The Film Room: Darren Till

By Kevin Wilson Nov 1, 2019
The ordering process for Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-views has changed: UFC 244 is only available on ESPN+ in the U.S.

After taking the first two losses of his career in consecutive appearances, Darren Till will climb back into the Octagon when he meets Kelvin Gastelum in the UFC 244 co-headliner on Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York. It serves as Till’s middleweight debut.

The man they call “The Gorilla” supplies the material for this edition of The Film Room.

Till possess an interesting mix of muay Thai and karate striking and seamlessly mixes techniques and strategies from the two arts for success in MMA. A southpaw, Till favors his left-handed attacks, which he can land in a variety of ways; however, his best work comes on the counter. Till usually fights at a slow pace and elects to feint and pressure his opponents into striking first, at which point he can step back and land the counter left. Till’s methods behind countering are reminiscent of Conor McGregor. Notice how Till will take a step to his left as his opponent comes forward to create a dominant angle for the counter left straight, just like McGregor and from a similar stance. They also use the same tactics to set up their counters. Instead of waiting for opponents to come forward, both men like to pressure the them to the cage and force to them throw a combo, at which point they can step back and land the counter left. Till’s counters are a little less polished and precise, but the similarities in their countering methods are prevalent.

Till favors his counterstrikes, but he can be just effective on the lead when he decides to come forward first. As a counterstriker, he knows he has to occasionally strike first to keep opponents guessing and to bait them into coming forward. When working on the lead against an orthodox opponent, notice how Till will place his lead foot outside of his opponent’s to create a better angle for his left hand. Many believe Till has nothing more than a left straight, but notice how against Donald Cerrone he lands a variety of left hands in succession. The first was an uppercut, the second a left straight and the third an overhand left. Till is developing more and more each day, and his variety of strikes thrown against “Cowboy” proved that he is more than just the left straight.

Till uses a wide variety of feints to throw off opponents and set them up for counters later in the fight. A common feint Till uses is a fake jab to get his hand outside of the opponent’s lead, where he can slap it down and land the left hand. This is also known as a hand trap. Till also uses a lot of foot and hip feints that are reminiscent of Lyoto Machida, the master of hip feints. Something interesting about his feints: He uses his facial expressions to trick opponents. Notice how he will widen his eyes and open his mouth, insinuating he is about to come forward. He will also move his eyes up and down on opponents so they never really know where he is targeting. This is something Machida has done extensively throughout his career and is one of those little tricks that sets apart the good from the great. Till has also been quite open about his use of mental tactics during and before a fight, so it is clear that the psychological side of fighting is important to him.

Despite claiming he comes from a muay Thai background, Till’s style is much more karate-based, with his wide stance, upright torso and low hands. This means he must rely on evasive movement for defense rather than blocking. Till will often throw out a jab and pivot to his left to avoid strikes, but he mostly uses his footwork to retreat out of range. Something interesting Till showed in his fight with Stephen Thompson was the bull guard cover-up. When Thompson came in, Till put his hands up in a bull guard defense and pushed him away once they were up close. This is an old-school muay Thai and boxing style of defense, again showcasing his ability to simultaneously mix styles for success in the cage. Gastelum usually works in short combos, so this tactic would work well against him. However, this is dangerous against someone who likes to stand and trade in the pocket, as it leaves the sides of your head open.

Till is far from perfect when it comes to defense. His low hands and wide stance style leave his head wide open, and his tendency to back up in a straight line means aggressive opponents have a better chance of hitting him. This stance also leaves him open for leg kicks, a weakness Tyron Woodley briefly exploited in their fight.

While his defense held up for a time, Till made the mistake of ordering a three-piece combo from Jorge Masvidal that sent him flying to the canvas in front of his home country. In all seriousness, Masvidal made a beautiful read in this fight, and if it was not for his knockout of Ben Askren a few months later, it would have received “Knockout of the Year” votes. Early in the fight, Masvidal was looking for this shuffling right hook from an orthodox stance that glanced off Till a few times. In the second round, he switched to southpaw for the first time and threw the same shuffling right hook, but this time with his left hand. The switch went unnoticed and the hook came in at an unexpected angle, giving Till the first knockout loss of his career.

Grappling remains Till’s kryptonite, but he is one of these new breed of strikers that focus on their striking and takedown defense to keep the fight standing. Fighters like Thompson, Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Israel Adesanya have shown how effective this style can be in MMA, ushering in the next wave of martial artists who are slowly but surely taking over the sport. Do not expect the Till-Gastelum fight to hit the ground, but the latter does come from a wrestling background and could lean on his base skill at any time. Advertisement


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