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Darren Till (pictured) fights Jorge Masvidal in the welterweight main event of UFC London on Saturday
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

If Darren Till wants to stay in the welterweight title picture, he’s going to have to deal with respected veteran Jorge Masvidal.

“The Gorilla” headlines his fourth consecutive UFC event when he meets Masvidal in the main event of UFC Fight Night: Till vs. Masvidal on Saturday. This is Till’s first fight since failing to capture UFC gold last September against Tyron Woodley and it will be interesting to see how the 26-year-old bounces back from his first loss.

Masvidal, on the other hand, has seen it all in his 16-year pro career, though he’s also looking to stay relevant at 170 pounds after dropping back-to-back decisions. “Gamebred” is exactly the kind of opponent that will test whether Till is a title contender as advertised or if he was another case of too much too soon.

The co-main event could also impact the welterweight contenders’ line. Leon Edwards had a breakthrough win over Donald Cerrone in his last outing, a win that also happened to be Edwards’s sixth in a row. A convincing victory over Gunnar Nelson will prove that Edwards is worthy of a top-5 opponent.

In other main card action, streaking light heavyweight Dominick Reyes looks to add to the woes of recent UFC title challenger Volkan Oezdemir, rising bantamweight contenders Nathaniel Wood and Jose Quinonez face off, London’s Danny Roberts looks to defend home court against Claudio Silva in a welterweight bout, and middleweights Jack Marshman and John Phillips clash in the first meeting of two UFC fighters from Wales.

What: UFC London

Where: The O2 Arena in London, England

When: Saturday, March 16. The seven-fight ESPN+ preliminary card begins at 1 p.m. ET, and the event continues on ESPN+ with a six-fight main card beginning at 4 p.m. ET.


Darren Till vs. Jorge Masvidal

There are rarely any tune-up fights in the UFC.

After being soundly defeated by Tyron Woodley, Darren Till finds himself facing another versatile and experienced opponent in Jorge Masvidal. Of course, Masvidal is a different fighter from Woodley, a far more aggressive striker who is going to have Till backing up right from the start.

Don’t sleep on Masvidal’s wrestling though. He’ll be more than happy to put Till on his back and wear him down with ground-and-pound if Till isn’t careful. In a five-round fight, Masvidal is going to use every advantage he has to neutralize the size and strength of Till. And he’ll have to show Till different looks because even though they have similar measurements on paper, Till is a difficult fighter to get inside on. The judges won’t give Masvidal a win on sheer grit if he gets chewed up on the feet for 25 minutes.

That said, I just can’t see Masvidal having the same problems that Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson had scoring against Till. He’s always willing to make a fight ugly and it’s unclear if Till can deal with someone like that. I also can’t see Masvidal being overwhelmed like Donald Cerrone.

“Gamebred” is near impossible to finish and he’s going to play the spoiler on Saturday.

Pick: Masvidal

Leon Edwards vs. Gunnar Nelson

The clinch will play a major role in Leon Edwards defusing the grappling and the complicated karate stylings of Gunnar Nelson.

“Gunni” showed that he’s not just a finesse fighter in his last fight, surviving an early onslaught from Alex Oliveira before turning the tables and submitting a bloody Oliveira. Add that to his methodical approach to striking and it was a reminder of why Nelson has remained in such high regard despite mixed results and injury layoffs.

Even though Nelson will have a distinct advantage on the mat, Edwards has shown he’s not a fish-out-of-water down there. He survived the wrestling of Kamaru Usman when the two were just coming up in the UFC and even showed off his own grappling offense with a gutsy submission of Albert Tumenov at UFC 204. He won’t want to spend too much time rolling with Nelson, but he can do some damage from top position.

His ability to win battles in the clinch will keep Edwards from getting the worst of Nelson’s grappling game and keep this a standup battle, where both men will use kicks to establish range and eke out what could be some close rounds. Landing anything substantial will be difficult and neither fighter is typically inclined to go all in for a home run shot. This one should go the distance and it could be a nightmare to score, but Edward’s speed will be the difference maker.

Pick: Edwards

Volkan Oezdemir vs. Dominick Reyes

Volkan Oezdemir and Dominick Reyes have both proven that they can generate insane amounts of power with little setup. What makes this fight so fascinating is the different ways they do it.

During his rise from relative unknown to light heavyweight title challenger, Oezdemir shocked viewers with his seemingly mystical KO abilities. It wasn’t that his striking was overlooked, after all he has some pro kickboxing experience, it’s that his opponents were caught with punches in seemingly innocuous situations. Misha Cirkunov was dropped by a tap behind the ear and Jimi Manuwa thought he was safe exiting a clinch until Oezdemir cracked him with an uppercut.

Reyes, on the other hand, has been an absolute sniper. He makes expert use of his long limbs to land devastating straight punches and his head kicks are truly terrifying. He also has a springiness to his movement that will make it difficult for Oezdemir to pin him down.

Oezdemir needs this one to avoid losing three straight and he could be more dangerous than ever with his back to the wall. But Reyes’s explosiveness is impossible to ignore and I predict he’ll rack up another KO and improve to 11-0.

Pick: Reyes

Nathaniel Wood vs. Jose Quinonez

This could be the fight that pushes “The Prospect” closer to a top-15 ranking.

Just 25 years old, Wood has given fans plenty of reason to buy into the hype, finishing 13 of his first 15 opponents and also showing that he can battle back from adversity as he did against Josh Reed back in September 2017 and in his UFC debut against Johnny Eduardo last June. He’s also impressed with his submission skills after joining the promotion with a reputation as a banger.

He may decide to go back to those free-wheeling ways against Quinonez, a talented all-around fighter who is looking for a signature win himself. You wouldn’t know it by his absence in the rankings, but Quinonez has actually won four straight fights, tying him for the longest active win streak in the UFC’s bantamweight division. He’s a good athlete with solid takedowns and just enough pop in his hands to earn his opponents’ respect.

One problem Quinonez has is that he’s very much a single shot, single takedown attempt fighter. You won’t see him stringing together smooth combinations nor will he use much chain wrestling if his initial approach fails. That won’t cut it against Wood, who has superior finishing power and he will make Quinonez pay for being too patient.

With respect to Quinonez, Wood looks like the real deal and should get the finish here.

Pick: Wood

Danny Roberts vs. Claudio Silva

Did someone order a striker vs. grappler matchup?

Danny Roberts loves to brawl and you can bet that if he lures Claudio Silva into a standup war, it won’t go well for the Brazilian. On the flipside, should this go to the ground, it’s Roberts who will be in for a world of hurt.

Silva can be an extremely difficult opponent to figure out given that he doesn’t have the cleanest takedowns or striking. He’s also liable to break out a capoeira kick if the feeling strikes, though almost everything he does is in service of getting the fight to the ground. Roberts is a good boxer and it would be surprising to see him get caught by something silly from Silva.

This is a done deal if Silva can get Roberts down, but I like Roberts chances of keeping this one up and using intelligent movement to leave Silva grasping at air until all of his failed takedown attempts leave him exhausted and vulnerable to a late finish.

Pick: Roberts

Jack Marshman vs. John Phillips

Here’s a matchup that would be better suited for a bare-knuckle boxing event.

John Phillips’s all-out boxing style has yet to pay dividends in two UFC appearances so far, but he’s shown hints of the spectacular KO power that earned him a promotion to the big show. He’ll have a willing dance partner in Marshman, a fellow boxer who leans more towards the technical side of the sweet science.

Officials knew what they were doing when they paired these two up and Phillips will have every opportunity to land his lethal left. Even though Marshman has an outstanding chin, he won’t want to take too many bombs from Phillips if he can help himself. Feints will be key for Marshman here both to open Phillips up and keep him off-balance.

There’s also the possibility that Marshman goes against type and attempts to take this to the ground. Neither man is going to be captaining a Quartet team anytime soon, but Marshman is the more competent grappler and he’ll have an advantage should the fight go that way.

Normally I lean towards more technical, well-rounded strikers in these kinds of matchups. However, I can’t shake the feeling that Phillips is due to connect with something big and that Marshman is going to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Pick: Phillips

Undercard

Arnold Allen def. Jordan Rinaldi

Joe Duffy def. Marc Diakiese

Nicolae Negumereanu def. Saparbek Safarov

Ian Heinisch def. Tom Breese

Danny Henry def. Dan Ige

Molly McCann def. Priscila Cachoeira

Nad Narimani def. Mike Grundy