Darren Till isn’t quite in the last chance saloon but he might be drinking in the bar next door.
His UFC 282 showdown with Dricus du Plessis could be the launchpad for a new chapter and fresh run at the middleweight elite, or present a grim alternative.
A fifth defeat in six fights would be devastating and the Liverpool fan favourite will enter the octagon in Las Vegas with his career at a crossroads.
Darren Till’s defeat against Derek Brunson last year was a low point for him
Till (right) and Khamzat Chimaev (left) have been training together and he has the chance to showcase his skills in Las Vegas this weekend on the UFC 282 card
Till’s rise was rapid and for a time he was the blue-eyed boy of British MMA. All that came to an abrupt halt in his welterweight title shot against Tyron Woodley back in 2018.
The American, who did not win a single fight after that and is no longer under contract with the UFC, proved too much and found the finish in the second round.
What followed for Till was almost equally devastating. A homecoming main event clash with Jorge Masvidal stunned the O2 Arena into silence when the American secured a heavy knockout, with Till out cold on the mat.
In a bid to change his fortunes, Till then moved up to middleweight and bounced back to winning ways with a split decision over Kelvin Gastelum.
It earned him a clash with outstanding Australian Robert Whittaker in what was an enthralling striking battle.
Brunson handed Till his fourth defeat in five fights in their middleweight contest
Jorge Masvidal knocked out Liverpool-born Darren Till at the O2 Arena back in 2019
‘The Reaper’ shaded it but both men came out with plenty of credit, even though it was another unwanted loss on Till’s record.
It was more than a year until he made the walk to the octagon again, this time against Derek Brunson. The American is a game competitor but skill-wise, arguably short of Till.
And yet he dominated, securing a rear-naked choke in the third round. Afterwards it transpired that Till had entered the fight with a serious knee issue in what was an ill-advised move that limited his takedown defence.
A fourth defeat in five fights really took the gloss off all that early promise but there is no question that Till has the talent to mix it with the best. Those in the know still believe he has a chance of one day becoming champion, perhaps in the same manner Michael Bisping did, when the stars align.
But Till is entering a seriously dangerous territory now. Where would another defeat leave him?
Dricus du Plessis is the opponent on Saturday night and will be a dangerous match-up
Till bounced back with a win over Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 244 in New York
Dricus du Plessis is a hungry contender – albeit only one year younger at 28 – and has won his first three fights in the UFC.
The South African is ranked No 14, with Till above him at 10. The Brit would slide dangerously towards being unranked again with a defeat.
It feels like a cross-roads moment. If Till can reignite his career at this point, there’s no telling how far he can go but a fifth loss in sixth would be devastating.
He was supposed to take on Jack Hermansson on home soil earlier this year but had to pull out with injury in yet another body blow. At the time, Till spoke about how this has been the most difficult period of his career.
‘It’s just so frustrating at this point in my career, man. I’m happy for the way English MMA is going. To see all these up-and-comers, Tom [Aspinall], Paddy [Pimblett], Muhammad [Mokaev], all these guys,’ Till said on the Blockparty podcast.
‘I’m so happy to see them in the position they’re in but it’s so f****** frustrating for me at the same time because I know my potential. I’m not downing anyone, but I’m the f****** best out there and I know that.
Till sampled the bitter taste of defeat for the first time against Tyron Woodley in 2018
‘It’s just such a f****** depressing time for me at the moment. Listen, trolls don’t bother me but it’s just these f****** comments and even fighters and they’re like, “Ah, he pulled out.”
‘I’m like, “Mate, come to the gym and I’ll f****** take you out.” It’s just so frustrating for me right now. It really is. I’m just at a f****** low point.
‘I feel like I’m in a Tyson Fury moment. Remember when he was going through that depressed stage? I feel like that’s where I’m at now. I’m not drinking and taking drugs – that’s not my way. But I still feel like that.
‘Honestly, I’m not about that new age of, “Oh, I’m depressed,” mental health and all that bulls***. I come from a different era. But it just makes you feel so f****** low, s*** like this.’
In an attempt to revive his career and refine his skills, he made the decision to train alongside Khamzat Chimaev in Sweden.
Till has suffered setbacks but a win against Dricus du Plessis could reignite his career
The pair struck up a real bond and it will be fascinating to see the fruits of that labour on Saturday night.
He is looking forward to a three-rounder and sees holes in Du Plessis’ game to exploit.
‘If you don’t cut no corners, and you give it 110 per cent, and you’re true to yourself there’s nothing more you can do,’ he told Michael Bisping’s podcast.
‘So, that’s it. I said to the UFC, I said I don’t want another main event, I said I’m sick of doing five rounds. I just wanna get back on my feet. And that’s what’s came. So, you know, it is what it is.’
‘I think he’s strong,’ Till said of Du Plessis. ‘He looks strong, so that’s one point. He’s very motivated, this is the biggest fight of his life so he’s obviously training very hard. He seems like he knows what he wants and who he is, but he’s quite reckless.
‘He bounces in and out a lot, so I think his game plan for me is going to be, I won’t want to divulge too much, but that’s what I’m seeing.
Till, pictured here with Chimaev and Dana White (centre), has been working ferociously hard
‘From my point of view I just think that I’ll be quicker on the feet and lighter than him and I think I can really punish him in there, landing jabs on the nose. I want to keep my cards close to my chest.’
Till is still just 28 and could have more than a decade left as an elite athlete.
And Bisping believes the experience of falling from grace could now prove to be a driving force.
‘Darren’s still a young man, he’s learning, he’s getting better’, he said on his YouTube channel. He’s learning about the preparation and he’s learning about the mental side of things.
‘Being in a position where you’re the belle of the ball, you’re the guy that’s getting promoted to all of a sudden, he was kind of on the prelims up until very recently, that fires you like you wouldn’t believe.
‘People turning their back on you, people not believing in you, people writing you off. That can be such a motivator if you use it in the correct way.’
Till enters the fight as an underdog with the bookies. But if we see the old version, the one who tore through Donald Cerrone and out-pointed Stephen Thompson, he could make a mockery of the odds.
British MMA is a far more exciting and colourful place with a resurgent Till joining the party. In years to come, Saturday night could be remembered as a defining one for the middleweight.