Darren Till’s stunning first-round TKO of Donald Cerrone on Saturday (October 21) in Gdansk, Poland was more than just a great moment in the career of Darren Till. It was also, by virtue of it being an upset in a main event, a major moment for British and Irish mixed martial arts and yet another sign fighters from the United Kingdom and Ireland can hang with the best in the world and walk the walk.
The nation has had similar (and better) wins, of course – Michael Bisping and Conor McGregor being notable examples – but, for the most part, the Brits and Irish have had a tough time of it inside the UFC’s Octagon. They have, for years, succumbed to better wrestlers and grapplers. They’ve teased promise only to then fail to deliver. In Liverpudlian Till, though, it would seem the nation has found another man capable of scaling the heights and one day excelling in a UFC title fight.
To commemorate Till’s breakthrough mauling of Cerrone, here are the ten best wins by British and Irish fighters in the UFC…
10) Stevie Ray MD Joe Lauzon
UFC Fight Night 108, April 2017
While it could be argued Stevie Ray didn’t get a vintage Joe Lauzon in April of this year, he still managed to find a way past one of the best grapplers in his division, a man who had previously conquered Diego Sanchez, Takanori Gomi, Michael Chiesa, Mac Danzig and Jeremy Stephens. Lauzon, by the time he faced Ray, was very much win-lose-win-lose, but had earlier in the year edged Marcin Held, a Polish prospect, via split-decision, and, at 33 years of age, wasn’t exactly over-the-hill. The win for Ray, therefore, was a good one, a sign of even better things to come, and distanced him from other prospects who looked to add Lauzon’s name to their record only to come up short.
9) Ian Freeman TKO 1 Frank Mir
UFC 38, July 2002
Frank Mir would one day become a UFC heavyweight champion and a man considered one of the best grapplers in the game. But, in 2002, when Ian Freeman got a hold of him and broke him up inside a round, Mir was a 4-0 prospect still finding his feet. Which is why the defeat at UFC 38, Mir’s first as a pro, left the American bloodied, battered and exhausted, the result of Freeman’s elbows and hammer-fists, and no longer able to stand or walk, much less fight.
8) John Hathaway UD Diego Sanchez
UFC 114, May 2010
For a long time John Hathaway was considered one of Britain’s dark horses. A rangy and well-rounded welterweight, Hathaway won 14 fights in a row, four of which took place in the UFC, and, in 2010, triggered plenty of excitement with a thorough three-round thrashing of former Ultimate Fighter 1 winner Diego Sanchez, who hadn’t that long ago beaten Clay Guida and Joe Stevenson and challenged BJ Penn for a UFC title, albeit at lightweight.
7) Ross Pearson TKO 2 Gray Maynard
UFC Fight Night 47, August 2014
Cynics would argue Gray Maynard’s countless wars, and a run of back-to-back defeats, conspired to soften him up and enable Ross Pearson to get the win over him in 2014. But that’s probably doing the Sunderland scrapper a disservice. After all, Maynard, despite classics with Frankie Edgar and subsequent TKO losses to TJ Grant and Nate Diaz, was still a former lightweight title challenger with wins over Edgar, Diaz, Kenny Florian and Clay Guida. His scalp, therefore, still meant something and Pearson, overjoyed to secure a second-round stoppage, will no doubt look back on the win as a memorable moment in a career of ups and downs.
6) Paul Daley TKO 1 Martin Kampmann
UFC 103, September 2009
Solid rather than spectacular, Martin Kampmann was considered a threat to opponents both on the ground and in a striking battle. He could do a bit of everything, had beaten the likes of Carlos Condit and Thales Leites, and some even touted him as a future title contender. It wasn’t until he fought Nottingham’s Paul Daley, though, an explosive puncher with a left hook from hell, that he realised there are levels to striking and that, in a striking match with arguably the best striker in the division, he’d always come off second best. It didn’t take long, either. Once trapped against the fence, Kampmann was finished, thanks to Daley’s hellacious hook, in two-and-a-half minutes.
5) Jimi Manuwa KO 2 Ovince Saint Preux
UFC 204, October 2016
Ovince Saint Preux was a perennial 205-pound contender with wins over Rafael Cavalcante, ‘Shogun’ Rua and Patrick Cummings. He’d also just given a returning Jon Jones all he could handle in a five-round UFC title fight. However, in what was, on paper, a 50/50 fight, Manuwa looked to test Saint Preux’s durability early, half an eye on bettering Jones’ result, and let his hands go freely in Manchester. Then, in round two, with Saint Preux by now wary and wounded, ‘The Poster Boy’ stalked him along the fence and folded him with a vicious left hook.
4) Dan Hardy UD Mike Swick
UFC 105, November 2009
‘Quick’ Swick, with just two defeats in 16 fights, was coming off TKO wins over Ben Saunders and Jonathan Goulet, and had also outscored Marcus Davis and Josh Burkman, when opposing Dan Hardy at UFC 105. He was full of confidence. He was favoured by many. Yet, in a nip-and-tuck affair, it was Hardy, the Englishman, who edged him out over the three-round distance. It was the best win of ‘The Outlaw’s career; it unlocked the door to a shot at Georges St-Pierre’s UFC welterweight title.
3) Darren Till TKO 1 Donald Cerrone
UFC Fight Night 118, October 2017
In truth, nobody really knew how good Darren Till was going into Saturday’s fight clash Donald Cerrone. Unbeaten in 15 fights, we knew he could win and look good at a certain level, but when your best win is a toss-up between Jessin Ayari and Bojan Veličković, don’t expect many to tip you to beat a dangerous veteran like Cerrone, winner of eight UFC bouts in a row. There was a feeling, though, especially among those connected to Till, those aware of his potential, that the timing could be right (Cerrone had lost his previous two fights). And so it proved. The Liverpudlian confounded the doubters, beat up and stopped Cerrone inside a round, and looked nothing short of sensational in the process.
2) Michael Bisping KO 1 Luke Rockhold (also UD Anderson Silva and UD Dan Henderson)
UFC 199, June 2016
This win was special not only because it was an upset, one that landed Michael Bisping the UFC middleweight title he’d long been craving, but also because it acted as sweet revenge for a man who had previously been submitted by Rockhold in 2014. Bisping, for obvious reasons, started the rematch as an underdog. What’s more, he had taken the fight on short-notice. But such details counted for little when a laid-back, cocksure Rockhold became lazy and then all of a sudden found himself wobbled and ultimately dethroned by a Bisping left hook in round one. It was a win well-earned for Bisping, not just on that night, but across 25 previous UFC fights (seven of which ended in defeat). Nobody had to graft for UFC gold quite like ‘The Count’.
1) Conor McGregor KO 1 José Aldo (also TKO 2 Eddie Alvarez and MD Nate Diaz)
UFC 194, December 2015
Let’s face it, you’d be hard-pressed finding any win better than a 13-second slaying of the greatest featherweight of all-time. Wins simply don’t get much better. Opponents don’t get much better. Wound up, amped up, pride hurt, José Aldo, undefeated in 10 years, charged Conor McGregor from the off, keen to impose himself on the Irishman, only to run on to a counter left hand that scrambled his senses, sent him to the deck and crowned ‘Mystic Mac’ the new UFC featherweight champion. After that, everything changed. The division, the nature of an upset win, the nature of a title win. And Conor McGregor’s life. That changed irrevocably.
Brad Pickett UD Demetrious Johnson
WEC 48, April 2010
Had this taken place in the UFC and not the WEC, you’d have grounds to argue Brad Pickett’s win over Demetrious Johnson in 2010 has every right to top this list. After all, since entering the UFC and going down to flyweight, Johnson has done more than just go from strength to strength. He has become a UFC champion, he has broken Anderson Silva’s record of 10 consecutive title defences and he is currently recognised as the pound-for-pound best mixed martial artist on the planet. Londoner Pickett, though, on the night they met at WEC 48, was more than ‘Mighty Mouse’s equal. In fact, he got the better of him.