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UFC London Predictions: Darren Till vs. Jorge Masvidal

UFC London Predictions: Darren Till vs. Jorge Masvidal

Darren Till leaves after his loss to Tyron Woodley in the UFC Welterweight Title bout

There’s not a real way around acknowledging the quality of Darren Till’s last performance; the man himself considered it “embarrassing”, and it was definitely the worst of the then-undefeated Brit’s UFC career. Tyron Woodley proved to be an unforgiving fight for him; however, the notion that Till is nothing more than a hype job is complicated by his previous outing against Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson (an extremely elite fighter at welterweight).

Till got a razor-close victory in a low-volume fight; he didn’t decisively earn that win, but he also got closer to a decisive win against the current iteration of Thompson than anyone else. A win in London would have the Woodley fight framed as an unfavorable matchup for an elite talent; a loss would have Cerrone and Thompson framed as favorable matchups for a mediocre one. To have a chance at facing the new champion Kamaru Usman, Till needs this win.

Masvidal’s situation isn’t all that different to Till’s; while his rise wasn’t as meteoric (since it wasn’t facilitated by the UFC’s need to break into a geographic market), he’s still in danger of that success slipping away. Masvidal boxed up Donald Cerrone when Cerrone was at his welterweight peak; ranked #12, Masvidal wrecked #5 Cerrone to rocket to a title eliminator. A razor-close loss to Demian Maia was followed by a lopsided loss at the hands of Stephen Thompson, and Masvidal sits at #11 at the time of writing. As of today, Masvidal has no ranked 170-pound wins, as Cerrone has since dropped back to lightweight; a loss to Till would not only put Jorge on a three-fight skid, it would cast doubt on his rise being deserved at all.

The Liverpudlian

In a lot of ways, Darren Till evokes Conor McGregor; in fact, it’s the immediate comparison that springs to mind when considering a southpaw European pressure-counterboxer who’s gigantic for the weight class. A better way to phrase the comparison may be that Till is a simpler version of the McGregor archetype; that is, with the superficial characteristics that someone looking for “the next Conor” might like to see, but without the ancillary skills that made McGregor as transcendently successful as he was. Till was pushed hard from the moment he showed legitimate promise, as a punishing boxer with the charisma to rally his city behind him; the Woodley loss was a sizeable blow to that, but a convincing bounce-back against Masvidal could prove it to be a learning experience and not the moment that the train went off the tracks.

Till’s bread and butter is his left-hand counterpunching, and he does a good job pressuring his opponent to force them to lash out and give him openings. Till’s pressure is relatively sound in regard to his footwork; he doesn’t let his opponent’s back off the fence easily, as he can move laterally well enough to stay in front of them. Till does an excellent job feinting and prodding his opponent towards the fence with the threat of the left hand, but his lack of a real cage-cutting arsenal let him down a bit against Thompson; against a laterally active opponent, Till didn’t have the strikes necessary to intercept him and stand him still (Till doesn’t have a good lead hand and his kicking game is virtually nonexistent, which makes cutting off the cage somewhat difficult, although he managed it eventually against Thompson).

That said, when Till can find the left hand, it’s a legitimately excellent one. For the most part, it’s the straight off the backstep; when his opponent rushes him, Till can take a short hop backwards (sometimes into a position where he’s virtually pivoted into them) and bludgeon them with the left through the open side. He can show other looks in the open, such as the long rear uppercut to drop an opponent who practically jumped in his direction, but Till’s arsenal really only opens up in variety against the fence; Till’s heavy hand and his excellent feinting serve him well at picking apart a trapped opponent. For example, when Donald Cerrone started ducking predictably when he felt the straight was coming, the uppercut stood him up; when Cerrone was looking for Till’s attack down the center, the left was arced around the guard; when Cerrone was trying to key on the rear hand, Till started to throw the 1-2 instead (while Till doesn’t really have a good jab, he can throw it in conjunction with the straight). When Cerrone was hurt and about to be done, Till still mixed it up with a step-in elbow (which he also used to drop Bojan Velickovic, who showed his intention to check-hook against the fence and Till just slipped an elbow inside of it). Till is a talented and thoughtful striker when he can get his game going.

What unraveled his offensive game against Woodley was his fear of the counter; he became too content to feint and back Woodley up, and didn’t do much to keep Woodley from setting the pace himself. Till found himself reacting to Woodley when Woodley didn’t really respect his feints (since Till hadn’t been able to establish any sort of threat at all), and his actual attack was transparent and countered with ease by “The Chosen One”. Part of this is Till’s relative lack of defense in close; he’s big enough to just step away from his opponent’s attack, but he isn’t hard to hit in the pocket, so his committed entry against Woodley left him ripe to get cracked.

Gamebred

Jorge Masvidal enters his seventeenth year as a professional mixed martial artist in May 2019; for most of that, Masvidal went under the radar as a legitimate contender. Generally, Masvidal was known for dropping close (and in the Iaquinta fight, not that close) split decisions after looking like he no longer cared about fighting about halfway through; however, with his destruction of Donald Cerrone in January 2017, Masvidal entered the public consciousness as a fighter who could conceivably be elite at 170. Since then, Masvidal has dropped two straight fights to top contenders; his choice to take a fight against another top contender at the risk of a three-fight skid is somewhat questionable, but makes his epithet (“Gamebred”) all the more apt. It’s really an all-or-nothing bout for Masvidal; a loss would shut him out of the elite at 170 for good, while a win would propel him right back into the picture.

Masvidal is one of the cleanest technicians at 170, and that’s a real statement at a division populated with strikers as strong as Rafael dos Anjos and Stephen Thompson. Masvidal’s “loss” to Al Iaquinta was a strong showcase of much of what Masvidal does well; he led Iaquinta around the cage as Iaquinta tried to pressure (pivoting nicely to stay in the open), picking him off with check hooks and jabs. Masvidal also showed a strong switch-kicking game (mostly to the body), pulled from or shoulder-rolled Iaquinta’s right hands, and built off the double-jab to hurt Iaquinta badly at the end of the first round.

Masvidal’s last victory against then-top-5-welterweight Donald Cerrone showed a different approach against an opponent who didn’t move forward as aggressively as Iaquinta tried to. On the back foot, Masvidal proved against Iaquinta that he was elusive and able to soundly outpoint a solid boxer; on the front foot, Masvidal was just as thoughtful, but his strikes were far more venomous. Masvidal did an excellent job closing distance against the longer kicker in Cerrone, and this was accomplished in a very Thai way; in a narrow stance with a light lead leg, Masvidal would occasionally flick lead-leg teeps but mostly just feint into range by raising the leg. This would carry him into a position to start jabbing at Cerrone, and he seemed to have Cerrone figured out at the end of round 1 to land right hands. Masvidal also showed the rare ability to consistently punish kicks by catching them on the way down, keeping Cerrone on one leg until he could line up a combination.

Masvidal’s last fight was a disheartening showing, since he basically just walked towards Stephen Thompson to get picked apart, but he still outkicked Thompson from the outside; his fight before that, against Demian Maia, was one he arguably should’ve won, and in which he showed excellent defensive grappling. In general, Masvidal is a hard man to dominate and very difficult to put away, and when he decides to fight to his full potential, he’s one of the craftiest and best-rounded strikers in the division.

Conclusions and Capping

This fight has a surprising amount of factors outside of just looking at how their technical games match up; one of the more important ones is Till’s mental game. In general, it’s hard to predict how a fighter responds to their first professional loss, but that goes for double in regards to a fighter as bizarrely volatile as Till, off being dominated on a huge stage. Till’s approach has been somewhat consistent, but his willingness to pull the trigger has varied wildly across his last three outings; he went all-out against Cerrone to put him away, he played it far too safe against Thompson, he did the same against Woodley in round 1, and came out in round 2 jumped up by his corner to run into a right hand. Till’s pressuring may keep Masvidal from his infamous coasting, but if Till isn’t willing to do anything but feint on the front foot after the Woodley debacle, he could just get outvolumed by an outside boxer as capable as Masvidal.

On the other side of it is Till’s size advantage; Till cuts a murderous amount of weight to make 170, his frame is massive for the weight class and he uses it well, where Masvidal is a former lightweight. This makes the technical matchup extremely unforgiving for Masvidal if Till shows up on point; Masvidal will have to cover a good deal of distance to start leveraging his own boxing against Till (and do it carefully so he doesn’t run into the left hand), and Till’s pressure would be more difficult to defuse. If Masvidal looks to grapple, the size advantage would make wrestling very difficult (as Till proved even against the superlatively athletic Tyron Woodley, who couldn’t get him down).

Masvidal doesn’t really have the hitting power to force Till into being as tentative as he was against Woodley; working under the assumption that Till can be trusted to do what he does best, Masvidal is up against it. Till’s size and his southpaw stance would make it difficult for Masvidal to jab as freely as he likes, and while Masvidal does a good job on the outside, Till was eventually able to corral a far more laterally active opponent in Thompson by the fifth round. Masvidal has a good chance at boxing up Till if the fight gets to the pocket, but Till has shown to be relatively good at limiting engagement there, and Masvidal doesn’t have the immediate power to make an advantage there mean a whole lot (where if Till can push Masvidal to the fence, he can deal real damage). Add in hometown judging in Till’s favor, and favoring Masvidal is tough. There are routes to victory, and it isn’t an exceedingly wide bout, but Till should be able to get past Masvidal.

Prediction: Darren Till via decision. This writer caps Till at -140.

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