The world may never have heard of Darren Till had things worked out only slightly differently in his life.
He was 19 and a fighter of some promise, though he still had much to learn. He didn’t, for instance, know a lick of jiu-jitsu. Till attended a party where a fight broke out. Till jumped in to help his friend and was stabbed in the back twice.
Those are the kinds of incidents that so often end in tragedy, or at the very least dramatically change the course of a life.
And while it did have that impact – It wasn’t long after he recovered that Till left his home in Liverpool, England, to train in Brazil – he was fortunate that he suffered no long-term consequences.
Except, that is, for one.
Till became a father while he lived in Brazil, and has a 4-year-old daughter. He split from the girl’s mother, though they remain on good terms.
After four years in Brazil, Till decided the best thing for his career was to move back to England. And it’s hard to dispute that, given that he’s kept winning and capped it all by knocking out the legendary Donald Cerrone in the first round on Oct. 21 in Gdansk, Poland.
The victory led him to Saturday’s main event bout against Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson in Liverpool that will be broadcast live on Fox Sports 1.
Even if he upsets the top-ranked Thompson for what would be the biggest victory of his life, his young daughter won’t be led into the cage and she won’t be in his arms celebrating with him.
She is with her mother in Brazil, while Till returned to England to take the next step in his career. It’s one of the kinds of sacrifices fighters routinely have to make in a bid for greatness, though this one is particularly difficult.
Till, though, is nothing if not stoic.
“I had to leave her to chase greatness,” he said. “She’s really too young at this point to understand it all, so it’s good. This is what has to be done and so you do it.”
Till dropped out of school at 14 and has been fighting ever since. He doesn’t do it with an end goal in mind, such as buying a home for a loved one or providing for his daughter or setting himself up for an easy retirement.
Rather, he said it’s a recognition of the talents he has and making the most of what he was given.
“I fight because I’m the best at it and I’m a smart fighter who understands what happens in there better than most of them,” he said. “I have the physical ability and the mental [ability] to be the best in the world, and so you have to take advantage of that. I train harder and push myself because I understand what I am capable of doing in this sport.
“You have to challenge yourself and push yourself in this sport. I respect Stephen Thompson. I respect a lot of these guys. But I think I’ve got that something special.”
Thompson has had a lot of that something special and displayed it repeatedly in his career. Thompson has a knockout win over middleweight champion Robert Whittaker, and notable victories over ex-welterweight champion Johny Hendricks, current Bellator champion Rory MacDonald and top contender Jorge Masvidal.
In addition, he drew with welterweight champion Tyron Woodley in a bout many believed he deserved to win.
Till, though, remains confident, though he’s hardly cocky.
“I’m not saying I’m going to go in there and dominate this guy and it’s all going to be one-sided in my direction,” Till said. “It’s going to be a tough task to beat this guy, but I believe in myself and I believe in what I have done to get myself here. I think I’m a bit smarter and a bit more intelligent in there, and I will find a way to win this.”
Till’s résumé doesn’t contain anywhere near the kind of notable names on it that Thompson’s does. But everyone starts somewhere and Till believes he’s on the road to the top.
“This is a tough sport and it’s not easy when you’re against the best fighters in the world,” he said. “But I’m no pushover, or some young kid being thrown in there. I’m there because I deserve it and because I can win this and that’s what I intend to do.”
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