We have an incredibly high level middleweight match up to look forward to this weekend, as former welterweights collide in the five round main event at UFC on ESPN 14. We get to see former UFC Middleweight Champion Robert ‘The Reaper’ Whittaker take on former UFC welterweight title challenger Darren ‘The Gorilla’ Till, and man what a fight this is! They’re pretty similar in style in a few ways, but they’re also very different. Continue reading for a full in-depth look at this match up and their careers leading up to this point.
We first got notice of ‘The Reaper’ on The Ultimate Fighter, where he went 2-0, finishing his first fight via KO at 17 seconds into round one, and his second fight via KO at 1:17 of round one. He’d already won the SFA Welterweight Championship and fought for the CFC Welterweight Championship just before coming over, but now he was about to have another title/trophy to that resume. Whittaker defeated Brad Scott at the finale to become The Ultimate Fighter: Smashes winner.
He then defeated The Ultimate Fighter 16 winner Colton Smith via TKO early in round three, before losing his next two straight to The Ultimate Fighter 11 winner Court McGee via split decision, and Stephen Thompson via TKO in round one. Whittaker fought once more at welterweight, defeating Mike Rhodes via unanimous decision before making the move up to middleweight. He immediately found success upon moving up, as he TKO’d Clint Hester in round two, and KO’d Brad Tavares in round one in his first two fights at 185 lbs.
He then won back-to-back unanimous decisions over Uriah Hall and Rafael Natal, before TKO’ing both Derek Brunson and Jacare Souza with head kicks followed up by punches. Next came his first title fight, and his first fight that actually went five rounds in the UFC, where he and Yoel Romero fought for the interim UFC Middleweight Championship. Romero was the boogeyman of the middleweight division at that point, he was 8-0 in the UFC with six knockouts. He himself was coming off wins over Lyoto Machida (KO), Jacare Souza (split decision), and Chris Weidman (KO).
After a hard fought battle, Whittaker walked away with the unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 48-47) victory, and the interim UFC Middleweight Championship. ‘The Reaper’ should have fought then champion Michael Bisping next, but Bisping instead fought Georges St-Pierre upon St-Pierre’s return, and lost. This put a bit of a jam in the middleweight division, because St-Pierre sat on the belt for about a week, then vacated it. As a result of this, Whittaker was promoted to undisputed UFC Middleweight Champion.
He was supposed to make his first title defense against Luke Rockhold, but was forced out with an injury. Rockhold then fought Romero for the interim UFC Middleweight Championship next. Romero knocked him out in round three, and we had a great rematch as a result. This fight was much closer, and much harder fought than their first one. Many believe Romero won it, but Whittaker was the one who had his hand raised, and walked away with the belt via split decision (47-48, 48-47, 48-47). This was probably the best option regardless, because Romero missed weight and was ineligible to win the title, just like his fight prior with Rockhold.
Whittaker was then set to face Kelvin Gastelum next, but was forced out with an injury, and didn’t fight again until he fought Israel Adesanya later that year. He was knocked out in round two of that fight, and is no longer the UFC Middleweight Champion. He hadn’t fought in a year-and-a half at that point, and was coming off two straight up wars with the scariest guy in the division, perhaps he’ll do a little better as he gets active again.
Darren Till made it to 12-0 before joining the UFC, and he went 3-0-1 in the UFC until anyone knew who he was. He’d knocked out Wendell Oliveira in his UFC debut, had a draw against former Cage Warriors Welterweight Champion Nicolas Dalby, and won unanimous decisions over Jessin Ayari and Bojan Velickovic. He next fought Donald Cerrone in the main event of UFC Fight Night 118, and this is where his stardom exploded. He TKO’d Cerrone in round one, very handily as well, and suddenly everyone was talking about this kid.
Till’s next fight came in the main event of UFC Fight Night 130 in his hometown of Liverpool, England, where he fought two-time title challenger, and fellow kickboxer Stephen Thompson. Though the fight was very close, Till walked away with the unanimous decision (48-47, 49-46, 49-46) victory. Despite missing weight by 3.5 lbs, he was awarded a title shot against then champion Tyron Woodley. Till didn’t really show up to this fight, he froze in the spotlight, and was finished in round two with a D’Arce choke after being dropped and viciously ground-and-pounded by Woodley.
Till returned about half a year later to face Jorge Masvidal, who had been out a year-and-a-half at the time. Little did he know, this was a far more motivated Masvidal than ever before. After dropping Masvidal early on, it was a very competitive fight throughout, until Masvidal brutally KO’d Till midway through round two. Till took some time away from the gym and social media after this, and decided he needed to move up to middleweight. It’d been talked about and contemplated for some time at that point, he really was a massive welterweight, so it was time.
He fought Kelvin Gastelum in his middleweight debut, and it’s not a fight many of us wanted to see, initially. Gastelum had just fought for the interim title against Adesanya, and though he lost, he almost knocked Adesanya out at one point, he had him hurt badly. Not to mention all the guys Gastelum has KO’d, not to mention Till had just gone from 17-0-1 to 17-2-1, being finished in absolute merciless fashion in both of those defeats, as well as being only 25 and 26-years-old in those defeats.
That’s not how to build someone with real, true potential, to just feed them to someone like Gastelum after their last two fights went that way. Not all of us felt this way however, some were in favor of it and liked the match up, still no one expected Till to win. Till ended up controlling most of the fight, picking Gastelum apart throughout, and earned the split decision (27-30, 29-28, 30-27) victory. It looked similar to the Thompson fight in the sense that it was a close striking battle, though each Till and Gastelum secured one takedown on the other.
Robert Whittaker (20-5) vs. Darren Till (18-2-1)
This is such an exciting fight between two of the best strikers in the sport, the No. 1 and No. 5 ranked middleweight contenders. Both men have a wide diversity of strikes in their arsenal, but of course, like most fighters, they have a couple select main tools they like to go to. Whittaker has a beautiful jab, great hooks and overhands, and even better head kicks. He seems to land his head kicks on everyone. Till is like Conor McGregor in the sense that he uses most of his strikes to set up his straight left.
Whittaker was supposed to fight Jared Cannonier earlier this year, but was forced out of the bout because he had to donate bone marrow for his daughter. It was very unfortunate that fight was scrapped, but this one’s just as exciting. Whittaker certainly has the edge on the ground, though it’s doubtful this fight will go there.
‘The Reaper’ started wrestling competitively a few years back, and won the Australia Cup in 2015, Australian Nationals in 2017, and the Australian Commonwealth trials in 2017. For someone that’s mainly a striker that didn’t start doing that until later on in his life and career, it’s pretty insane. It shows how special of an athlete he is.
Of Whittaker’s 20 wins, nine come via knockout, and five via submission, while ten of Till’s 18 wins are via knockout, with just two submissions. It’s interesting, Whittaker went 3-2 in the UFC as a welterweight and has gone 8-1 since moving up to middleweight, while Till went 5-2-1 at welterweight and is just 1-0 at middleweight now. Whittaker won his first eight fights at 185 lbs until his last against Adesanya.
‘The Reaper’ stands 6’ tall and boasts a 73’’ reach, while Till stands 6’1’’ with a 74.5’’ reach. It was definitely the right move for both of these two to move up, they’ve both done so well at middleweight thus far. People think Whittaker’s best days may be behind him, but he’s still only 29-years-old, he should still have a few more years before his prime leaves him, he should be entering it now. Till is still only 27-years-old too, sky is the limit for his future as well.
Who do you see winning this epic middleweight battle?