Australian mixed martial arts fighter Robert Whittaker has kept himself in the world title picture with a hard-fought unanimous decision win over England’s Darren Till.
The 5 round fight served as the main event of UFC Fight Night 174, the final of three events at the much-vaunted ‘Fight Island’ complex, located on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi.
After a pre-fight build-up which included endless banter and memes shared on social media between the fighters, the fight itself was a technical contest. Both combatants are accomplished strikers and it showed, with an array of different strategies and techniques on display.
The first round saw number 5 ranked Till dominant, dropping Whittaker with a perfectly timed elbow. As Whittaker charged forward, Till landed right on the chin and followed Whittaker to the ground in a bid to finish the fight. Whittaker however recovered quickly, working his way back to his feet to survive the round.
Round 2 saw Whittaker take a more cautious approach, as Till used his superior reach to land punches, as both fighters attempted to goad each other into striking range. By the close of the round, it appeared that Till may have been up 2 rounds to nil.
Rounds 3 & 4 saw Whittaker adjust the gameplan once again, using feints to keep Till guessing, while mixing in a variety of kicks and takedowns. A series of leg kicks appeared to stifle the movement of Till, both rounds ending on the ground with Whittaker in top position. Between rounds 3 and 4, the southpaw Till complained to his corner of an injury to his lead leg, replays showing it was a result of a side kick from Whittaker.
Round 5 was all Whittaker, landing heavy punches to a clearly hobbled Till. Both fighters continued to attempt to set traps for each other, but it was Whittaker who finished the stronger with punch stats clearly in his favour.
In the end, the judges unanimously scored the bout for Whittaker with all three scorecards 48–47. The fighters embraced after the announcement, even sharing in a light-hearted re-cap of their favourite moments of the bout.
26-year-old Till, who began life as a middleweight with 2 straight wins after moving up from welterweight in 2019, saw his winning run snapped. His record falls to 18–3–1.
28-year-old Whittaker improved his record to 22–5 with the victory and solidified his place as the number one contender in the middleweight division. Whittaker will now set his sights on a rematch with champion Israel Adesanya, to whom he lost the belt at Marvel Stadium in October last year.