TNT Sports Reload - Episode 13Oct 10
No need for a late night this weekend as the UFC treats us Brits to a Saturday primetime show featuring a host of UK talent from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas.
Making his first Octagon walk in well over a year, Darren Till looks to rebound from a razor-thin defeat to Robert Whittaker last time out when he faces the imposing Derek Brunson atop the bill.
Team Kaobon ally Tom Aspinall steps up to fight in the co-main event as the rising heavyweight star takes on the in-form Sergey Spivak, while fellow Liverpudlian Paddy Pimblett makes his long-awaited promotional debut when the former Cage Warriors king faces Luigi Vendramini to kick off the main card.
Brits Molly McCann and Jack Shore also feature on a packed slate of prelims during what promises to be a thrilling night of fights, exclusively live on BT Sport.
Till’s done talking… for now
Things haven’t quite gone to plan over the past few years for Darren Till.
Once earmarked as the next European superstar following in the footsteps of Conor McGregor, the brash Scouse fighter has come unstuck in three of his previous four fights on a patchy run stretching back to September 2018.
I can’t talk, I’ve just got to perform
- Darren Till
Two defeats at welterweight – including one for the belt against Tyron Woodley at UFC 228 – convinced Till finally to make the move north to middleweight where he immediately picked up a good win against Kelvin Gastelum.
However, he subsequently came up short against former 185lb king Robert Whittaker last July in a hard-fought contest that may have gone his way on another day.
Now 1-1 in his new home at 185lb, Till knows he needs to put a miserable run of injury and inconsistency behind him and start finding some form in order to keep up his pursuit of the reigning 185lb king, Israel Adesanya.
Speaking exclusively to BT Sport’s Nick Peet this week, Till said: “I can’t talk, I’ve just got to perform.
“I know what I am and what I do... Me and Izzy [Adesanya] will fight one day. It’s not even about Izzy really, I just want to be the middleweight champion in the UFC. But I’ve got to get past Derek for any of that to happen.”
Will Till’s title dreams remain on track after Saturday night?
Dangerman Derek on the title hunt
Derek Brunson has long been considered the keeper of keys for those wishing to climb the middleweight ranks, derailing prospects and smacking down the unworthy over the course of a fascinating 18-fight UFC career.
Now on an impressive four-fight win streak, Brunson believes he has moved on from his role as gatekeeper to the top five to become a genuine title contender himself.
Emphatic back-to-back wins over Edmen Shahbazyan and Kevin Holland show the North Carolina man has certainly continued to improve, even at the ripe age of 37, but does he have enough to really challenge amid a division stacked with talent?
There’s no doubt Till will be the toughest test of his new championship resolve but Brunson believes he is capable of an eye-catching stoppage that would see him jump to the top of the contender queue.
My resume speaks for itself
- Derek Brunson
“If I go out here and finish this guy impressively, it’s going to be really hard not to give me the next title shot after Adesanya vs Whittaker,” he told ESPN.
“I’ve won four in a row against top opponents, all ranked guys. Till would be the fifth. I believe getting the finish would put me in a nice prime spot for the next title shot.”
Does it bother Brunson that he continues to be overlooked as one of the top guys in the world?
“I don’t really pay attention to that stuff any more. My job is to go out there and get the job done. My goal is to be the best version of myself and to keep getting better and better,” he continued.
“That’s more my focus these days rather than how people think or see me. It is what it is. My resume speaks for itself. My record is 22-7 and I lost two fights that I easily should have won so that would put me 24-5 – that’s easily a Hall of Fame resume right there.
“I’m just going to keep chipping away and getting the job done. The rest will take care of itself.”
Britain’s first real heavyweight hope
Tom Aspinall will walk into the Octagon on Saturday night carrying the pressure of being labelled Britain’s first real hope in the UFC heavyweight division.
A team-mate of Darren Till’s at the legendary Kaobon gym in Liverpool, Salford-born Aspinall has caught the eye in three impressive UFC outings so far with a trio of finishes to boot.
On debut, Aspinall needed just 45 seconds to blow away Jake Collier before TKO’ing Alan Baudot in less than two minutes last October.
A second-round submission win over Andrei Arlovski pocketed Aspinall’s second performance bonus in three fights in February and showed Britain could be on to something special in the land of the giants.
Blessed with power in both hands, the 6ft 5ins giant is also remarkably quick on his feet, giving Aspinall a huge advantage in a division not normally known for feats of athleticism.
Before committing to MMA full time, Aspinall was also a talented boxer, training alongside Tommy and Tyson Fury under fabled trainer Peter Fury.
"I just found boxing got a little bit repetitive," Aspinall told Mirror Fighting.
"I was still enjoying it and stuff but it was the same day in and day out.
"MMA is similar, but one day the next day you're grappling and then you're kicking and boxing and then it's MMA sparring, it's quite varied.
"With boxing it was just like run, hit the bags, hit the pads, spar, I enjoyed it but I was in my early twenties and I thought 'I don't want to do this for the next 15 years'.
"I just think MMA is a lot more exciting with less rules, there's a lot more freedom and I just didn't want to waste all the years I'd spent grappling."
While there looks to be something of a logjam building among the top four or five guys in the heavyweight division, Aspinall could complicate matters even further with yet another blistering performance that would put him on the cusp of calling out a top five name.
Paddy’s in town!
It’s been a long time coming but Paddy Pimblett finally touches down in the UFC this weekend when he faces Luigi Vendramini on Saturday night.
The 26-year-old has flirted with the idea of crossing over to the big time for a number of years having dominated the lightweight division under the Cage Warriors promotion since 2016.
But Pimblett stayed patient, choosing to maintain his development at his own pace to ensure that when the time came, he would be ready.
I’m a new specimen now
- Paddy Pimblett
With the backing of a rabid fan base behind him, Pimblett followed in the footsteps of the likes of Conor McGregor to win the Cage Warriors lightweight title while forging a reputation as one of the most aggressive finishers on the roster.
Now ready to compete at the big time, Pimblett has already enjoyed a message of support from McGregor himself as he prepares to face Vendramini on his promotional debut in Las Vegas.
“Good luck Paddy…” McGregor tweeted as Pimblett thanked him for the support.
Speaking to Ariel Helwani this week, a confident Pimblett predicted a fast finish when the first bell rings on Saturday night.
“My training camp has been perfect. I feel absolutely on fire, when I do my boxing, my kicking, my jiu-jitsu, my wrestling, my sparring, my strength and conditioning,” he said.
"I’m a new specimen now. I’m a different animal, even to what I was six months ago when I fought Davide Martinez. I’m a completely different animal now and Luigi is not going to be ready man.
“I swear to God he’s not gonna enjoy it. He’s not going to last any more than five minutes, so he won’t enjoy his five minutes of fame in the cage with me.”
Can Pimblett make a flying start to his UFC career? Tune in to BT Sport to find out!