Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is roughly 24 hours away from kicking off its UFC on ESPN 14 mixed martial arts (MMA) event, topped by a middleweight headliner between Top 5-ranked contenders Robert Whittaker (No. 1) and Darren Till (No. 5). The action gets underway tomorrow night (Sat., July 25, 2020) inside Flash Forum on “Fight Island” (Yas Island) in Abu Dhabi. In addition to what could be a potential title eliminator between “The Reaper” and “The Gorilla,” longtime 205-pound rivals Mauricio Rua and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira complete their light heavyweight trilogy, in what marks the final fight of “Minotoro’s” combat sports career.
Before we breakdown those two bouts, be sure to check out the complete UFC on ESPN 14 preliminary card breakdown, expertly deconstructed by the jet-setting Patrick Stumberg here and here. Fighter-turned-writer-turned-fighter again, Andrew Richardson, did most of the heavy lifting for the rest of the main card right here. For the latest “Whittaker vs. Till” odds and betting lines click here.
Let’s get to work …
185 lbs.: Robert Whittaker vs. Darren Till
Robert “The Reaper” Whittaker
Record: 20-5 | Age: 29 | Betting line: -125
Wins: 9 KO/TKO, 5 SUB, 6 DEC | Losses: 2 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 2 DEC
Height: 6’0“ | Reach: 73.5” | Stance: Orthodox
Striking accuracy: 774 of 1901 (41%) | Takedown attempts: 4 of 7 (57%)
Current Ranking: No. 1 | Last fight: Knockout loss to Israel Adesanya
Darren “The Gorilla” Till
Record: 18-2-1 | Age: 27 | Betting line: +105
Wins: 10 KO/TKO, 2 SUB, 6 DEC | Losses: 1 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 0 DEC
Height: 6’0“ | Reach: 74” | Stance: Southpaw
Striking accuracy: 273 of 582 (47%) | Takedown attempts: 5 of 12 (42%)
Current Ranking: No. 5 | Last fight: Split-decision win over Kelvin Gastelum
This is one of those main events that has me wondering if I’m watching the same sport as everyone else. Darren Till actually opened as the favorite for this 185-pound headliner and is currently ranked No. 5 in the division, which at best is overly generous and at worst is downright insulting. Remember, “The Gorilla” moved up in weight because he was finished in back-to-back fights by Tyron Woodley and Jorge Masvidal and was one judge away from losing a decision to Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 244 last November. Is that the kind of “run” that pulls him even with a savage like Whittaker? “The Reaper” is just one fight removed from his reign as 185-pound champion and 9-1 over his last 10, with four of those wins coming by way of knockout.
It’s no secret that tomorrow night’s main event is going to be a 25-minute stand-up war and that’s bad news for Till. I know the Liverpool lad thinks his striking is on another level, but am I supposed to believe that a guy who ran face first into Tyron Woodley’s best (and in many ways only) punch before getting Origami’d by Jorge Masvidal is suddenly going to out-strike a proven middleweight who shut down Yoel Romero and knocked out Jacare Souza? It really feels like Whittaker is being punished for losing to Israel Adesanya, which is silly, because “The Last Stylebender” is 19-0 with 14 knockouts and remains the best middleweight on the planet until proven otherwise. But this is MMA and I guess you’re “exposed” the second you lose and “back” the minute you win.
I don’t want this to sound like it’s anti-Till because “The Gorilla” is a very dangerous fighter with knockout power and underrated submissions. I just haven’t seen anything over the last couple of years that builds a case for him winning this fight. His victory over Gastelum has not aged well considering Gastelum is mired in a three-fight slump. And beating Stephen Thompson at UFC Fight Night 130 was worth celebrating … right up until “Wonderboy” got starched by a former lightweight, leading many to wonder if the 37 year-old kickboxer is past his expiration date. I’m expecting a fun, action-packed fight that ends in favor of Whittaker. Till will probably last all five rounds now that he’s not drying out his brain just 24 hours before the event, but “The Reaper” is the more polished and in many ways more poised striker. Those levels that Till was talking about will definitely be on display in Abu Dhabi … just not the way he was expecting.
Prediction: Whittaker def. Till by unanimous decision
205 lbs.: Mauricio Rua vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua
Record: 26-11-1 | Age: 38 | Betting line: -185
Wins: 21 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 4 DEC | Losses: 5 KO/TKO, 3 SUB, 3 DEC
Height: 6’1“ | Reach: 76” | Stance: Orthodox
Striking accuracy: 728 of 1396 (52%) | Takedown attempts: 21 of 56 (43%)
Current Ranking: Unranked | Last fight: Split draw against Paul Craig
Antonio Rogerio “Minotoro” Nogueira
Record: 23-9 | Age: 44 | Betting line: +160
Wins: 8 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 1 DEC | Losses: 4 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 5 DEC
Height: 6’2“ | Reach: 75” | Stance: Southpaw
Striking accuracy: 289 of 808 (36%) | Takedown attempts: 1 of 1 (100%)
Current Ranking: Unranked | Last fight: Knockout loss to Ryan Spann
UFC matchmakers will tell you they booked this light heavyweight rematch (of a rematch) to conclude the epic trilogy between Mauricio Rua and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, when in reality there is no other option for these two geezers who combined are 82 years old. Maybe that sounds harsh but keep in mind, “Shogun” was at one time the UFC light heavyweight champion and considered the top fighter at 205 pounds, while “Minotoro” was ranked as high as No. 5 in the division. Fast-forward to July 2020 and neither Brazilian has performed well enough to crack the Top 15 and considering I came into this sport via PRIDE FC, that’s a depressing statistic and a reminder of how fast the river flows in combat sports.
Rua and Nogueira first met at PRIDE “Critical Countdown 2005” more than 15 years ago, just one fight removed from the soccer match “Shogun” played using Rampage Jackson’s head. Similarly, Nogueira was fresh off his armbar win over a prime Dan Henderson, so this was considered to be a sensational showdown and it somehow lived up to its considerable hype. As for their summer 2015 rematch more than a decade later, it was certainly a fun fight and another close decision, but it didn’t have the fireworks of their first go-round. Probably because Rua was coming off his near-death experience against Ovince Saint Preux while Nogueira was just out of head-reattachment surgery after getting decapitated by Rumble Johnson.
I don’t see any reason why “Shogun” doesn’t win their third and final meeting. While both combatants are clearly well past their fighting primes, Nogueira is 44, hasn’t competed in over a year, and got his brains scrambled by Ryan Spann his last time out. Rua hasn’t been tearing a hole through the division but he’s still got power, and I’m pretty sure that it’s only a matter of time before he connects on his slower, more fragile opponent.
Prediction: Rua def. Nogueira by knockout
Remember, the rest of the UFC on ESPN 14 main card predictions are RIGHT HERE.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on ESPN 14 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN/ESPN+ “Prelims” undercard bouts at 5 p.m. ET, followed by the ESPN/ESPN+ main card start time at 8 p.m. ET.
For the rest of the UFC on ESPN 14 fight card and line up click here.