Former UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker is expected to return to the octagon five months from now against England’s Darren Till.
ESPN first reported that this potentially explosive 185-pound fight is being targeted as the main event of UFC Fight Night 178 which will take place on August 15, 2020, in Dublin, Ireland. No contracts have been signed yet but sources are saying that both camps are close to finalizing a deal and that an announcement is expected anytime soon.
As soon as the news of the fight broke out, the opening odds for the bout were:
Betting Odds as of 03/11/2020
Though it’s close, the Gorilla is the slight favorite at -125 while the Reaper came back at even money (+100). This is surprising because Whittaker is the immediate former champion at 185-pounds who lost the belt to current champion Israel Adesanya at UFC 243 last October 6, 2019. That loss was his lone defeat in his last 10 bouts but it looks like the countless injuries he’s had in the past plus the knockout at the hands of Adesanya has shaken up public confidence in the Aussie.
Till meanwhile is coming off a narrow split decision win over Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 244 last November 2, 2019. Before that, the Gorilla suffered back to back stoppage losses. He lost via D’Arce choke against Tyron Woodley during his first-ever title fight at UFC 228 and then he was knocked out cold by Jorge Masvidal in front of his countrymen in London at UFC Fight Night 147. Despite those bad losses, punters still think highly of the 27-year old power puncher from England and his upset win over Gastelum had something to do with the opening odds.
The 29-year old Whittaker is first New Zealand born fighter to win a UFC title. Known as the Reaper, Whittaker is a former amateur wrestler who won the gold medal at the Australian National Wrestling Championships in 2017. He is a former Superfight Australia Welterweight champion who made his way to the UFC by winning the welterweight tournament of The Ultimate Fighter: Smashes in 2012. He moved up to middleweight in 2014 and went on an eight-fight winning streak including back to back title fight wins over Yoel Romero. Whittaker lost the belt at UFC 243 where he suffered a knockout at the hands of current champion Israel Adesanya.
Whittaker is 20-5 with 9 knockouts and five wins by submission. He is 11-3 overall inside the UFC octagon and his loss to Adesanya was his first taste of defeat since 2014 when he was also knocked out by Stephen Thompson. The Reaper stands six feet tall and has a reach of 73.5 inches while fighting as an orthodox fighter. He owns notable wins over Yoel Romero ( two times ), Brad Tavares, Uriah Hall, Rafael Natal, Derek Brunson, and Jacare Souza. He is currently the #2 ranked middleweight in the UFC.
Darren Till is the 5th ranked UFC middleweight. The fighter known as the Gorilla is is 27-years old and hails from Liverpool, England. Till trained and began fighting in Brazil and he was a mainstay of Sparta MMA and Aspera Fighting Championship before heading to the UFC. He made his UFC debut in 2015 at UFC Fight Night 67 in Brazil and knocked out Wendell Oliveira. After consecutive wins over Bojan Velickovic, Donald Cerrone, and Stephen Thompson, Till earned a title shot against then-champion Tyron Woodley. Till suffered a submission loss to Woodley at UFC 228 and then was knocked out by Jorge Masvidal in next bout before returning to the win column with a close split decision win over Kelvin Gastelum only last November 2019.
Till stands 6-1 tall and has a reach of 74.5 inches while fighting out of the southpaw stance. He has a professional MMA record of 18-2 with 10 knockouts and two wins by way of submission. The Gorilla is 6-2-1 inside the UFC octagon and as noted earlier, he owns wins over Velickobic, Cowboy Cerrone, and Wonderboy Thompson. Till had teased a move to middleweight following his loss to Woodley, citing he has a hard time making the welterweight limit. However, he fought Masvidal at 170-pounds and suffered the consequences. This will officially be his first fight at the 185-pound division and he is facing a former champion.
This is going to be a barnburner with two fighters who are willing to stand and trade inside the pocket. Till is a hard puncher but his best knockouts have come at welterweight. This is the first UFC middleweight fight although he started his MMA career in Brazil as a middleweight. The UFC though is the top MMA promotion on the planet and Till has never fought a middleweight inside the octagon before, much more a former world champion like Whittaker.
There are plenty of concerns with Whittaker. First is the fact that he has been a very injury-prone fighter. Next is his ability to bounce back from a knockout loss suffered at the hands of the Last Style Bender. We saw Whittaker get dominated by a rangier fighter in Adesanya and with Till having a slight advantage in height and reach, that may be the difference we need in this fight.
Whittaker is only 29-years old but his body has been through many wars. Till is the younger and fresher man here but not only has he not fought at this division yet, he has not fought the same level of middleweight opposition that Whittaker has already beaten. I’m interested to see how Till fares when they stand and trade in the pocket. But I think that Whittaker has more punching power than Till. Despite his knockout loss to Adesanya, I believe Whittaker is a very durable fighter. He lasted 10 rounds against Romero and I think he can withstand the Gorilla’s power. Barring any injuries, I’m picking Robert Whittaker over Darren Till.
Prediction: Robert Whittaker