UFC Vegas 36 was an exciting event for fans of high paced action. The main card saw 3 finishes out of four fights leading into the main event. Paddy Pimblett made an impressive UFC debut with a first round T.K.O. of Luigi Vendramini. Khalil Roundtree Jr. had an exceptional first round against Modestus Bukauskas that saw him land many floor shaking strikes before ending the fight in the second round with a leg kick finish. In the Co-Main event, Tom Aspinall extended his undefeated streak in the UFC by finishing #14 Ranked Sergey Spivak halfway through the first round. The only fight that ended in a decision was a striking clinic that pitted Alex Morono against David Zawada. While both men had their moments in the fight, Morono was able to win a unanimous decision that awarded him all 3 rounds from every judge. Needless to say, the stage was set for the main event: A 5 round Middleweight bout between #5 ranked Derek Brunson and #7 ranked Darren Till.
Derek Brunson has been an active UFC fighter since 2012. After a series of impressive victories, he established himself as a Middleweight contender, and began fighting top ranked talent within the division. This increase in challenge provided mixed results for Brunson, who dropped a few fights to future title contenders, before finding his footing in the division again. After a loss to current champion Israel Adesanya in 2018, Brunson has been on a four fight win streak that has put him in an excellent position for a title challenge. But in order to get there, he’d have to defeat Darren Till.
Darren Till is one of the younger contenders in the Middleweight division. However, for a 28 year-old, he has racked up quite an impressive 18-3 record. After going 17-0 (5-0 in the UFC) Till challenged Tyron Woodley for the UFC title, but after losing by submission in the second round, he was sent on a skid that saw him go 1-3 in his last four fights. While this may seem dismal, it should be noted that all of Till’s losses came at the hands of UFC Champions or title challengers. In other words, he was still a real contender who had an excellent chance against Brunson.
As both fighters made their way to the octagon, the commentary team began their analysis. Till had a clear striking advantage, with fast aggressive shots and knockout power. On the other hand, Brunson was a National champion wrestler with excellent takedown and ground strike capabilities. The fight would be determined by Till’s ability to defend Brunson’s takedown attempts. This would quickly be tested in the first round.
The fight began with a bang. Till attempted some range finding strikes before mixing in more powerful shots. Brunson defended effectively and threw some counter strikes that failed to find their marks. It seemed that Till was off to a strong start until Brunson rushed in on a well timed takedown that brought him crashing down to the mat. For the majority of the round, Brunson landed heavy ground strikes that had Till stunned at times. He held on for dear life as Brunson severely out positioned him, and outstruck him. Till was able to find his way back to his feet towards the end of the round, but Brunson comfortably won the round.
The second round began in a similar way. Till was able to work in some powerful striking on the outset of the round, even landing several leg kicks that seemed to slow Brunson down. But after a strong first half, Till was taken down once again by Brunson, who finished out the rest of the round by working in more ground striking. With a comfortable two round lead, Brunson was in an excellent position to win the fight by decision. Till needed to find his rhythm quickly to still have a chance.
Fortunately for him, he did just that at the start of the third round. Till landed some strong strikes that prevented Brunson from working his takedowns, while also battering and frustrating his opponent. He gained even more momentum when he landed a cross strike that put Brunson on the back foot. As Brunson stumbled back towards the cage, Till closed in with his posture high and his hands outstretched. This proved to be a crucial miss-step, as it provided Brunson an opportunity to shoot a take down. After a short scramble, Brunson was able to take him to the canvas and take full mount. He began throwing ground strikes, which forced Till to give him his back, allowing Brunson to sink in a rear-naked choke. After a short few seconds, Till succumbed to the pressure and tapped out, giving Brunson the win.
Brunson enthusiastically celebrated his hard fought victory by calling for a rematch with champion Israel Adesanya. After a performance like that, it’s hard to argue that he doesn’t deserve it. Although he didn’t win with an emphatic knockout, Brunson proved that slow and steady could win the race. He took his time, breaking Till down with his wrestling and persistent ground striking, and he refused to back down even when he was put in a difficult situation by Till’s powerful striking. I think we should all follow Brunson’s example of being patient when working towards our goals and staying calm under pressure.