Written by Jay Furness
It’s an historic weekend for the city of weekend Liverpool, and come Sunday night, the Scouse faithful will be jubilant, distraught, or caught somewhere between the two.
On Saturday night, the beloved football club take on Real Madrid in the Champions League final in Zurich, and on Sunday night, unbeaten hometown favourite Darren Till takes on Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson in the main event of UFC Fight Night 130.
Till has managed to, almost single-handedly, drag the world’s biggest MMA organisation to the Echo Arena. Liverpool has a fierce and strong tradition of mixed martial artists, but until now none have had the sway to force their hand.
“The Gorilla” Till is different. He’s exciting, relentless, and talks the talks as well as he walks the walk. However, despite having plenty to boast about, he credits those that came before him for paving the way prior to the enormous opportunity he has on May 27th.
“I think back then, MMA was growing,” he offers, harking back to when teammates such as Terry Etim, Paul Sass, and Paul Kelly were at their peak. “They were unbelievable, I’d go as far as to say they’re better than me, but the difference between me and my teammates , and this is no disrespect to them, is that I believe in myself.
“I believe in myself more than anything in this world, and I manifest it. I knew this was going to happen. I spoke about it. They probably believed it in their own head but were too scared to say it. For me, that’s the difference.”
It’s been Till’s charisma that appears to have drawn many of the old school Kaobon athletes back to the gym. Pictures have surfaced of the Liverpudlian’s full strength fight camp, with all of the renowned names from the gym’s illustrious past.
They had gone their separate ways and pursued other things, but the hunger that “The Gorilla” shows has brought them back, and reignited a flame.
“I was just this little mad kid back, wanting to fight with these big UFC fighters. The team split up and they’ve all gone on to live different lives, but I’m still here, seven or eight years down the line, trying to be great, trying to be a champion
“They’re seeing that and thinking, ‘We’ve got to support our little man here.’ It’s for me, it’s for them, it’s for the gym, it’s for MMA in Liverpool.”
Taking on the UFC’s number-one ranked welterweight contender in Thompson not only brings massive prestige to the UFC’s inaugural outing in Liverpool, but gives him a massive opportunity to put himself right at the top of the division.
Thompson has fought for the title twice – the first contest was a draw against Tyron Woodley, and the second a close decision loss. He’s shown he’s as close to championship material as you can get, without actually having lifted the strap.
The champion could barely get past him, let alone finish him, so if Till can do that, then he’ll really shake things up at 170lbs. Clearly, he believes that will happen, despite “Wonderboy” never having lost inside the distance.
“Everyone can get stopped. Look at all the greats, past and present, someone comes along and does it. I believe I’m that guy to stop Stephen, I really believe it.”
There’s everything to gain for the young Scouser, who’ll be keeping an eye on Saturday’s result, but hoping to do his city proud on Sunday night regardless, whether it’s continuing the party, or lifting the spirits.
“No-one knows what to expect apart from us Scousers. It’s never been done before. It’s very emotional for me, and the whole of Liverpool.”