A lot was on the line for former UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker heading into his UFC Fight Night headliner against Darren Till. He needed to rebound after getting stopped and losing his middleweight title in the process to Israel Adesanya at UFC 243 last October.
Even though Whittaker suffered a brutal cut late in the fight that had blood gushing from his left ear, "The Reaper" won a chess match to edge Till with a unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 48-47) in the final "Fight Island" event.
"That fight was so stressful," Whittaker said in his post-fight interview. "Honestly, I hope the fans and everybody can appreciate it. That was one of the most technical fights I've ever had to fight."
Till raced out of the gates and attempted to charge at Whittaker, who landed a stiff jab give his opponent pause. Till countered a Whittaker punch with a short left elbow that dropped the former 185-pound titleholder. With about 90 seconds left in the round, Whittaker began to gain some momentum by mixing up his leg kicks and punches.
Whittaker kept the momentum from the end of the first and brought it into the second, dropping Till with a thunderous right hand. The Australian got in top position and rained down a series of hard shots and bloodied Till at the bridge of his nose to get himself back into the fight.
In the third round, neither Whittaker nor Till was able to seize control. Both fighters connected on their fair share of strikes with neither gaining a distinct advantage. But the repeated hard calf kicks from Whittaker took their toll on Till's left leg and caused him to buckle on a few occasions. Till told his corner between rounds that his leg was bothering him and that he had no spring in his step.
Things were looking to be another even round in the fourth until Till threw a vicious elbow to stun Whittaker. The Englishman followed up with a pair of hard left hands. Sensing he was losing the stanza, Whittaker landed a left hand of his own but was unsuccessful in his takedown attempt.
Till did all he could in the fifth and final round to get a finish. Whittaker came out a man possessed, threw a right hand and immediately tried for a takedown but was rebuffed by Till. After the opening frenzy, both Till and Whittaker took their time in an attempt to find any type of opening. Till found it when he blasted Whittaker with another short elbow that caused the deep gash on Whittaker's eye. Whittaker came right back with a couple of takedowns to keep Till at bay and secure the victory.
The win keeps Whittaker (22-5) in position to get an opportunity to regain the belt. But he'll likely need to take another fight or wait to see who emerges from the middleweight title clash between Adesanya and Paulo Costa at UFC 253 on Sept. 19.
In the co-main event, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua closed out a long-standing rivalry by defeating Antonio Rogerio Nogueira by split-decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28) to win all three of their fights over the course of 15 years.
After a feeling-out process that lasted about half of the first round, both Nogueira and Rua started slinging the leather. While Rua was connecting on more shots, Nogueira landed the harder punches, led by the straight left hand, which kept backing up the former UFC light heavyweight champion and even bloodied his nose. Knowing things were starting to get out of hand, Rua scored a takedown with 23 seconds left to close out the opening stanza.
The second round was significantly slower paced with neither fighter able to do too much. As Rua started to get into a rhythm with the straight right hand, Nogueira took him down to the mat. When the fight got back to the feet, Rua had a slight advantage in the striking department and connected on a couple of right hands and body kicks.
The final round was an even one until a short left hook stunned Nogueira, and Rua took advantage of the moment. He landed three consecutive left jabs, and then with a minute remaining, Rua proceeded to take his rival down to the canvas. The 38-year-old pounded Nogueira with a series of left hands and threw down a couple of hammerfists to close things out to win the fight and the trilogy.
Here is what happened at UFC Fight Night: Whittaker vs. Till.
UFC Fight Night: Whittaker vs. Till Full Card Results
- Robert Whittaker def. Darren Till by unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 48-47)
- Mauricio Rua def. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
- Fabricio Werdum def. Alexander Gustafsson by submission (armbar) at 2:30 of the first round
- Carla Esparza def. Marina Rodriguez via split decision (28-29, 29-28, 30-27)
- Paul Craig def. Gadzhimurad Antigulov by submission (triangle choke) at 2:06 of the first round
- Alex Oliveira def. Peter Sobotta via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Khamzat Chimaev def. Rhys McKee via TKO at 3:09 of the first round
- Francisco Trinaldo def. Jai Herbert via TKO at 1:30 of the third round
- Jesse Ronson def. Nicolas Dalby by submission (rear-naked choke) at 2:48 of the first round
- Tom Aspinall def. Jake Collier via TKO at 0:45 of the first round
- Movsar Evloev def. Mike Grundy by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
- Tanner Boser def. Raphael Pessoa via TKO at 2:36 of the second round
- Pannie Kianzad def. Bethe Correia by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
- Ramazan Emeev def. Niklas Stolze via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
- Nathaniel Wood def. John Castaneda by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)