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LAS VEGAS — A huge, toothy grin creases Darren Till’s face, which is how you’ll usually see him unless you look at the photoshopped images he posts on social media or see him when he fights.
Other than those two times — OK, and when he’s cutting weight — Till’s face is almost always got a smile across it.
This is a guy who loves life and loves what he does. He wasn’t meant to be sitting behind a desk for eight hours a day, or punching a time clock or whatever.
He was born to fight and the only thing that pleases him more than getting into a fight is winning it.
“I love it,” Till said of his job.
His love for the job is plainly evident, and it’s why he’s gained a massive online following. He’ll fight Derek Brunson on Saturday (4 p.m. ET, ESPN+) at UFC Vegas 36 in a crucial bout for him in the middleweight division.
But having a big online following comes with a price sometimes. And in the days before, and sometimes after, it comes back to haunt him. His direct messages fill up, most with wishes of support but others with, well, less complimentary and less savory things to say.
“There’s a lot of support, obviously, but also a lot of hate,” Till said. “But there’s just a lot of randomness because I think people feel I’m so random on social media, which I am. They send me a lot of randomness and I can’t keep up with it. Checking my DMs is hard and I tend to stay away from it as much as I can on fight week because I’m just inundated. It’s funny random. It’s funny, but it’s very random.”
Till is only 28 and in the heart of his career. Though he’s 1-3 in his last four, he’s oozing with confidence as he heads into what in many ways could be perceived as a crossroads fight.
Brunson is ranked five and Till is seventh. Champion Israel Adesanya is going to fight No. 1 Robert Whittaker later this year or early next year. No. 2 Paulo Costa and No. 4 Marvin Vettori are scheduled to fight and No. 3 Jared Cannonier is coming off a win over Kelvin Gastelum.
A Till victory over Brunson would likely vault him over No. 6 Jack Hermanson and into fifth, at the worst, and dramatically increase his odds of another title shot.
A loss, though, would be his fourth in his last five and would not only drop him down the rankings, but create a long, hard slog back to the top.
If that’s bothering Till, though, he doesn’t show it. His career path in many ways mirrors that of former middleweight champion Michael Bisping, now a UFC Hall of Famer. Bisping was annually among the best fighters in his division but it wasn’t until late in his career that he knocked out Luke Rockhold and won the title. He became the first British fighter to hold a UFC belt.
Till believes he’s going down the same path.
“At one point, even I didn’t believe and I thought, ‘Oh, Bisping might never get the title now,’” Till said. “And he just comes out and beats Luke Rockhold, beats Dan Henderson and has a good fight with Georges [St-Pierre]. … He got the title and he cemented his name with the legends and the Hall of Famers.
“That’s what I’m looking for. This is no disrespect to Bisping, and he’ll understand this, but I’m looking to go higher and higher and higher.”
If he gets there, it’s going to be via his punching power. He carries dynamite in both hands and has the ability to end fights in an instant.
He knows that Brunson will try to take him down, but he’s confident in his takedown defense as well as in his ability to hurt Brunson badly if he moves in recklessly.
“100 percent,” Till said when asked if he expects Brunson to try to put him on his back. “I know what Derek Brunson is coming out to do. Derek’s 37, 38 now and I’m 28 now and getting better with age. I’m on a path where I am thinking about greatness every day when I wake up. It’s going to be a long path, but these guys that Derek’s fought don’t bring what I bring.
“I’m a full middleweight now and I’m carrying so much power. I’m so quick on my feet and it’s not going to be easy for him. Let’s say he essentially does get me against the cage. If he does get that one takedown, it’s going to take a lot of his energy. I see him gassing and I see him dropping his hands and that’s when I’ll tee off on him. I’m carrying so much power now. I’m so confident in my power that as soon as I touch him, I think he’s going to stumble.”