Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya has run through the top opponents in his division, creating space for new challengers. Derek Brunson and Darren Till are each seeking a title shot, and the winner of their UFC Fight Night bout Saturday afternoon will go a long way in determining the upper echelon of the middleweight division.
Seeking his fifth straight victory, Brunson (22–7) is ranked fifth in the division. A win against Till (18-3-1) puts him in serious consideration for a title fight.
“This fight has some huge implications, so I know what’s at stake here,” says Brunson. “It’s my third main event in a row, and I need to win here to get a title shot after the Israel–Robert Whittaker fight.”
Adesanya is the last opponent to defeat Brunson, which happened in November of 2018 at UFC 230.
“I was ranked higher than him, and I didn’t have to take that fight,” says Brunson. “I had another fight scheduled, but he was calling me out. I felt like, if he really wanted the fight, then we should make it happen. He went on to be champion, and I’m earning my way back to title contention. So after this fight, it’s going to be time for us to meet again.”
Till is another top contender in the division. He captured people’s attention by winning 17 of his first 18 fights, with the only blemish being a draw. That hot streak, however, ran cold, and Till has dropped three of his last four fights, including his most recent loss to Whittaker, who is Adesanya's next challenger.
But a victory against Brunson re-establishes Till as a genuine threat for the title.
“I need to win this fight, and then one more, to get a title shot,” says Till. “That’s what I’m working toward, to prove I am the best. I don’t want to look too far ahead, but if this fight goes the way I want it to go, I’ll be right there.”
Till says he respects for Brunson, noting that he is one of the hardest working fighters in all of MMA.
“It’s his work ethic,” says Till, 27. “He’s getting to be an older guy , but he’s still there at the top. I respect his work. He’s a good guy and a good fighter, and it’s going to be an honor to share the Octagon with him.”
Brunson has long been viewed as a measuring stick, yet rarely is he viewed as the centerpiece of the division. He can help shed that image with a win against Till, especially by doing so as the underdog.
“I know my job,” says Brunson. “I’ve been the underdog in my last four fights, but I showed up and did my job, and that’s what I going to do in this fight, too.
“I don’t like losing. When I had those two losses back-to-back, that was the time for me to reassess and go back to the drawing board. I didn’t quite have the body I needed at the time, and I was training at home, so I went to Florida and sacrificed time away from the family to get the training I needed. It’s still paying off.”
This is a critical matchup for both fighters. Brunson needs to repeatedly test Till’s takedown defense. To emerge victorious, Brunson’s wrestling will need to play an integral role in the fight. He needs to prove he has evolved and can defeat the division’s top contenders, but that won’t be an easy task against a hungry Till.
Till is an elite striker, possessing a skill set that seems primed to find holes against Brunson. His accuracy will be a significant factor, especially if he can force Brunson to become reckless after tagging him with a few power strikes.
“I’m 100% convinced I am going to be the victor,” says Till. “I’m going to have too much power for him, and I’m going to be too clever, too smart, and too slick. I believe I can stop him.
“I’m about to hit my best. That’s a scary thought, but I can’t wait to see what the future holds for myself and my team.”
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