It’s been a tough past few years for Darren Till.
The one-time UFC title challenger suffered his fourth loss over his last five fights in September when he succumbed to a rear-naked choke submission at the hands of Derek Brunson at UFC Vegas 36. Till was dominated in the bout, unable to stop the wrestling of his American foe, and the nature of the loss thrust the 28-year-old middleweight into somewhat of a career crossroads. Till admitted Monday on The MMA Hour that it also forced him to do some soul-searching as he tries to rediscover the magic of his early UFC run.
“Fair dues to Brunson, he beat me fair and square. And it just hurts a little bit because like, I mean, I don’t want to disrespect Brunson by saying this, but I just feel like I lost to a man who I should never lose to,” Till explained on The MMA Hour. “Like, I’m a better fighter than Brunson. And yeah, he took me down, but on my best day Brunson takes me down and I bounce right back up and get the finish. And it stung a little bit, but you know what? I see a lot of new faces coming to the UFC, and I just wanted to step back and take stock on what’s important to me and what’s important to me in my life.
“Fighting is still the number-one thing of my life and I just know my potential through and through. And I’ve had a few losses. That’s it. ... I see my age and I compare it to all these other guys in the UFC, and for the amount I’ve done already in the UFC, I’m fairly young and I feel like I’m only going to get better and learn. And I’ve just got to be humble with it and understand. I’ve just got to be really like a realist with it. And it was good just to take a break from the mayhem of being an MMA fighter, especially such a well-known one.”
It’s been rough sledding in the UFC for Till since his 2018 title loss to then-champion Tyron Woodley. The Liverpool native began his octagon career with a blistering 5-0-1 start, highlighted by big wins over Stephen Thompson and Donald Cerrone. At the time, Till was widely viewed as one of the top up-and-comers in the sport, and he carried an unshakable confidence into his bout with Woodley at UFC 228 before losing in a one-sided result.
That once-unshakable confidence has since taken hit after hit with each setback. Till followed the Woodley bout with a first-round knockout loss to Jorge Masvidal in March 2019. He then moved up from welterweight to 185 pounds and won a split decision over Kelvin Gastelum before dropping back-to-back bouts against Robert Whittaker and Brunson.
Now Till just wants to regain that same energy he had before things starting going wrong.
“Honestly, years ago, I had this stone-cold confidence,” Till said. “I just knew I was the f*cking sh*t. I just knew I was the best at what I did. And obviously when I come off two losses, that gets knocked a bit. And then I came back, went up a weight [class], obviously beat Kelvin Gastelum who’d very nearly beat the champ who seems unbeatable. And then after that, very, very, very nearly — apart from one takedown, I’d say — beat Robert Whittaker, who I consider, I’ve got him as the favorite going into the fight with Izzy.
“So I know my level, mate. Obviously I’m coming off a loss to Brunson. I’m not trying to disrespect Brunson in no way shape or form, the man beat me fair and square, and fair play, he’s older now, he’ll get his second title shot probably, whatever at the belt, so I’m happy. But I’m not losing to a man like that any day of the week if I’m on it. And I just want that confidence back that I had, with like the work ethic on that, that I’m the f*cking sh*t, because I know I am, mate. Listen, I didn’t spend four years in Brazil to have sh*t takedown defense and not know what to do. F*cking right I know what to do, mate.
“I know how to defend a takedown and get back to me feet. I’ve showed it,” Till continued. “No man has ever taken me down and kept me on the ground. No one. Whittaker’s not far behind Brunson in the wrestling department, and when he was taking me down in the fifth round with a torn MCL, I was bouncing straight back up. I know what I’m doing. But it’s just the last fight, he was able to nullify me and win. I just want that f*cking stone-cold confidence back I had when I’m going forward [with my career], and I’ll get it. I will get it.”
Till admitted that he has used Charles Oliveira as somewhat of an inspiration as he works his way back. Oliveira began his UFC career with a 10-8 (1 NC) record in his first 19 appearances before reversing his fortunes and ripping through his current 10-fight win streak to become UFC lightweight champion — a streak Oliveira continued on Saturday at UFC 269 with a third-round submission over Dustin Poirier as a betting underdog.
Till is still confident that one day he’ll be able to do the same.
In the interim, Till admitted that there’s a “massive” chance he competes at the UFC’s rumored return to London in March 2022, and that he’d be interested in a bout against Uriah Hall, who is currently the No. 11 ranked middleweight on MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings, though he added that he has options regarding a potential opponent.
“I know what I possess inside of me,” Till said. “I know why all these people believe in me and why I should believe in myself, because I’m f*cking good. I know who I am, and that’s all it is. It’s just a few little tweaks and a few little adjustments and I’m right back there. Trust me, I’ll be right back there breaking records and beating all these bests.
“Trust me on that, mate. I promise you.”