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The UFC’s month on Fight Island closed with a compelling scrap between former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker and Darren Till, which Whittaker won by unanimous decision.
Once again, though, a UFC newcomer stole the show. Khamzat Chimaev opened the main card with a spectacular first-round victory over Rhys McKee, earning him his second win in 10 days in Abu Dhabi. It’s the shortest period of time in which any UFC fighter has won two fights in the modern era.
And UFC president Dana White told Yahoo Sports that Chimaev will be back on Aug. 15 at UFC 252 in Las Vegas.
“The guy is unbelievable; just incredible,” White said. “Any guy who wants to stay active, who wants to keep fighting, I love that. I just love it. He’s a guy who wants to fight and doesn’t care who it is. He just wants to stay active and to me, that’s the way guys should think.
“He’s special. He’s a super talented guy and his confidence is through the roof. He truly believes he’s the best in the world. His quote tonight, literally, was ‘Give me whoever, I’ll smash everybody.’ I love that mentality.”
Chimaev made his UFC debut on July 15 in a middleweight bout against John Phillips. He dominated that from the opening seconds and went on to submit Phillips in the second with a D’Arce choke. On Saturday, he grabbed McKee at the bell of their welterweight fight, walked to his corner, took him down and mauled him.
In his two UFC bouts, Chimaev has outlanded his opponents by a combined 192-2.
There was a lot more drama in the main event. Whittaker was dropped by a Till elbow in the first round of his first fight since losing the middleweight title to Israel Adesanya last year. He turned down a fight against Jared Cannonier, citing burnout, but looked in good form on Saturday.
It was a far more tactical fight than expected. Whitaker’s calf kick and his ability to control the distance, to get to a range where it was hard for Till to get his big shots off, probably won him the fight.
All three judges had it 48-47 for Whittaker, as did Yahoo Sports. White said, “That was not the fight I was expecting. I kind of expected there would be more action.”
But Whittaker, one of the shrewdest fighters in the sport, was able to adapt to Till’s early strategy. But it wasn’t easy and Whittaker spent much of the final round fending off Till’s attacks.
He breathed a sigh of relief when it was over, not because he was physically worn out but because it was such a chess match that required so much concentration he was mentally drained.
“My brain is on overload,” Whittaker said, chuckling. “I’ll tell you what: That fight was so stressful. I hope the fans and everybody could appreciate it. It was as much of a technical fight as I’ve ever had.”
Till caught Whittaker leaning in and dropped him with an elbow to the chin in the first, but Whittaker took over from there and was the far busier fighter. It could have been his activity that was the difference in the judges’ minds.
In total strikes, Whittaker landed 100 of 188 punches, including 69 of 157 significant strikes. Till had 50 of 108 total strikes including 41 of 99 significant strikes. Whittaker also had the only two knockdowns of the fight so his activity was a huge point in his favor.
Till landed just 17 significant strikes in Rounds 2, 3 and 4 combined, a period in which Whittaker connected on 41 significant strikes.
White said he felt Whittaker would probably need to fight at least one more time. At first he said, “Cannonier is next after” Adesanya and Paolo Costa fight at UFC 252. But then he said he wasn’t sure. He noted that Cannonier, Whittaker and Jack Hermansson were in the mix and said only that he felt Whittaker would need to fight again before getting a title shot.
“But we’ve got a lot of time before we have to worry about that,” White said.
We will, however, see Chimaev again very soon, much to the Russian-born fighter who now lives in Sweden’s delight.
“I said to myself, ‘Let’s go relax then come back and smash somebody like I did [tonight] and like I did 10 days before,’” Chimaev said. “I like this. I want to do more. It’s too easy for me. I’m too fast. I want to be there more. It didn’t feel like a fight; it felt like one second, but I needed this. I want to fight.”
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