Fans were cautious regarding UFC 228’s main event. Both Darren Till and Tyron Woodley were coming off snoozers, but Till was still carrying all the hype in the world as a young, surging talent from the UK. When fight time came, Tyron Woodley put it on the young challenger in a fashion. Showing himself to be more than just a big right hand on the feet, Woodley completely bamboozled the dangerous striker and finished him in the second round without Till even landing a shot.
Woodley’s tendency to stand by the fence and Till’s bullying style were the main elements most focused on before the fight. It seemed like the two would agree exactly where the fight should take place and it would be a case of immovable object and irresistible force. From the opening bell Tyron Woodley danced back onto the fence and invited Till in, before bursting off the fence almost immediately with strikes and following into the clinch.
And so the fight took its shape. Woodley stood on the fence, in the inferior ring position, but was bizarrely able to push the pace as he did so. Till never got comfortable for even a moment and while his usual movement was still there he seemed hung up on the possibility of what the champion would do when he stepped in. Over the course of the first round Till feinted plenty, but seemed timid to step in with actual blows.
To keep Till honest and stifle the thought of kicking, Woodley picked up legs and moved straight into clinches off them. Everything Till attempted would open him up to Woodley’s hitting power and his superior wrestling ability, and Till became paralyzed—offering nothing through the entire opening round.
After each time Woodley surged off the fence, he would retreat a step and as Till ambled back to his original position Woodley would try to clock him cold again. This seemed an attempt to punish a pattern you can see in Till’s fights: he will leap back and allow his man to lash out off the fence, and then walk them back into it without resistance. Woodley was having none of it.
As the second round began Till’s corner had begged him to throw something. As Till finally summoned the confidence to step in and commit, Woodley timed him with a counter right hand that sent the challenger to the mat.
The difference between Till’s previous fights and this one was obvious. Till doesn’t use any magic techniques that no one else can do to win fights: it’s all jabs and left straights. But he uses his excellent sense of timing, his speed, and his bewildering feints to get more out of these weapons that the vast majority of fighters in MMA today. Playing feints and legitimate strikes off each other, and subverting the opponent’s expectations is the most important thing a striker can do. Yet as soon as the real blows stop coming between the feints, or a fighter begins obviously hyping himself up before he steps in for real, that wickedly difficult style falls apart.
In rattling the challenger’s nerves early and keeping him off his game, Tyron Woodley showed himself to be the wily veteran, and while his fights are hit and miss as a box office attraction, he remains capable of beating the best fighters in the world and often making it look easy.
Darren Till, of course, has plenty of room to develop from here and one bad performance does not mean that the rest was hype. His talent and his skill are as real as they come, Tyron Woodley was just that good on Saturday night.
Odds and Sods
Elsewhere on the card, Zabit Magomedsharipov lived up to what was expected of him and bested last minute replacement, Brandon Davis. Davis is not a very highly regarded fighter but showed a cool head and demonstrated some of those same habits we examined in Zabit Magomedsharipov: Tempering Talent with Craft.
Davis did a good job of feinting and staying on top of his feet, taking away Zabit’s favorite method of countering. Zabit will give ground, give ground, and then intercept with a jumping back kick, a spinning backfist or an overhand. By staying in his stance and refusing to chase Zabit, the spinning backfists and cross buttock throw attempts caught Davis in good base and well defended rather than lunging towards his man.
As we discussed, Zabit’s long of a long stance left his lead leg hanging out there and Davis was able to get to it a good many times in the bout.
And Zabit’s constant giving of ground to set up his counters led to him getting caught along the fence several times again. Davis wasn’t able to make good use of it, but other fighters have and it will be something that top fighters and coaches see when Zabit eventually starts fighting top talent.
But a well-rounded game is what Zabit brings and while he wasn’t having much joy in the striking he was able to go to his wrestling and wear Davis out quickly. By the time the two stood up again, Davis was backing away from the Dagestani prospect and the cross buttock throw came effortlessly, with Zabit snatching up a wrist control from the turtle as he went. This absolutely beautiful, flowing offense is the reason it is so easy to get invested in Magomedsharipov.
The finish came by Suloev stretch, a very rare submission which had only been seen once in the UFC, up until Saturday night when two were hit in on the same card!
Jessica Andrade hasn’t gone through much of a tactical rebirth since she fought Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the straw-weight title, but her windmilling offense matched up extremely badly for Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Kowalkiewicz is a right hand heavy puncher who fails to “close the door” with her left hand or get back to her guard after she throws her right. This is compounded by her excellent knees from the clinch—she gets into the habit of throwing the right hand and falling forward onto the opponent. That squaring for the right hand and failing to consider a return made her a mark for Andrade’s left hook and follow up windmilling flurries.
The knockout came as Kowalkiewicz left both hands extended and had her eyes closed, awkwardly flurrying to keep Andrade off her.
A final note for Jimmie Rivera, who came back off a rough knockout loss to Marlon Moraes. It was one of those cruel ones which happened so quick that we don’t actually know how Rivera’s skills match up with Moraes, but he will have to work overtime to be able to pitch a rematch without fans laughing it off.
Rivera’s opponent, John Dodson, has largely tapered down his game to double left straights thrown while running past the opponent’s lead leg. Almost nothing of note happened in the fight but Rivera did look to land good counter left hooks as Dodson did these drive-bys. Often leading with a right hand to the body as Dodson stepped in, squaring Rivera’s hips and freeing his left hand, before attempting to catch Dodson with the left hook as he walked into it.
UFC 228 had fairly low expectations from fans going in, but for those who sat down and gave it the chance it contained far more action than it perhaps had a right to. And if you listen closely now that UFC 228 is in the books, you might be able to hear the hype machine whirring into life in anticipation of the march towards UFC 229: Conor McGregor vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov.