Five for Fighting – UFC Fight Night: Whittaker vs. Till

The ship sets sail from fight island soon but not before a stellar night of fights. We have a lot of Cage Warrior fighters of the past competing on Saturday night. We’ve got some homegrown talent to cheer for when Rhys McKee steps in to face Khamzat Chimaev in his UFC debut. Check out Andy Stevenson’s full breakdown of that fight in his ‘This Weekend’s Warriors’ article.

Now let me take you through five fights that I’m looking forward to most on the UFC Fight Night card taking place this Saturday night.

Nathaniel Wood (16-4-0) vs. John Castañeda (17-4-0)

Former Cage Warriors bantamweight champion Wood is looking to bounce back from his first defeat inside the ranks of the UFC. The Londoner was defeated by former title contender John Dodson last February. It was the first knockout loss of his career.

‘The Prospect’ train’s out of Great Britain Top Team under the guidance of UK MMA royalty Brad Pickett. Going into the Dodson fight he had racked up an 8 fight win streak. Wood will not want to let all that momentum go to waste in this bout.

He step’s in to fight John Castañeda, otherwise known as ‘Sexi Mexi’. The American has been a staple on Campbell McLaren’s Combate Americas promotion for the past 3 years. Fighting out of Mankato Martial Arts, he first came on our radars when he made an appearance on Dana White’s Contender Series.

John got the win on the series but was not awarded with a contract offer after his decision victory. Castañeda will look to jump at his second opportunity and really make a name off the highly touted Wood. Both fighters match up quite well with similar styles.

This will be a super technical fight. It’s a hell of a fight to open up the card. Bit harsh on both fighters it being the curtain raiser of the evening. Both of these athletes possess fight ending power, both are very well rounded too. Wood comes into the bout with 8 wins by knockout and 6 wins via submission.

His opponent comes in with a pretty impressive finishing record himself. The UFC debutant has picked up 6 submissions in his career thus far and has finished 6 of his opponents by KO/TKO. I would not be surprised to see these guys battle all the way to a decision. This scrap is a big fight for both fighters. Both them having eye on breaking the top 15 of the already stacked bantamweight division.

Quick Pick: Nathaniel Wood

F. Trinaldo (25-7-0) vs. Jai Herbert (10-1-0)

No easy introduction into the UFC for the ‘The Black Country Banger’, Jai Herbert. The former Cage Warriors lightweight champion vacated his title in order to fulfill his dream of fighting in the UFC. Since his loss to Rhys McKee, Herbert has won 6 on the bounce. All but one of those victories came by way of KO/TKO.

You would expect Herbert to go out and try to put Trinaldo. He does have that ability but Trinaldo is as tough as they come. The Brazilian, who is in his wonder years as an MMA athlete. He has fought over twenty time under the UFC banner. In those bouts he has fought the who’s who of the lightweight division.

Trinaldo has picked some good wins in the past. He notched wins over the likes of Norman Parke, Jim Miller, Ross Pearson and Paul Felder to name a few. in his later years what he may lack in atletism but he has heaps of experience. ‘Massaranduba’ is about as tough a fighter as there is. The bout itself, is a very testing debut fight for Herbert.

Wolverhamton’s own Herbert, will be well up for the challenge. He has the ability to put his opponent away here. That would make a real statement on his debut. Stylistically this matchup will most likely be a stand and bang contest. Trinaldo might look to clinch and make use of his BJJ brown belt that he possesses. I could only see this happening if he is getting pieced up in the stand up department. All in all this shapes up to be a very exciting encounter.

Quick Pick: Jai Herbert

Fabrício Werdum vs. Alexander Gustafsson

A heavyweight showdown is next on the list and what an interesting fight this is. Former Gustafsson made his name and came so close to glory in the light heavyweight division. The former #1 light heavyweight contender tests his skills against heavyweight veteran Fabrício Werdum.

Its wasn’t that long ago that people were talking about Werdum as a all time heavyweight GOAT. It’s a fair argument to make. The Brazilian has an impressive resume over his storied career. A victory over Cain Velasquez had his picking up UFC gold for the first time in 2015. Other notable wins over Fedor Emelianenko, Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira, Travis Browne and Mark Hunt amongst others make the GOAT statement rock solid.

In recent years he has had trouble with USADA. Werdum tested positive for the banned drug trenbolone and its metabolite epitrenbolone on April 25, 2018. He was suspended two years by USADA on May 22, 2018. This puts a major asterix over any GOAT talk. Upon his return he stepped in against Alexey Oleinik. The former champion looked a shadow of his former self in that bout.

Oleinik boxed Werdum up pretty easily and the Russian is not known for his stand up ability. His challenger Gustafsson on the other hand is known for knocking people dead. ‘The Mauler’ has picked up 11 knockout wins in his MMA career thus far. The Swedish fighter comes into this bout on the back of two defeats against Jon Jones and Anthony Smith respectively.

Gustafsson will be looking to turn his fortunes around as he moves up a division to tackle the big boys. Recent pictures have Gus looking thicker than a snickers. It will be interesting to see if his power translates and how he handles the transition fighting bigger guys. I don’t see him having too much issues on Saturday night.

Werdum looked awful in his last bout. He was slow and lethargic in his approach after a two year lay off. If he comes into this bout with the same temperament it will be an early night for the BJJ ace. Father time is undefeated in MMA and he may be knocking on the former champions door here. Its a make or break fight for both fighters really. Gus can’t afford another defeat. Another loss would certainly end the Swedes career. I don’t expect this fight to make it out on the first round.

Quick Pick: Alexander Gustafsson

Maurício Rua vs. A. Nogueira

I’ve included this fight solely for nostalgic purposes. If you have not seen the first fight that these guys had in Pride FC you are missing out. Stop everything and go an watch it. It was a war of epic proportions. That fight was won by Shogun on his way to picking up the Pride Middleweight GP title.

Both Brazilian fighters ran it back ten years on from that first bout. The result was the same with Rua picked up the decision at UFC 190. former light heavyweight UFC champion goes into this strangely put together trilogy 2-0 against ‘Lil Nog’. Both fighter now at the latter stages of their respective careers have had their runs in the UFC hampered by injuries.

I would not expect to see the ferocity of their first bout from either of these battle worn warriors coming into this scrap. Nogueira has not competed in over two years and has said that retirement is imminent after this bout. You never like to hear that talk coming from a fighter. It seems ‘Lil Nog’ has one foot already out the door. That will play right into Rua’s hands here.

Rua himself was last seen when he battled to a controversial draw against Scottish fighter Paul Craig. That draw has seen him only lose one out his last five bouts. That stat keeps the Brazilian somewhat relevant in the division. At this stage of his career it’s hard to see the former champ making another run at the title he once held.

This is a kind of fight that could go one of many ways. I can’t see Noguera having the capabilities to put Shogun away here. Rua will likely either go for the finish and try to get the job done early. If he fails to do so we might be needing the judges scorecards to separate both of these veterns of the game. Let’s hope that we see glimmers of their first bout, that thought I feel may be wishful thinking for this co-main event.

Robert Whittaker vs. Darren Till

The main event of the evening is a doozy of a fight. Number two ranked Robert Whittaker steps in to fight Darren Till ranked at number five in the middleweight division. This is a really hard fight to call. Till made his name as a Muay Thai fighter before moving over to Brazil where he honed his BJJ skills and came back home to England a very well rounded fighter.

Liverpool man Till makes only his second appearance at middleweight. He spent most of his career at welterweight. During his UFC tenure at that weight he springboarded up the ranks. ‘The Gorilla’ went 5-0-1 on his rise to a title shot. His first notable win was an impressive victory over Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone. He followed that with a decision win in his hometown over Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson. That was a fight that many scored for Wonderboy. On the night all three judges scored it for Till in a unanimous decision victory.

That victory set him up with a title shot against then champion Tyron Woodley. Unfortunately for the scouser as he fell short in his first title shot in the UFC. Woodley made it look easy on the night and decimated Till. Till himself had alway problems making weight. After his UFC Liverpool fight he released a video showing what was a disturbing weight cut. At stages of that weight cut Till lost his vision for a brief spell.

The disappointment of his title loss prompted the action to move up one division to somewhat eliminate his tough weight cut. Upon Till’s move to middleweight he didn’t try to take the easy route. His first any only bout at middleweight to date came against Kelvin Gastelum. The bout went to the judges scorecards with Darren Till taking the split decision.

Former middleweight champion steps back into the octagon after losing his title to Israel Adesanya in his last bout. Whittaker has been around the UFC for a minute. The New Zealand man himself fought for a long time in the welterweight division. He made his way into the UFC ranked by competing in The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes.

‘The Reaper’ won out the the season but went on to lose his UFC debut. His time at welterweight was somewhat of a bumpy road. He never managed to pick up a head of steam and had difficulties making 170 pounds weight limit. A knockout loss to ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson sparked a decision for Whittaker to make the jump up to the middleweight decision.

That proved to be a wise choice as Whittaker went on an absolute tear at 185 pounds. Win’s over Brad Tavares, Rafael Natal and Derek Brunson catapulted him into title contention. He cemented that status win a win over Jacare in what won him a performance of the night bonus. That victory landed him a shot at the interim middleweight title.

Yoel Romero was the guy standing in between Whittaker’s dream of holding UFC gold. Both fighters battled it out in a five round war with all judges scoring the bout unanimously for the Kiwi man. Almost a year later a rematch was set up for both athletes to finally settle the score.

Injuries started to hamper Robert Whittaker in the buildup to the rematch. A proposed bout with Luke Rockhold was scrapped because of an injury. That fight never materialized between the two and thus the rematch with Romero was set for UFC 225. Since the first fight the interim champion was awarded with the undisputed middleweight championship after GSP retired. The second fight with Romero was an absolute war. Both fighters left it all in the cage on the night. The decision which went the New Zealander which caused a ton of controversy.

We did not see Whittaker compete for over a year after that fight. It’s no easy feat to go ten rounds with an absolute beast like Romero. Those kind of fights change fighter. Whittaker persevered through bout bouts but at what cost? The cost was losing his title in his last bout when current champion Israel finished his countryman with a left hook in round two.

This bout is all about redemption for Robert Whittaker. Can he bounce back and get another chance at picking up UFC gold. I feel he most certainly can but Darren Till won’t want to be the fall guy in this scenario. Till himself is on his on path of redemption. He was labelled a ‘hype job’ by most fans after his defeat to Woodley. He has got a big hurdle to jump here but if he manages to do so all those taunts go out the window.

I feel were in for the long haul for this encounter. I can see this going all the way and the fight being a razor close decision that could go either way. Whattaker won’t want that. His balls to the wall style of fighting will see him press forward here and look for the finish, like he always does. Till won’t want to play that game with ‘The Reaper’. I expect him to fight at distance, similar to how he fought against Wonderboy. This will be a high quality, highly technical chess match on the feet. I’m really excited to see the outcome.

Quick Pick: Darren Till

UFC Whittaker vs. Till takes place this Saturday night, July 25th on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. I hope you all enjoy the fights!

Ian O'Neill is a Kilkenny man living in Canada. You can catch him on Twitter most of the time talking all things MMA. Follow me on Twitter and on Instagram @ioneillmma.