Darren Till snapped a two-fight losing streak in his middleweight debut Saturday night at UFC 244. The slugger out of Liverpool fought strategically en route to a split-decision win over Kelvin Gastelum in the event’s co-main event.
Till walked to the Octagon with apparent calm, even as the Madison Square Garden arena crowd sang along to his walk-in song, “Sweet Caroline,” and continued with poise for three rounds before having his say afterwards. “Before me fight with [then welterweight champion Tyron] Woodley, I felt I was invincible…I proved a lot of f—king doubters wrong…f—k yous,” Till said in his post-fight interview.
Till fought like a man with plenty to lose but who retained confidence in his skill. The first round saw lots of feints from both fighters as well as clinching, often initiated by the taller striker Till.
The pair traded positions and advantages in the clinch, often against the cage, as well as short strikes on separation. On the outside, Till scored with some hard kicks to the lead leg of Gastelum and landed a big straight left punch to the head in the last ten seconds of the period.
In the second, both men landed many kicks to one another’s lead legs and Till’s footwork and feints created angles and timing that made it difficult for Gastelum to get a bead on him. The two contenders exchanged advantages in the clinch once more, with Gastelum looking for takedowns but not scoring any, though he did score a big short elbow on separation from the clinch at one point.
In the third round Till continued to give Gastelum problems with his length and savvy footwork, moving away from Gastelum’s power left for most of the final stanza. Throughout, Till also continued to successfully defend takedown attempts from the wrestler Gastelum, who initially found difficulty getting the Brit down, even when starting out with good entries and double underhooks.
Till caught two kicks from Gastelum and even used the second such instance to briefly put Gastelum on his back. Gastelum stayed focused and ultimately finished the round and fight strongest, however, scoring two late takedowns.
In the end, it was enough for one judge to see it the American’s way, but not the other two. Scores were 30-27, 29-28, and 27-30 in favor of Till.
The new middleweight improved his overall record to 18-2-1. The loss for Gastelum is his second-straight and drops his mark to 15-5-1.
Till ended his night on a jubilant and defiant note. “I’m just happy to be here, right now,” he ended.
“I just want to build myself back up, stay humble and cocky at the same time, so f- -k all those doubters again.”