UFC 228 is now available on Amazon Prime.
If nothing else, 2018 has seen the Ultimate Fighting Championship go back to stacking its pay-per-views, and its return to Dallas this Saturday is no exception. In fact, this feels a lot like the UFC’s last card from Dallas, UFC 211, which featured two title fights and had a bunch of interesting stuff deeper on the card. UFC 228 may not quite reach the heights of that card -- both title fights here are of dubious entertainment value -- but there is a ton of stuff to like up and down the card. There are a few top prospects, like Tatiana Suarez and Zabit Magomedsharipov, with the former getting a huge opportunity, along with some crucial fights at bantamweight and a bunch of fights that, while less important, almost certainly guarantee a fun brawl.
Without further ado, let us get to the analysis and picks for UFC 228 “Woodley vs. Till”:
UFC Welterweight Championship:Tyron Woodley (18-3-1) vs. Darren Till (17-0-1)
ODDS: Woodley (-115), Till (-105)
Woodley is a fascinating fighter. As Conor McGregor was blowing up the entire structure of the UFC’s matchmaking, focusing on money fights and pay-per-view buy rates over rankings and top contenders, Woodley was another fighter who was able to play the game. Without anywhere near the clout that McGregor had, Woodley was able to wait things out until he got a title shot against Robbie Lawler, and after winning the title in about two minutes, he immediately talked about fights with opponents like Nate Diaz. Those big-money fights have not exactly materialized for Woodley, though, and part of the reason is that for all his savvy about how the sport works outside of the cage, he almost actively repels fan interest when it comes to his style inside of the cage. After a purely wrestling-based style hit its ceiling, Woodley had a brief run as a fun power puncher, but now he mostly adopts an odd counter game built around backing up against the fence and hoping to hit something big when his opponent gets too aggressive. His first title defense against Stephen Thompson, which ended in a draw, had its moments, but both of Woodley’s 2017 title defenses were absolutely terrible; the rematch with Thompson was just a staring match in which both men were too cautious to do much of anything, while Woodley’s next fight against Demian Maia saw the champ defend Maia’s constant takedown attempts and be content to coast to a win, rather than pressing things for the finish. Woodley showed that he can be a terrifying and effective pressure fighter in his title win over Lawler, and he has the type of elite athleticism that can make for an exciting wrecking ball of a fighter. However, the Maia fight in particular shows that Woodley no longer feels like expending more energy than he needs to in order to get a win.
Woodley faces England’s Till, who gets this title shot in somewhat controversial fashion; interim champ Colby Covington was passed over, mostly since the UFC needed a main event for this date and Covington did not happen to be ready. Remember, Till badly missed weight in his last bout, a hometown win over Thompson. There is also the fact that Till’s win over Thompson was an iffy decision; much like Thompson’s fights with Woodley, both men were scared of the power the other could bring and turned things into a slow-paced, low-volume kickboxing match. At any rate, Till gets the shot, and despite the success he has had, he is still a frustrating fighter. Till’s breakout first-round knockout of Donald Cerrone showed the power he can bring to the table when given an opportunity, but that was in the wake of fights with Jessin Ayari and Bojan Velickovic where Till was overly patient in picking his shots and made each fight closer than it needed to be. Till’s a dangerous knockout artist, but much like Woodley, he often leans too far into the risk side of his risk-reward ratio and does not put himself in a position to take advantage of how hard he hits.
High-level mixed martial arts tends to have a way of subverting expectations, and I hope that is the case here. I do not seem to be alone in worrying that this could be a low-output slog of a title fight. Save Till’s win over Cerrone, the theme of the last two years for both men has been one of overcautiousness, so the easy read is that both men will, once again, worry about the firepower their opponent can bring and go out of their way to pick their shots. Outside of having to watch the fight, that does make this pairing somewhat interesting in that it will likely come down to a split decision either man can win. Till has the size advantage and has historically thrown at a higher output, while Woodley has his speed and should have a wrestling advantage if the fight ever comes to that. Part of me wants to favor Till, if only for fighting at a slightly higher pace that could help him win some slow rounds, but I am worried about how he is going to show up after such a brutal weight cut; and Woodley is accustomed to fighting bigger, longer fighters. Woodley by decision is the pick.
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