The UFC closes out its Fight Island series in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi with UFC on ESPN 4: Whittaker vs Till on July 25, 2020.
The event will be headlined by two of the top fighters in the UFC’s middleweight division in Robert Whittaker and Darren Till. Whittaker is the former UFC middleweight champion who will be fighting for the first time since losing the belt to Israel Adesanya. On the other hand, Till was a former UFC welterweight title contender who recently moved up to the middleweight division.
Being a former champion and the more experienced fighter at 185 pounds, it was surprising to see Whittaker open as the slight underdog ( +100 against Till’s -125 ) when he and Till were initially booked to meet at UFC Fight Night 178 for Dublin. But since plans have changed and the bout was rebooked for Fight Island, the former UFC middleweight king has emerged as the slight favorite.
As of July 19, 2020, the numbers have flipped as Whittaker is now at -125 and Till is currently at +100. Whittaker has opened as the favorite in his last three bouts after he was the underdog against Jacare Souza and during his first bout against Yoel Romero. The Reaper has also closed as the favorite in four out of his last five bouts.
On the other hand, Darren Till has been the underdog in four out of his last five UFC bouts, and the only time he was the favorite was when he fought Masvidal. Interestingly, Till lost to Masvidal and he was 3-1 in the bouts where he was the underdog with his loss coming at the hands of Tyron Woodley.
Let’s take a look at how these two fighters match up for this weekend’s final event at Yas Island:
Robert “Reaper” Whittaker
Robert Whittaker is the former UFC middleweight champion and the former winner of The Ultimate Fighter: Smashes tournament. The 29-year old New Zealand-born Australian is currently the #1 ranked middleweight contender and the 14th ranked pound for pound fighter on the planet. Whittaker won the UFC title at UFC 213 and became undisputed champion after Georges St. Pierre vacated the title in 2017.
The Reaper stands 6-0 tall with a reach of 73 ½ inches while fighting out of the orthodox stance. He has a record of 20-5 with 9 knockouts and five wins via submission. He won nine consecutive bouts including six where he won a post-fight bonus, before losing to Israel Adesanya in his last bout at UFC 243. Three of his five losses have been by stoppage including two knockouts in the UFC against Adesanya and Stephen Thompson.
Whittaker lands an average of 4.77 significant strikes per minute with a 39% accuracy. He gets tagged with 3.70 significant strikes per minute and has a striking defense of 61%. Whittaker doesn’t much have of a takedown game with an average of only 0.36 takedowns per 15 minutes with a takedown defense of 84%.
Whittaker is a high-volume striker who has knockout power. He is a blackbelt in hapkido and Goju-Ryu. The Aussie is willing to stand and trade with his opponents despite getting hit more often than he should. He also has a wrestling background and brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, so he is comfortable with fighting on the mat. Whittaker has tremendous conditioning and he can go five rounds with his pace. However, he has been injury-prone and has taken heavy damage throughout the course of his career.
Odds were taken from BetOnline as of 07/20/2020
Darren “The Gorilla” Till
Darren Till is a former Muay Thai kickboxer who started his MMA career in Brazil for Astra Team Fights. He fought eight times in 2013 alone and amassed an undefeated 12-0 record with seven knockouts before joining the UFC. Till went unbeaten in his first six UFC bouts with five wins before challenging and losing to Tyron Woodley at UFC 228 for the UFC welterweight title. Till suffered a second straight setback against Jorge Masvidal before beating Kelvin Gastelum in his last assignment.
The 27-year old from Liverpool stands 6-0 tall with a reach of 74 inches and is a southpaw fighter. The Gorilla has a record of 18-2 with 10 knockouts and two wins via submission. Till is 6-2-1 in the UFC with only two knockouts. After losing back to back bouts for the first time in his career, Till returned to heavyweight where he outpointed Kelvin Gastelum via split decision.
The Gorilla is 46% accurate with his strikes and lands an average of 2.41 significant strikes per minute. He gets hit with an average of 3.03 significant strikes per minute and has a striking defense of 59%. Till has a 41% takedown accuracy and lands an average of 0.66 takedowns per 15 minutes. He has a takedown defense of 82%.
Till is a balanced fighter who has deep Muay Thai background. He has above-average punching power in both hands and has a deadly uppercut which can drop any fighter in his division. The Gorilla is also a purple belter in Luta Livre so there is no doubt that he can grapple if it is going to be necessary. He is also a well-conditioned fighter who has won all of his six fights that went the distance.
Whittaker has good hand speed and incredibly fast hands at 185 pounds. He tends to pop in and out of the pocket using that speed to launch two and three-punch combinations which he can do for a full five rounds. The former champion has vicious punching power and has a knack for landing serious head kicks.
Likewise, Till does his best work when he moves in and out of the pocket. But unlike the Aussie, the Gorilla excels in timing his counters really well, particularly his left straight which is his power punch. When he doesn’t look to counter, Till relies on a strong Muay Thai clinch game and a hard left body kick.
Till looked good in his middleweight debut but despite that, he still has defensive liabilities which the hard-hitting Whittaker can capitalize on. Whittaker has faster hands and is quicker on the feet and if he forces Till to exchange, his more layered boxing should get the better of his opponent. Till’s defense has been more of his size and durability but he won’t have those advantages against Whittaker.
Till’s ability to withstand punishment is going to be a factor here. But remember that Whittaker successfully defended his belt after going 50 brutal minutes with Yoel Romero and has only been stopped by Israel Adesanya.
Till too, has been stopped only once in his career and that was by Jorge Masvidal in a welterweight bout. The Gorilla though doesn’t have the same wear and tear as Whittaker and hasn’t been hurt as Whittaker has been throughout his career, injuries, or otherwise. Being the fresher fighter between the two, Darren Till does have his advantages over Whittaker.
This should be a fun stand-up brawl between two of the better fighters in the division. The difference for me is Whittaker’s experience and Till’s lack of defense. I think that the former champion will get the better of the Englishman here. I am not discounting the possibility that Whittaker will look bad after all the beating and injuries that he’s endured. But between that and Till’s defensive issues, I’ll take my chance on Whittaker’s unknowns. The Reaper walks away with a knockout win here.
Prediction: Robert Whittaker