UFC 228 Cheat Sheet: Woodley vs. Till

Tyron Woodley, left, defends his welterweight title against Darren Till, right, at UFC 228 on Saturday. 

The UFC visits American Airlines Center in Dallas on Saturday, and it’s bringing along a title fight, as welterweight champion Tyron Woodley will put his belt on the line against a budding superstar in Darren Till.

There was to be a second title bout in the co-main event, but Nicco Montaño was hospitalized Friday morning before weigh-ins, so her female flyweight defense against Valentina Shevchenko was canceled.

ESPN’s Cheat Sheets are here to tell you everything you need to know going into UFC 228.


Tyron Woodley (18-3-1) vs. Darren Till (17-0-1) welterweight championship

Odds: Woodley -120; Till -110

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From England to Brazil and back, Darren Till wants to be one of the greats, and his next step is the welterweight title bout at UFC 228.

Woodley has officially defended the UFC welterweight championship twice since he won it in spectacular fashion against Robbie Lawler in July 2016. But he has defended his actions, performances and demands a thousand times over in that same time frame.

Woodley, 36, has something of a complicated title reign. He actually might not see it that way. To Woodley, his title reign has been a series of triumphs and overcoming adversity. He believes he wrote a blueprint to defeating the complex striker, Stephen Thompson. He wrote another one against the great submission artist, Demian Maia.

He overcame a serious shoulder injury in the first round of his title defense against Maia last summer. And despite the heavy criticism he faced in 2017 for what fans and even UFC president Dana White perceived as “boring performances,” Woodley is only two fights removed from a Fight of the Night against Thompson at UFC 205.

There’s a lot to be proud of in Woodley’s championship run, but that’s not what usually gets mentioned. It’s not rare to open up an online forum and see fans refer to Woodley as a “whiner” — a guy who is always looking for a money fight but doesn’t really deserve one. A champion who should say less and fight more aggressively.

“It’s difficult because people aren’t doing their own research,” Woodley told ESPN. “There are so many fights, every week, people are not up to speed. If people really did their research, they would see I’m not complaining. I’m willing to talk about facts and truth, and sometimes facts and truth come off as complaining.

“What I’ve recognized is I can tell the truest story possible, but people might not be willing — or even want — to receive it. So, lately I’ve personally chose to not tell the story. The only reason to tell the narrative in the past was so fighters who came after me didn’t have to experience the things I experience. I’ve seen people in the position of champions who were too scared to speak up about these things, because they were scared of messing themselves up. I felt obligated to use my platform for change.”

This fight isn’t “Woodley vs. The UFC,” but there are certain elements of that. The UFC has taken a strong interest in Till and has backed him from a promotional standpoint.

For Woodley, Saturday is an opportunity to further build his case as one of the best welterweights of all time in a fight that, on paper, could be more entertaining than his past two. And if he happens to do it against an opponent he thinks the UFC might not mind him losing to, that’s all the better.

“People only remember your last performance,” Woodley said. “If you do the math, look back on my career, every person that was an aggressive fighter or attempted to be aggressive against me, what happened to them? They got knocked out. I think history is going to repeat itself.”


Woodley: unbeaten in last six fights (5-0-1); last loss was June 2014 vs. Rory MacDonald (unanimous decision)

Woodley: Seven wins by KO/TKO, four wins by submission, seven decision wins

Woodley: 68.0 percent significant strike defense (second-best among active welterweights)

Woodley: No. 5 pound-for-pound MMA fighter according to ESPN (No. 1 welterweight fighter)

Till: 10 wins by KO/TKO, two wins by submission, five wins by decision

Till: 65.5 percent significant strike defense (tied for sixth among active welterweights)

Till: No. 4 welterweight fighter in MMA according to ESPN

Till: first career fight in United States

Till: has missed weight in two of his last four fights including his last fight vs. Stephen Thompson on May 27


Fight Breakdown:

If someone had told you in 2016, Woodley would go the distance in back-to-back title fights against a rangy, clever striker in Stephen Thompson and score only two takedowns in that entire 50 minutes, would you have expected him to remain the champ? Probably not.

And that’s why Till is on record saying Woodley’s intelligence might be his best attribute. Woodley has cracked two very difficult puzzles in his time as a champion. He has a cerebral approach and understands his own strengths and weaknesses well. He always seems to know the situation he’s in — the time left in a round, the score of that round. He’s extremely patient and experienced. And if the situation requires it, he does have that “bite down on your mouthpiece and go” kind of heart.

Still, Till’s assessment of Woodley’s greatest attribute might be incorrect. As valuable as the champion’s intelligence is, the most dangerous thing about him is probably his speed. That speed is an absolute game-changer. Woodley is very selective about when he uncorks it, which almost makes it more lethal. He has another gear that is about four or five gears above any other welterweight. Speed is what makes Woodley’s right hand a liability his opponents have to pick up.

Unless Woodley comes out with the intent to surprise Till in some way, there’s a good chance this matchup will look similar to his fights against Thompson. Till takes the center of the cage against virtually everyone, and Woodley has shown a surprisingly high comfort level fighting off the fence. It’s a natural range-setter for Woodley, against a taller, longer opponent. It’s also easy on his cardio, not having to chase a bigger man around. He beat Thompson fighting primarily off the fence. Why not Till?

The difference is Till probably won’t be as cautious as Thompson was. One, it’s just not his nature. And two, he has seen what happened to Thompson on the scorecards against Woodley. Sporadic point-scoring while controlling the Octagon hasn’t gotten it done. Expect Till to open up with the left hand more and, if he gets really comfortable, reach for a clinch to set up his underrated knees and elbows.

If Woodley tries to use his wrestling, it’s likely to be done (again) selectively. But even if this doesn’t ever look like a wrestling match, and chances are it won’t, wrestling could still play a big part in the result if the fight is close and goes to the scorecards. One takedown here or there could end up carrying a lot of weight.

Prediction: Darren Till via decision.

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