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You can pick up some silky moves, hone your skills and work on educating your hands, but that does not mean you’re guaranteed to hit the spot. No matter how good your game may be, there are some things with which you cannot compete. You ask your girlfriend and she might say that you’re the best she has ever seen, but deep down, you both know: size matters. This is an uncomfortable truth for the majority of competitors on the Ultimate Fighting Championship roster. Each division houses fighters that defy physics -- and medical advice -- to deplete their bodies to the point where they can compete in weight classes that would otherwise be unattainable. While almost all fighters outside of heavyweight cut to ensure physical parity with likeminded opponents, its these goliaths that distort the playing field.
Darren Till is one such specimen. Standing 6-foot and wielding a 74-inch reach, his tale of the tape is not alarming. However, as Homer Simpson once quipped, “People can come up with statistics to prove anything. Forty percent of people know that.” For instance, Yoel Romero also stands 6-foot with a 74-inch reach, and yet none would disagree that he is a monster among men at middleweight. Interestingly, both of these fighters were awarded title shots after having failed to make weight in their previous bouts. Rather than punish fighters for struggling to make contractually agreed-upon weight limits, the UFC has rewarded fighters for catchweight wins, prioritizing them above other legitimate contenders who have played within the rules.
In Romero’s case, history repeated itself, as he came in heavy for his title fight against Robert Whittaker at UFC 225. While UFC President Dana White’s fingers were burned, he didn’t change tack for Till’s forthcoming showdown with welterweight champion Tyron Woodley. What is interesting about UFC 228 is the application of prudence and pragmatism to White’s plans. The presence of Kamaru Usman lurking in the shadows as an official alternate for either opponent suggests that this is a case of once bitten twice shy for the UFC.
As the shifting sands of the UFC’s status quo continually evolves, the promotion risks establishing preconceptions that missing weight is no longer taboo. Within the last year, we’ve seen Josh Emmett secure a statement knockout of Ricardo Lamas, Mackenzie Dern choke out Amanda Bobby Cooper and Kevin Lee stop Edson Barboza. All weighed in heavy in victory, yet none received any admonishment from top brass. Gone are the days of John Lineker or Kelvin Gastelum being made to move up for repeated infractions, or Anthony Johnston being culled until he could fight at a comfortable weight. Till is reaping the rewards of White’s recent ambivalence to what the scales says, but the UFC must be careful what it sows, for seed will surely grow.
Woodley himself is no small welterweight, previously stating that he walks around at approximately 205 pounds between camps. While he has historically hit the 170 mark when asked, he will be in the neighborhood of 195 pounds when the Octagon door closes. Yet Woodley has struggled previously with large or long opponents. He was knocked flat by Nate Marquardt, he was outgrappled by Jake Shields and he couldn’t work out the reach disadvantage against Rory McDonald. If there were problems getting past McDonald’s jab, then he could be walking into a wood chipper trying to close the distance against Till. The Englishman’s frame will also make it difficult to engage in Greco-Roman grappling exchanges against the cage. Physically, he is the prototype for the kind of opponent against whom Woodley tends to struggle.
Till turns 26 in December and one wonders how long his body can make the arduous journey down to 170 pounds. Perhaps this shrinking window of opportunity and the UFC’s need for a new poster boy in the U.K. following Michael Bisping’s retirement has forced its hand to make this fight now, rather than a year from now. With only two signature wins on his resume, some may argue this title shot is too early for Till, but when opportunity knocks, one must open the door. In a game where fighters are judged on their last performance, Till would be foolish to let this chance pass.
Till will compete in Dallas for his spot in the big leagues. If victorious, his tenure at 170 pounds will be prolonged, the scales becoming the chief antagonist in his championship tenure. We cannot blame Till for utilizing whatever advantages he can, as to quote Ice- T, “Don’t hate the playa, hate the game.” Joe Rogan’s recent comments regarding weight cutting as institutionalized cheating have brought weight-limit structures back into focus, but Till can only work off of how things stand. While Till’s fate may lie in the next generation of stars at middleweight, for now, destiny waits at UFC 228. It will be intriguing to see if his character is big enough to seize it when it counts.