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Preview: Whittaker vs Till – UFC on ESPN Fight Island 3



The final event from UFC Fight Island in Abu Dhabi takes place Saturday with UFC on ESPN headlined by a Middleweight clash between Robert Whittaker (20-5 9 KOs) and Darren Till (18-2 10 KOs).


Photo Credit: FanSided

The former champion, Whittaker, is looking to get back in the win column after losing his title back in October at UFC 243 to current champion Israel Adesanya. Before that defeat, Whittaker was on a tear in the promotion. His UFC record, 11-3, was 3-2 at Welterweight before he decided to move up to 185lbs, where he rattled off eight straight wins. He might be considered on the smaller side of Middleweights, but what he lacks in overall size he makes up for with toughness, speed, power, and relentlessness.

The former Ultimate Fighter winner has shown that he’s more than capable of rising to the occasion and putting on a great showing against the best, as evident by his wins over Yoel Romero (twice), Jacare Souza, and Uriah Hall just to name a few.

Across the cage will be another former welterweight who decided it was time to move up a division in Darren Till. The UK based fighter is 1-0 at 185lbs and has a UFC record 6-2-1 overall. For one of the biggest fighters down at 170 lbs, the weight cut was starting to be too much for Till, and it was best if he tried his luck in new territory. He’s off to a good start coming off a win against Kelvin Gastelum (also a former welterweight turn middleweight) back in November at UFC 244.



Photo Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports

His size, strength, striking ability, and willingness to tangle it up with anyone, has made Till one of the more exciting fighters to watch step into the Octagon. Add the fact that he’s a southpaw, and it makes him all that much more difficult for his opponents to get going against him. With wins over fighters such as Gastelum, Cowboy Cerrone, and Stephen Thompson, Till his here to make his mark on his new home and continue his rise up the ranks in hopes of a title shot.

A win for either fighter will be huge. For Till, it most likely becomes the number 1 contender. If not, it puts him in a match, with probably Jarrod Cannonier, for that spot. For Whittaker, a win will only put him in another bout for contention as despite being one of the divisions top fighters, he did loose pretty convincingly to Izzy. Hence, a quick turnaround to the top seems unlikely for the former champ.

Both fighters like to move forward and apply pressure, Whittaker likes to charge in, throw some heavy hooks then bounce out. At the same time, Till has a Muay Thai background, so he wants to pick his shots and use his power for more accurate strikes. Potentially with his size advantage, Till could look to clinch Whittaker against the fence, wear on him in hopes of sucking his cardio down, making his attacks slower and easier to counter. Look for Whittaker to move in and out. While in close, he’ll look to come over the top with hooks; he might even opt to throw some leg kicks to slow down his opponent from continually moving in.

This is going to be an exciting throw down between former welterweights turned middleweights who have shown through their careers, you don’t want to miss them in action.


In the night’s co-main event, we get a trilogy fight between Maurício ‘Shogun’ Rua (26-11 21 KOs) and Antônio Rogério ‘Lil Nog’ Nogueira (23-9 8 KOs).


The two Brazilian legends first clashed back in 2005 when they both fought for Pride Fight Championship in Japan, then met again in 2015 at UFC 190. Now for the final time, they will step across from each other with Lil Nog looking to gain a win as Shogun is up 2-0.

The former Light Heavyweight champion, Shogun, is one of the sports most feared strikers. In his prime, he was considered one of the best in the world. Injuries and the number of wars he’s been in have taken their toll, but he is 4-1-1 in his last six outings. Unfortunately, father time catches everyone, and this may be the last time we see the 38-year-old, one of the sport’s best, step in the cage.


Photo Credit: MMA Fighting

Lil Nog has stated that win, lose or draw, this will be his final fight. At 44 years old, it’s understandable that it’s time to hang up the gloves.

Despite being 6-6 in the UFC, Lil Nog is one of the most respected fighters in the sport given the path he and his twin brother, former UFC Heavyweight champion Minotauro or ‘Big Nog,’ set for other Brazilian fighters in major promotions across the globe. Both fighters might retire together, which would seem fitting that the two Brazilian legends who have battled three times will call it a career at the same time.

Look for this fight to mostly happen on the feet. Both fighters prefer to stand and trade for the finish. If this is the end, it was a fun ride while it lasted.


Also on the card will be a heavyweight showdown between former champion Fabrício Werdum (23-9 11 SUBs) and former Light Heavyweight contender Alexander Gustafsson (18-6 11 KOs) in the big boy division.


Photo Credit: MMA Mania

The former champion Werdum is looking to get back in the win column after dropping his last two bouts. One of the game’s best submission fighters might be done with the promotion after this bout as it’s the final fight on his contract. He has expressed interest in wanting to continue his career despite being 42 years of age, but maybe another promotion could be the way for him to do so.

His resume speaks volumes as he holds submission wins over Alistair Overeem, Fedor Emelianenko, Big Nog, and Cain Velasquez. If the Brazilian chooses to continue his career, whether in the UFC or not, he’ll be highly valued and will be a great addition to any promotions heavyweight ranks.


Moving up and coming out of retirement is Gustafsson, who, after his loss to Anthony Smith last June, has decided he’d try his luck again in the Octagon, but this time without the weight cut to 205lbs.

Gus, who is one of the more popular fighters in the promotion due to his demeanor, calm ways of going about business, and for nearly dethroning King Pin Jon Jones of his reign back in 2013 at UFC 165. His boxing style, paired with his size and length, makes him a mismatch problem for most, but that was a division down.


Photo Credit: FanSided

Now at heavyweight, he’ll still be one of the taller fighters at 6’5, but will his power translate? One of the knocks on the Swedish fighter is that he tends to come up short in the spotlight. He’s 3-5 in UFC cards he headlines.

Now, this isn’t him headlining, but it is a step up a division against a former champion. So was coming out of retirement the right move? We shall see. Both fighters need a victory as they both are on two-fight losing skids.





UFC on ESPN Saturday night is going to be a fun and and an excellent way to end the promotion’s run on Fight Island which has been an absolute success. New contenders will rise, legends will finish their careers, and much more to come out of the Octagon when its all said and done. Be sure to tune in to ESPN 5pm EST for UFC Fight Island 3.

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-Kalani Lua – Franchise Sports Media



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