LAS VEGAS – If the Motion Picture Association of America rated the video that emerged of Darren Till’s weight cut on May 25 prior to his fight with Stephen Thompson, it would be at least an R and more likely an NC-17. It was for the most mature of audiences and those with the strongest of stomachs.
It was hard to watch as Till struggled, and ultimately failed by 3 ½ pounds, to get to the contracted limit of 171 for his bout with Thompson.
On Friday in Dallas, he’ll have to get a pound lower to fight Tyron Woodley on Saturday at UFC 228 for the welterweight title. Anyone with an ounce of human compassion who saw him torture himself trying to shrink his body wouldn’t want to see him endure that again. It would be cruel and unusual punishment.
It’s why Till and Team Kaobon relocated from Liverpool, England, to Las Vegas to prepare for Woodley at the UFC Performance Institute, where he’s banking on the state-of-the-art facilities to help him make weight safely, and with enough left in reserve to take on one of the most underrated fighters in the sport.
At an Aug. 3 news conference to promote the fight, Till stormed from the back to pose with Woodley. He raised his arms, puffed out his chest and looked massive next to the thickly muscled champion. It raised plenty of eyebrows, as did Till’s blunt assertion on Aug. 28 when asked how his weight cut was going: “It’s s–t. It’s s–t.”
But Till looked noticeably smaller than he did several weeks earlier while posing for promotional photos with Woodley, and he was moving effortlessly.
He has, he said, committed his life to making weight the right way and turned it into a lifestyle. An affable sort with the ability to laugh at himself, Till said he’d like nothing more than a hamburger, and nobody surrounding him had the heart to tell him there was an outstanding burger joint nearby.
It’s not as if all Till has to do is safely make weight and show up to win, because that severely short-changes Woodley. Woodley is a brilliant talent who is always improving and becoming a more complete fighter.
But for Till, a large part of the battle is putting himself into the best possible shape. He has that rare kind of punching power that can alter a fight with one shot. And even in the video of Till’s weight cut against Thompson, as he’s drained and depleted while hitting mitts, his teammates cheer as he picks up the intensity.
As he hits the focus mitt, there is a loud thwack, a testament to Till’s natural power.
He’s a natural middleweight trying to squeeze himself into a welterweight’s body, so that pop can be a difference maker. He admits it’s been difficult.
“I hate cutting weight. I hate making weight. I hate dieting,” Till said, grinning. “But I’m going to make this weight. I can’t wait to do that when I step on them scales.”
As he spoke, Till give a middle-finger salute with each hand. He’s heard the critics who have roared, not without plenty of justification, about him getting a title shot after so badly missing weight.
“I’m in that moment where I don’t want to train any more,” he explained. “I don’t want to eat good any more. I wish I had a hamburger in front of me, but it’s all sacrifices. I made a mistake last time, but I can’t wait to say ‘[Expletive] you,’ to everyone who keeps babbling on about weight.”
Till brought his coaches and some of his teammates to Las Vegas with him, and though camp has dragged on, he concedes it’s been beneficial. But as the seconds tick away toward his date with destiny, Till has gotten increasingly moody. He’d rather not be thinking about a fight 24 hours a day for two months, but that’s what it’s going to take to win this one.
And so, though he’s easily irritated and wants to lash out, Till has put his complete faith in coach Colin Heron and his staff.
“To be honest, whatever my coach says, goes,” Till said. “Lately, I’ve been in a bad mood and he’s been saying stuff, and he knows he’s getting on me nerves. He knows I’m low on food and I’m training hard. Whatever he says, I don’t answer back. I keep me mouth closed and I do what he says. I never question what he tells me to do, inside the Octagon, inside the training room and outside. There are things he says that I don’t want to do, but I get on and do it because I know it’s all beneficial.”
And that’s the rub. Till hasn’t always lived the lifestyle of a fighter in the past. He’s had natural talent and while he’s worked hard, he hasn’t dedicated himself like he has finally done.
He wants to someday move to middleweight, where, he says with a laugh, he’s happy that powerful wrestler Yoel Romero has moved up. But his first goal is to defeat Woodley and become welterweight champion.
He’s had an extraordinary rise – He’s 5-0-1 in the UFC and 17-0-1 overall – and has had to deal with a lot of distractions. He’s taken heat for comments he’s made about his pregnant girlfriend and his daughter, and has been lambasted for his words.
It’s a topic of conversation in every interview, though all he was saying in a bit more colorful language was that he is simply focused 100 percent on the fight. Fighting is a selfish sport, but Till’s bluntness made it seem as if he is different.
“I just said what I was feeling, you know, in the moment,” Till said. “We from Liverpool, we speak a bit differently. You know, I speak with a lot of meaning, and that’s just how it is right now. It’s just my only focus is fighting on [Saturday]. And maybe it didn’t come out well, but I’m not apologizing or not trying to win back any friends. You know, it’s just the way it is. I’m a fighter, and people who have been through it know what I meant.
“You know, my girlfriend, she follows me around 24 hours a day. I see me daughter every night on FaceTime. So I know what I meant and people close to me know what I meant. That’s all that matters really to be honest.”
That, hitting 170 pounds on Friday and then going out and finishing the job on Saturday.
All the sacrifices and the frustrations will fade into distant memories should he pull it off and lift the title from Woodley.
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