Darren Till’s latest fight week was anything but ordinary.
The 26-year-old native of Liverpool, England, was already dealing with a major change as he was set to compete at 185 pounds for the first time in the UFC after eight previous appearances at welterweight. And waiting for him in New York City at UFC 244 was recent middleweight title challenger Kelvin Gastelum.
When the dust settled in the Octagon on Saturday, Till was the better man in the eyes of two of the three judges (the one card in favor of Gastelum was a baffling 30-27 score), and he now finds himself in the thick of the championship picture at middleweight.
All this despite not arriving in New York until Thursday evening, less than 24 hours before he had to make weight for Saturday’s bout. Till almost didn’t make the fight at all due to visa issues that may have been tied to a recent arrest in Spain. Officials went as far as to fly in Jared Cannonier as a possible replacement for Till, a measure which proved to be unnecessary.
At the UFC 244 post-fight press conference, Till joked that he didn’t blame Gastelum for the weigh-in controversy that occurred on Friday and that he almost considered giving up on the whole venture himself.
“There were times when I thought, ‘This fight’s not happening.’ I know there was a lot given over the weight cut video with Kelvin and that, but Kelvin probably just thought, ‘F*ck this, I’m gonna eat some s*it because he’s not turning up.’ And there was times when I just wanted to do it myself,” Till said.
“So there was that and then I knew there was gonna be jet lag and I knew there was gonna be water retention for weight cutting. I didn’t know if the fight was happening and I had a few injuries and it’s just like that didn’t mean anything to me. I wanted to just get in there. I didn’t want to win. I didn’t want to lose. I just wanted to be in there and I don’t even know, I can’t say, it’s like I’ve been invincible all my life. I know my skill set I’ve got, I know I can beat any guy in any division, I know that with my skill set, you’ve seen that tonight. No. 4 Kelvin, look at the guys he’s knocking out. I know it wasn’t the most exciting fight, but he didn’t touch me, he just simply didn’t touch me and that’s no disrespect to him. That just shows my skill set.
“But before [Tyron] Woodley there was no guy that could beat me and then two losses like that, it just took a lot away from me, inside of me. I didn’t say it, but I fought some hard demons and then obviously stuff like getting arrested and you lose sponsors, it’s like a f*cking whirlwind and it’s good and it’s bad. I tell ya, I was trying to fake an injury before walking out, I was thinking of an injury to fake because I just simply did not want to get in there. And this is probably things fighters don’t talk about, but you know me, I’m honest and that’s just where I was at. Now I’m here, confidence is back, like f*ck all these middleweights, I’m coming for everyone. It’s back.”
Till did not shy away from elaborating on his trepidation, saying that he believes every fighter feels fear before heading into the cage. Coming off of the first two losses of his MMA career, one a title fight loss to Woodley, the other a knockout loss to Jorge Masvidal in his home country, Till may have been feeling more anxious than usual.
Once he was in the cage with Gastelum, Till experienced a moment of clarity.
“Every fight, no matter what any fighter will ever tell you, they will be scared,” Till said. “If they tell you they’re not, it’s a blatant lie. But this fight I wasn’t scared, I was terrified. I wasn’t shaken. I just didn’t want to go. The magnitude of the event, everything, I was doubting, I was thinking of ways to get out of the fight. This was only today and I’m just so scared.
“And then at the faceoff I’m like, ‘Darren, come on, pull yourself together. Now we’re going to win this fight the way we planned. We’re not gonna let him touch ya, and you’re gonna win it.’ I knew it was going to be hard to knock him out, I know I’ve got the power but I know he’s a tough cookie and that’s just how it is. Fighters might not say it, but I’ll always say it, whether it’s good or bad, I’ve been criticized in the past or whatever, but that’s where I was at today as soon as I woke up.”
Afterwards, Till showed up to the post-fight press conference on crutches. He didn’t sound overly concerned, telling reporters that it was from an injury in training and not the fight and it was only acting up now that the fight was over. According to Till, he first injured his knee ahead of a fight with Donald Cerrone back in October 2017 and he re-aggravated it in the lead-up to the Gastelum bout.
“I was sparring, it was probably me best day of sparring, and I was just on fire and I just got a bit overwhelmed,” Till said. “As I threw a leg kick, one of my sparring partners stepped in, so my knee sort of stopped on his leg, but my leg wrapped around, so my knee just gave up. It’s the same knee that I done before Cowboy, it’s just problems, but listen I’m not pulling out of no fights for nothing. I’m just not.
“If Kelvin would have got the victory there tonight, you wouldn’t have seen me sat here talking about injuries or jet lag or visa problems. As I’ve always said, I’m honest, I’m from the heart, and you either win or you lose and that man who wins on that night is the better man.”
Though Till used the word “tore” when describing what happened to his knee, he doesn’t have any immediate plans to get surgery. He didn’t sound eager to look ahead, though a win over Gastelum—who was ranked No. 4 in the UFC’s official rankings before Saturday—means that Till will now be viewed as a middleweight contender by the matchmakers.
Till is interested in fighting Adesanya not just for the title, but for his “legacy” and he said that he has a good relationship with the current champion at 185 pounds. He also suggested that a rematch with Masvidal, who defeated Nate Diaz in the UFC 244 main event, appealed to him.
No matter when or who he fights next, Till doesn’t expect his knee to be an issue.
“Since Cowboy, I’ve just sort of put it to the back of my mind. I wrestle, I do everything with it, I stretch it, put it behind my head, I’m a flexible guy,” Till said. “It’s swelled up a little bit. This is what I always do, I’ll ice it and when it feels good I’ll just, ‘Okay, f*ck that,’ I’m probably gonna leave it, to be honest with you.
“Most fighters feeling this right now would probably get surgery, but this is not a telltale for fighters to kick me because I can take low kicks, trust me. Ex-Muay Thai fighter, but we’ll see. It’s not that bad.”