Pre-Fight Thoughts: Tyron Woodley -vs- Darren Till
Before I get into any analysis or speculation on the fight itself, I find it more than a little bit weird that this fight doesn't feel like a Big Deal. Rather, this fight — and all of UFC 228 for that matter — has a level of 'buzz' I would consider low, even for modern UFC standards. Even prior to the removal of Nicco Montano from the card, due to hospitalisation, UFC 228 was eliciting a lot of yawns and cautious optimism due to bouts further down the card. It feels as though the fanbase as a whole is somewhat exhausted by the UFC's relentless schedule, and when fight cards like this come along — with a $65 price attached — that people are getting more and more skeptical and less and less hyped.
One thing which may be hindering efforts to stoke the promotional flames for this main event is that Tyron Woodley has been off for 14 months, and prior to that had engaged in two very tedious title defences. The memories of MMA fans are very short, and Dana White also contributed some of his typical fighter-bashing rhetoric after the second Stephen Thompson fight and the similarly dull Demian Maia fight at UFC 214. Woodley has always been a high-variance fighter, he's either been involved in brutally violent finishes — both as the dispenser and receiver — and fights that felt so slow and plodding that time actually stood still and began to move backwards. You could still promote Woodley better, but the UFC apparently hasn't felt the need to.
Darren Till also presents himself as a bit of an odd challenger; having missed weight for his last fight, and not exactly boasting a resum&eaccent; that screams "number one welterweight contender" with any degree of believability, the whole premise of this fight is a bit dubious. We just had an interim welterweight title fight between Colby Covington and Rafael Dos Anjos which has now been rendered utterly moot due to Covington suffering an injury. Darren Till ends up being the best option in a situation where there really are no good choices: Dos Anjos just lost, no one wants to see Woodley / Thompson 3, and Till just beat him anyway. (Or, as I put it, Till outscored Thompson in their bout — no one 'won' that fight except the people who opted not to watch it.)
There are a number of reasons why this fight may in fact "live up" to the subdued level of excitement surrounding it, which likely also reinforce the lack of buzz. Darren Till and Tyron Woodley are not extremely active fighters, and there is a very good chance that this fight turns into yet another Tyron Woodley title fight where both competitors end up locked in a heated staring contest for 25 minutes with very little activity happening. Both men are dangerous finishers, but that's when they do most of their work: they hurt someone with a good strike or a counter, after waiting patiently for an opening, and only then do they put their foot on the gas. Everything up to that moment tends to be calculating and anything but urgent. As such, it's possible we get a similar outcome to Woodley's rematch with Stephen Thompson, where neither fighter wants to make even the slightest error and instead opts to do nothing at all.
Concerns about fight-pacing and tactics aside — and even in light of my criticism of Till's resum&eaccent; not blowing me away — he has a very legitimate chance to win this fight. Aside from the fact Till is a middleweight who does horrendous things to himself to sneak in at the welterweight limit, he's also a very dangerous striker with good power in his shots. Now, the last time Woodley faced another power puncher, it was his 2-minute KO win over Robbie Lawler, but it doesn't mean the striking is Woodley's game to lose. If anything, I would expect to see a bigger emphasis put on wrestling, to wear Till down and make his size a detriment rather than a benefit — and avoid the gamble that is throwing hands with 5-ounce gloves on. Woodley's always been very judicious with his wrestling, presumably to ensure he doesn't exhaust himself too early, but I think he needs to use it more than he has in recent fights.
Till needs to keep the fight standing pretty much at all costs, as I don't see him doing much except expending a huge amount of energy just trying to survive if Woodley gets him to the mat with any degree of positional control. I don't think Till is helpless on the ground, but he's not going to be submitting Woodley and he's clearly a striker foremost. There is also no way that Till's weight cut is conducive to protracted scrambles on the ground. There are some concerns about both fighters' gas tanks, but I will defer to the one with a history of high-level wrestling experience in this case. I don't think this fight is as simple as whether or not Woodley takes Till down, but I think that scenario significantly advantages the defending champion.
For a fight I don't expect a lot from, in terms of action and entertainment value, I think it will be very interesting. We'll see whether or not Darren Till belongs at the top of the welterweight division whether he wins or loses — provided making weight does not continue to be a struggle — and Tyron Woodley will get another chance to change fans' perception of him by notching a decisive, violent win. It's entirely possible, however, that we get a dreary, low-output boxing match in a UFC cage. I think this is an extremely high variance fight, where one could make a solid case for either winning. I will take Woodley, through a combination of savy and proper planning; I think Till's future is at middleweight but he could very well tee-off on Woodley and take his title before moving up. No outcome would surprise me, except perhaps a 25-minute bloody brawl that ends in a decision.
Published: September 8th, 2018.