There are still questions to be answered, but Darren Till fulfilled his most important duty at UFC Fight Night 130 in Liverpool, and that was to win.
Till stalked and struck when he could get inside the distance, but he was cautious of the counter-striking threat from “Wonderboy”, and rightly so. Thompson did manage to land straight punch retorts and evade almost all of the significant shots until he hit the canvas in the fifth, but his constant back-foot fighting left it open to interpretation.
After five closely contested rounds, the Scouse fans seemed certain that their man had done enough to secure the victory, but most at cageside were not so sure.
Till himself said, “I got the decision in a really close fight. He was the trickiest fighter I’ve ever fought.”
If you’d taken the time to have even a brief scroll through your social media timeline, you would have seen almost every possible score being touted, such was the nuanced, razor-tight battle that played out before us.
However, the three important opinions were in the hands of the judges, and as they were read out unanimously, the crowd erupted. Till had done it. He’d beaten the number-one contender in the UFC, and now that spot could be his.
But could it? The bout had to be contested at a catchweight because Till had missed the mark by a significant 3.5lbs, so it would make sense to see him make the welterweight limit again before he has a chance to challenge for the title.
When speaking to the media in the post-fight press conference, UFC President Dana White said he believed Till’s reasons for missing the weight were legitimate, and that he could make the weight with no issues, although the Scouser would offer no excuses.
“I don’t deserve the next title shot, I’m a realist,” offered Till post-fight. “I’m truly ashamed by missing the weight. Give it to Stephen [Thompson]. He deserves it more than me.”
But in the post-fight press conference, White would not write off an immediate title shot for Till regardless of the circumstances, but he did say the Liverpudlian would have his next bout in Las Vegas.
“Why can’t I be the guy to bring the UFC to a stadium here?” Till questioned. “I want a PPV at Anfield.”
It seems fighter and promoter may be at loggerheads as to what’s next, but there’s still plenty of fantasy matchmaking to be done.
The perennial test of any Brit is always the wrestler – something Till hasn’t specifically tackled yet – so there could be an opportunity there, but it also runs the risk of becoming a banana peel when Till’s status and momentum is at an all-time high.
He’s brought the UFC to a new city, he’s packed out an arena, and he’s performed under the lights and under the pressure.
Performance-wise, it was patient and calculated, against the king of patience and calculation.
He’s verified himself as a legit threat to the top tier, now he just has to prove he can make the weight, and the world could be at his feet.
It was a huge night in Liverpool (and the UFC will be back, as per Dana White), and a fledgling star exploded into the mainstream consciousness, but the right way to capitalise on the momentum remains to be seen.
In Till’s words, “I’m just gonna go and train.” If he has to then he’ll just keep fighting and keep winning, and the rest will take care of itself.
We have some answers, but we still have plenty of questions.