Michael Bisping still believes in the potential of his countryman, Darren Till, to be able to overcome his recent setbacks and become a UFC champion, but he wonders if 185 pounds is really the division that holds the brightest future for the Liverpudlian.
Till suffered his fourth loss over his last five fights on Saturday when he was submitted by Derek Brunson in the main event of UFC Vegas 36. The setback put Till’s record at 1-2 since his move up from welterweight to middleweight in 2019, and pushed Till farther out of the title picture at 185 pounds. Considering that many of Till’s best wins came at welterweight, including his unanimous decision over perennial contender Stephen Thompson that capped off the 5-0-1 start to his UFC career, Bisping questioned whether Till is doing a disservice to himself by trying to compete in the heavier weight class.
“He needs to make some changes,” Bisping told BT Sport in the aftermath of UFC Vegas 36. “I think perhaps a move back down to welterweight [may help him].
“When you look at Derek Brunson compared to him, Derek Brunson is a much bigger guy. I’m not talking height-wise. Height-wise, they’re very similar. But when you look at the frame — and with the frame and with that muscle comes a lot of strength. And certainly when you’re fighting guys like Derek Brunson where their whole M.O. is to take you down, of course technique comes into play, but a lot of what comes into play is strength. Once you get into these clinch positions … it comes down to power, and Derek kind of outmuscled him in those situations as well.”
Bisping is correct that Brunson dominated Till with his takedowns. The American wrestled Till to the mat in each of the three rounds of their main-event bout before sending him home with the fight-ending choke. Till suffered a similar fate in the biggest spot of his career when his 2018 title challenge againt Tyron Woodley at UFC 228 turned into a rout because of Woodley’s wrestling and top game.
As a British fighter who traveled the world in an effort to shore up any deficiencies in his defensive wrestling throughout his own career — and did so rather successfully — Bisping questioned whether Till’s training situation is preparing the Liverpool native for the level of wrestling he’s running into at the highest levels of the fight game.
“I’m not suggesting he leaves Team Kaobon, but maybe go somewhere where they have a heavier influence on wrestling, certainly on jiu-jitsu as well,” Bisping said. “With absolute respect, the ground game could have been a little better there tonight. No shame in the takedowns, Derek Brunson is a strong wrestler. He’s built his entire career on that. But I thought when it hit the ground, I thought he could have done some things a little better.”
Ultimately, time is still on Till’s side. He’s only 28 years old and still has plenty of years ahead of him to mount a Bisping-esque comeback in his quest to capture a UFC title.
Till even posted an inspirational photo of Bisping on Instagram as his first post-fight reaction, alluding to the hardscrabble road “The Count” took on his way to gold.
So Bisping’s message to his countryman is simple: Don’t give up.
“Darren obviously is heartbroken. I know how much this means to him,” Bisping said. “I know how much he put into this training camp. He was so focused, but it’s not over. It’s not over. Yes, it’s a bump in the road, it halts the dreams for now, the title aspirations. Forget about those for a little bit. He’s got to do some work.
“Darren, keep your chin up, mate. Listen, you’ve got it. You’ve got all the skills. You really do. You have all the potential to become a champion one day. Youth is on your side. But you’ve got to stay the course, you’ve got to stay focused. Do not give up on yourself. After all, somebody very, very smart once said: Quitters never win.”