 185 pounds have seen him get matched against former welterweights who still have a clear size disadvantage. Thus far at middleweight, Till stayed smart and scored a win over Kelvin Gastelum, then had some moments in a loss to Robert Whittaker that never quite got above a simmer. With Gastelum’s subsequent slide out of middleweight contention and Whittaker re-affirming himself as the top challenger in the division, it is impossible to tell where Till stands in the ever-expanding gulf in between those two men. This bout against Brunson should answer a lot of those questions.

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Brunson has answered some questions about himself in recent years, mostly in the positive sense. Surprisingly, Brunson seems to be rounding into a career-best form at 37 years old, long after he seemed to hit a clear ceiling in terms of title contention. Initially a controlling wrestler and little else while he rose through the ranks, Brunson came to the UFC via Strikeforce in 2012, just as he seemed to be finding an effective balance between his wrestling and a burgeoning striking game. After a 2015 knockout win over Ed Herman, Brunson seemed to fall in love with his hands and a kill-or-be-killed approach, blitzing through four straight opponents via first-round knockout to put himself in title contention. That led to one of the crazier high-level performances in recent memory against Whittaker in a 2016 main event, as Brunson decided to hunt for the knockout in a manner that few ever have. That led to four minutes of Whittaker attempting to play matador before stopping Brunson dead in his tracks. From there, Brunson’s career descended into a streak of tense performances. He could still score a quick knockout, albeit against the likes of late-career Daniel Kelly and Lyoto Machida, but things quickly went careening off the rails at the first sign of danger. Then all that just stopped. Whether it was moving under the tutelage of Henri Hooft or some other factor, Brunson suddenly rediscovered his composure, with his 2019 win over Ian Heinisch serving as the first real sign that something had changed. Brunson’s last two fights—main event affairs against Edmen Shahbazyan and Kevin Holland—were exactly the types of fights that would have broken him earlier in his career. Shahbazyan is a fast and dangerous starter, while Holland is a physically intimidating competitor who attempts to get into his opponents’ heads. While Brunson had his moments of trouble—even in this current form, he remains quite hittable—he regrouped every time he faced adversity and came back for steady and effective wins. Brunson appears to be on to something long after he was written off as a contender, and he has a solid chance at another important win in this main event assignment.

This is a fascinating fight, and a lot of the intrigue centers around the reality that Till is still somewhat of a question mark as a middleweight. The most surprising aspect? Despite the fact that Till has been positioned as such a gigantic fighter for so long and Brunson is a relatively stout middleweight, the North Carolina native will actually have the larger frame. That, in turn, throws a lot of the usual dynamics for a Till fight on their head. Till at welterweight could be a frustrating watch, though some of it was not his fault. Between the long frame and his patient approach, opponents would usually stay defensive with the worry that Till would hit them with a powerful counter. However, Till was never a particularly effective counterpuncher as a welterweight—he has only started showing that ability in recent years, with this move up to 185 pounds. A lot of Till’s success hinged on intimidating his opponents by default and further leveraging his physical advantages with either powerful and opportunistic strikes or a grimy clinch game, both of which would hopefully put his opponents even more into their shell. No one knows how that all works against the first legitimately middleweight-sized opponent Till has ever faced. Even though Brunson seems to have gotten past most of his mental issues, there is a chance he could get freaked out by a much larger or more intimidating opponent. At middleweight, that will not be Till, so Brunson should have an opportunity to implement his game, particularly his wrestling—a phase in which “The Gorilla” has not been tested much or looked particularly strong. Even in the face of his toughest physical challenge yet, Till could still pass this test, as he is no weakling as a middleweight. He will still be fairly stout in wrestling and grappling exchanges, and there is a chance he is still bulking into his frame in his late 20s. Plus, Till appears to have brought enough knockout power up a weight class to end this fight with one or two big openings. However, against an opponent who should take away a lot of the biggest advantages on which he has leaned throughout his career, it is hard to favor Till, even if he has a decent shot at proving much in this matchup. The pick is for Brunson to grind out a decision win.

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