Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) concludes its month-long stay on “Fight Island” with the UFC on ESPN 14 mixed martial arts (MMA) event, topped by a middleweight headliner between hard-hitting sluggers (and former welterweights) Darren Till and Robert Whittaker. The action gets underway this Sat. night (July 25, 2020) on both ESPN and ESPN+ from inside Flash Forum on “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi.
For Till, his showdown against “The Reaper” is not about proving he belongs among the top middleweights in the world. That was a goal he accomplished by outlasting Kelvin Gastelum in his 185-pound debut at UFC 244 last fall. That said, the transition to his new weight class — prompted by consecutive losses at welterweight — was not without its mountains to climb.
“I considered myself invincible for a long time, and to have the invincibility stripped of you is so savage. It hurt a lot, so it took a lot of building back up,” Till told Bleacher Report. “I was just terrified of fighting; the bright lights, big stage, that sort of thing. I was really scared of fighting, especially fighting Gastelum, because of the guy he is and the guys he’s beaten. It was on the biggest stage possible. There were a lot of emotions at the time. I’m fine with it, admitting I was scared. I think we all get scared. It doesn’t make me any less of a man to admit that.”
Till (18-2-1) remained undefeated through 17 straight bouts at 170 pounds before dropping back-to-back outings to Tyron Woodley and Jorge Masvidal. “The Gorilla” eventually made the jump to middleweight at UFC 244 last November, defeating Gastelum by split decision and cementing himself among the top fighters at 185 pounds.
“I’ve conquered the big scary mountain that I was afraid of, and after that, it was about building myself back up,” Till continued. “It was a big weight off my mind. [It taught me] I can conquer anything. I can come back from defeat in life. It made me a lot stronger, that fight. That fight taught me a lot about myself. I think mental stuff is 90 percent of [competition] overall. Some people just can’t get in the right state of mind. Some people flourish from it. It just depends. It’s a tough thing to understand, the mind.”
Sounds like Till, 27, has matured both inside and outside the Octagon, though it should be noted that Whittaker, who is 9-1 over his last 10 fights, will be “The Gorilla’s” most difficult test to date. It’s not unreasonable to think a victory over “The Reaper” will give Till the next middleweight title shot.
We’ll find out this weekend on Fight Island.
To see who else is fighting at UFC on ESPN 14: “Whittaker vs. Till” click here.