After suffering his first professional loss against Tyron Woodley in September, Darren Till on Saturday in London returns to the Octagon to take on Jorge Masvidal in the UFC Fight Night 147 main event. Till remains one of the fastest-rising prospects in the Ultimate Fighting Championship today, and at only 26 years old, he could represent the future of the welterweight division.
Till’s talents are under the microscope in this installment of The Film Room.
Till possess an interesting mix of muay Thai- and karate-based striking, and he seamlessly mixes techniques and strategies from the two arts for success in MMA. As a southpaw, Till favors left-handed attacks he can land in a variety of ways, but his best work comes on the counter. He usually fights at a slow pace and elects to feint and pressure his opponents into striking first, at which point he can step back and land the counter left. Till’s counter left is reminiscent of the one thrown by Conor McGregor. Till will take a step to his left as his opponent comes forward to create a dominant angle for the counter left straight. Oftentimes, southpaw counterstrikers like Till will shine against orthodox fighters in the open guard but struggle against fellow southpaws when fighting in a closed guard. Till, however, is just as effective when fighting orthodox opponents as he is southpaws, and he proved as much with his performances against Stephen Thompson and Bojan Velickovic.
Till favors his counterstrikes, but he can be just effective on the lead when he decides to come forward first. As a counterstriker, he knows he has to occasionally strike first to keep the opponent guessing and to bait him into coming forward. When working on the lead against an orthodox opponent, Till will place his lead foot outside of his opponent’s foot to create a better angle for his left hand. Many believe Till has nothing more than a left straight, but against Donald Cerrone, he landed a variety of left hands in succession. The first was an uppercut, the second a left straight and the third an overhand left. Till is developing more and more each day, and the variety of strikes he threw against “Cowboy” proved he is more than just the left hand.
Till uses a wide variety of feints to throw off opponents and set them up for counters later in the fight. A common feint he uses is a fake jab to get his hand outside of the opponent’s lead, where he can slap it down and land the left hand. Till also uses a lot of foot and hip feints that are reminiscent of Lyoto Machida, who takes on a similar style. Something interesting about his feints is how he uses his facial expressions to trick opponents. It is hard to see on film, but when you watch live, notice how he will widen his eyes and open his mouth, insinuating he is about to come forward. Till will also move his eyes up and down the opponent, so he never really knows what is being targeted. This is something Machida has done extensively throughout his career and is one of those little tricks that sets apart the good from the great.
Despite claiming a muay Thai background, Till’s style favors karate far more, with his wide stance, upright torso and low hands. This means he must rely on evasive movement for defense rather than blocking. Till will often throw out a jab and pivot to his left to avoid strikes, but he mostly uses his footwork to retreat out of range. Something interesting Till showed in his fight with Thompson was a bull guard cover-up. When Thompson came in, Till put his hands up in a bull guard defense and pushed him away once they were up close. This is an old-school muay Thai and boxing approach to defense, again showcasing his ability to simultaneously mix styles for success in the cage.
Till is far from perfect when it comes to defense. His low hands and wide-stance style leaves him open, and his tendency to back up in a straight line means aggressive opponents have a better chance of hitting him. Nobody has managed to exploit this for an entire fight, but the game plan to outstrike Till is there for the taking.
Grappling remains Till’s kryptonite, but he is a new-breed striker who focuses on his striking and takedown defense to keep the fight standing. What is the point of learning to defend submissions if you can avoid being taken down? Fighters like Thompson, Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Israel Adesyana have shown how effective this style can be in MMA, and they are ushering in a different approach that slowly but surely seems to be taking over the sport.