We’re less than a week away from what, in my opinion, is the best non title bout of Fight Island in Robert Whittaker vs. Darren Till.
Till will be headed to fight island following a solid divisional debut over Kelvin Gastelum. Gastelum’s stock was high following a war with Israel Adesanya and a victory over him instantly launched Till into the top 10 at middleweight.
As for Robert Whittaker, he is of course coming off of a title fight loss to Israel Adesanya back in October. Bobby Knuckles was caught with a viscous counter hook just as the bell sounded for the end of round one. He never seemed to fully recover from that shot and was ultimately KO’d in the second. Fight Island will mark Whittaker’s first appearance of 2020 following a lay-off for personal reasons. Whittaker was initially slated to face Jared Cannnier before having to withdraw from the bout.
Robert Whittaker has obviously had a more dominant run in the middleweight division. He had two wars with Yoel Romero, winning both, and has 8 division wins total. This includes KO’s of Jacare Souza and Derek Brunson, along with a unanimous decision win over Uriah Hall.
With that said, Darren Till’s run at middleweight is only just beginning, and 185lbs certainly appears to be the natural weight class for the Liverpool native. Till’s fight with Gastelum was called “boring” by some fans due to lack of output, but there were factors surrounding that. Till had lost two straight to Tyron Woodley and Jorge Masvidal respectively and needed a win at all costs. He spoke at length about a renewed focus following the Gastelum fight and seems to be beaming with confidence these days.
Stylistically I like Till in this upcoming match-up with Robert Whittaker, and plenty of the reasons why were on full display in the Gastelum fight. Darren Till doesn’t need a whole lot of volume to win fights and his counters are extremely dangerous. His game mirrors Israel Adesanya’s in more ways than one. A+ counter-striking, great movement and exceptional take-down defense that negates threats from grapplers. Till’s strength advantage was on full display against Gastelum, who was denied on all four of his take down attempts.
I think a wrestling game-plan would go the same way for Robert Whittaker were he to go that route. I certainly think that Whittaker is a better and stronger grappler than Kelvin Gastelum – a former welterweight – but Till is simply too strong at 185lbs for it to weigh in. Plus, Whittaker seems intent to strike. His striking is world class and he had no qualms about engaging with Adesanya, perhaps to his detriment.
Robert Whittaker will have to be careful not to get countered by Darren Till. His style is very tough to guard against as he picks his shots and doesn’t need many to floor his opponent. People forget that Till knocked Jorge Masvidal down with one hook. Though he went on to lose that fight, the power was on full display. It’s the same story with leg kicks, something Whittaker has struggled with in the past. Darren Till is a lock to land at least one heavy leg kick per round, and they are heavy. Leg kicks are what gave him the edge over Gastelum and there was clearly a movement drop after a handful.
It’s tough for me to give Robert Whittaker the edge in this fight based on Till’s style and Whittaker’s bout with Adesanya. To beat Darren Till, Whittaker will have to be very smart with his entries and will be forced to come forward. Darren Till is always content to counter strike and will slow his output down to the bare minimum if that is part of the game plan. Whittaker was floored by Adesanya attempting to implement the exact game plan he will likely need here. Plus, the fighter coming forward is bound to get cracked more than once in this match-up. It’s almost a guarantee that Till will land at least one viscous counter in the first couple rounds, should the fight play out the way that I think it will.
Robert Whittaker’s activity level over the last few years also has to be factored in. Bobby Knuckles has only fought twice since July, 2017. One fight was his second war with Yoel Romero – a fight in which Whittaker took a-lot of damage – while the other was the loss to Adesanya last October.
Robert Whittaker is as good as they come in the middleweight division and he can certainly beat Darren Till, but the obstacles are stacked against him. Till is the fresher fighter who has taken a-lot less damage in his career. He looked like a natural fit at middleweight and has a very similar style to Israel Adesnya, who of course floored Whittaker.
I’m going with Darren Till in this one, though a hedge with a Whittaker KO wouldn’t be the worst idea. I won’t be doing that personally, but the option is there. Till’s head movement is suspect while Whittaker’s power is dramatically underlooked, so there is that path. Ultimately, however, I like Darren Till with plus odds and I expect this line to tighten up come fight day.