Contributor: Nolan Howell
Things were up in the air after Darren Till missed weight for the UFC Fight Night 130 main event against Stephen Thompson with potential welterweight title picture standing in the balance. Coming in at 174.5 pounds, Till was allowed to fight Thompson on the condition he didn’t weigh more than 188 pounds the day of the fight, putting him at a significant dehydration risk going into the biggest fight of his career.
Till made the weight and shed 30% of his fight purse in the process, but the fight was set as Till returned in front of his hometown crowd to a loud singalong of “Sweet Caroline” and a chorus of boos as “Wonderboy” hit the cage.
Well, it somewhat resembled a fight, anyway.
Till and Thompson both started in karate stance with their hands wide, exchanging high kicks to feel each other out. Not much landed in the first round aside from some punches to the chest from “Wonderboy” and leg kicks from Till. Undercard scored the first round 10-9 Till. Till’s gameplan was to wait out the first round and things picked up in the second as Thompson looked for the darting punches. Till looked for the clinch, but nothing much landed despite the uptick in activity. Undercard scored the second round 10-9 Thompson. Till looked to put Thompson against the fence in the third to catch him, but Thompson kept circling on his bike. The middle of the third round featured the best punch of the fight so far, with a straight right catching Till coming in. An eye poke late in the third caught Till for a break from the inactivity. Till picked it up after hearing some boos, but not enough time for anything significant. Undercard scored the third round 10-9 Thompson.
Into the main event rounds, Till pressed more and Thompson sharpened his counters. Till landed a reaching rear left hand and was able to clinch Thompson against the cage momentarily. Double jab from Till, but again, nothing much happening. Undercard scored the fourth round 10-9 Thompson. Same song and dance in the fifth round until Till landed a left hook against the fence that dropped “Wonderboy.” Thompson scrambled out and back to his feet and landed a few straight punches. Thompson scored a takedown for a moment, but the knockdown earned the round for Till. Undercard scored the fifth round 10-9 Till.
Undercard scored the fight 48-47 Thompson. The judges scored the fight 48-47, 49-46, and 49-46 for Darren Till. Till’s post-fight interview was mostly bleeped out, but I wish they had censored the entire fight because it was genuinely awful. Not really sure about the scores for Till, which were definitely impacted by the crowd, but there was an argument for him winning, I suppose.
Craig White had a tough test in the co-main event, taking on #9 welterweight Neil Magny on short notice after Gunnar Nelson pulled out of what would have been a fight with ranking implications in the upper reaches of the division. White pressed Magny up against the fence early and used his near-equal height to keep Magny on the cage for knees to the legs. Magny turned and looked for the body lock takedown, but White reversed. A knee to the cup broke things up, but White was back at it against the cage. Magny looked for a knee and White looked for the level change, but Magny fell on top in mount. White worked Magny off him and was able to get it back to the feet. White again initiated a clinch on the cage and got reversed. Magny posted up with his arm on the head of White to keep him bent down and landed a right knee that dropped White and led to the TKO finish in the first after some ground and pound. Post-match, Magny called out Kamaru Usman.
Magny looked impressive waiting out the short-notice opponent and landing a brutal finish, while White looked competent in there against a top welterweight, even if it was mostly stalling.
At featherweight, England’s Arnold Allen took on Denmark’s Mads Burnell. Allen was spamming the jab and left straight, but Burnell came back pressuring forward with some heavy punches out of the crouch. Burnell pressed Allen against the fence and continued to come forward on the feet. Allen continued to snipe at range with the jab and straight left until Burnell got the takedown. Allen fought up and landed a trip takedown to end the round. Burnell got inside early in the second and got the single-leg in the middle of the ring. Allen dragged himself to the fence, but Burnell controlled from the top. Allen got up, but Burnell took him down after the go-behind to take the back. Allen again got up and it went back to the feet. Burnell slipped all the punches of Allen and scored another takedown in the middle of the cage. Allen went for broke in the third early, but he found himself on the mat again. A Kimura attempt was spun out of by Burnell and he went for a single-leg. Burnell left his neck out and Arnold slid his left arm under, wrenched up with the right, and dropped to the mat with Burnell. Burnell tapped to the front choke in one of the more impressive comebacks of the year in MMA for Allen.
Unbelievable comeback for Allen to grab the choke and it was impressive to see him struggle for so long to snatch that out of nowhere. Burnell looked great throughout and probably doesn’t take too much of a hit overall. In fact, Burnell was probably the more impressive performer with his great inside boxing and ability to score takedowns from anywhere, but Allen took home the win.
The UFC played up the animosity between featherweights Jason Knight and Makwan Amirkhani before the fight as an “American from the Deep South” against a “European model.” Knight opened up the more aggressive striker with kicks, but a lead right hook from Amirkhani rocked Knight and a flying knee saw Amirkhani land on top. Amirkhani stuck his tongue out at Knight while landing ground and pound and Knight looked to have his nose broken early. Amirkhani kept landing with the lead right and upping the trash talk in the first. Knight landed kicks and dropped Amirkhani with a right uppercut. Knight lost position in the scramble and got back to his feet to land another right uppercut that dropped Amirkhani. Knight looked for a triangle to close the round. Undercard scored the first round 10-9 Knight.
Knight and Amirkhani spent the first minute of the second round talking more than anything and landing some slapping strikes as both started reaching on their punches. Amirkhani caught a single-leg off a lazy kick from Knight, but stood back up to avoid the active guard of Knight. Knight switched stances a lot back on the feet and landed a lead right hook, but Amirkhani got the body lock takedown into side control. Undercard scored the second round 10-9 Amirkhani. Amirkhani got the takedown very early in the third after Knight looked to wobble on a backstep, but Knight was more active with rubber guard and heel strikes to the lower back. The referee stood them up and Amirkhani caught Knight with a leaping hook before looking for a takedown. Knight rolled for a leg and put himself on his back, allowing Amirkhani to have top control and land a little ground-and-pound. Undercard scored the third round 10-9 Amirkhani.
Undercard scored the fight 29-28 Amirkhani. The judges scored it 30-27 Knight, 29-28 Amirkhani, and 29-28 Amirkhani to give Amirkhani the split decision win. Amirkhani called for Cub Swanson after the fight in what was the best fight on the main card.
Knight and Amirkhani didn’t demonstrate their best fight IQs for this one, but it was what we expected from the two. Amirkhani settled into his best strategy late to secure the win, but he put himself through more trouble than it was worth to give the fans a fight.
Returning to the Octagon for the first time in nearly four years, Claudio Silva took on Nordine Taleb. Silva wasted no time, coming out with kicks and charging Taleb to try and get close enough for the takedown. Taleb blocked takedown attempts until Silva caught a leg kick. Taleb tried a leg lock from bottom and got the worst of it, allowing Silva to scramble to mount and take the back. Silva secured the rear-naked choke and Taleb struggled for a bit before he got stuck in the submission with less than a minute left, giving Silva the win.
Perhaps the surprise of the main card, Silva looked great despite years riding the pine due to injuries. His ground game looked really powerful after dragging Taleb there and his next fight should be a better barometer of what he can do going forward.
To kick off the main card, England’s Darren Stewart took on American Eric Spicely in a middleweight fight. Stewart was leading on his lead leg early while Spicely looked for the clinch and landed punches from range. Spicely won the first round, but Stewart opened up in the second round and landed a right hand that put Spicely on his bike. Stewart followed with a flurry against the cage and reset in the center before dropping Spicely with a jab and getting the finish with the follow-up ground-and-pound.
Stewart was patient and exploited the reaching striking of Spicely nicely while not getting dragged to the mat. The power of the jab was very impressive for Stewart and he will be someone to watch for at least highlight reel finishes going forward.
On the prelims, Tom Breese scored a first-round TKO against Dan Kelly in a middleweight contest. Lina Lansberg defeated Gina Mazany by unanimous decision in the women’s bantamweight division, while welterweight. Carlo Pedersoli Jr. got a split decision win over Brad Scott in his UFC debut. Gillian Robertson submitted Molly McCann with a rear-naked choke in the second round in a catchweight contest at 127 lbs. after McCann missed weight and middleweight Elias Theodorou defeated Trevor Smith by unanimous decision to kick off the card on UFC Fight Pass.
-Nolan can be reached at email@example.com or @nolanundercard.