Darren Till has emerged as one of the most popular fighters in the UFC’s middleweight division. Now, he has his chance to go from wise-cracking fan favorite to legitimate title contender.
Till meets Derek Brunson in the main event of UFC Fight Night on Saturday afternoon in Las Vegas. The card was initially supposed to be in Till’s native England but was moved to the United States due to COVID-19 logistical issues.
It’s a pivotal bout near the top of the UFC’s 185-pound division, where ESPN has Brunson ranked No. 7 and Till ranked No. 8. The winner will join Jared Cannonier as a top contender in the division where champion Israel Adesanya is likely to defend next against former champ Robert Whittaker.
Brunson (22-7) is in the midst of perhaps the best run of his career. The North Carolina native, who fights out of Sanford MMA in Florida, has won four straight, most recently a unanimous decision win over Kevin Holland in March. Brunson, 37, has won six of eight overall and has fought a who’s who of the division over the past nine years, including Adesanya, Whittaker, Anderson Silva and more.
Till (18-3-1) has lost three of his past four fights. In his last bout, in July 2020, the Liverpool native lost a very close unanimous decision to Whittaker. He is also coming off a broken collarbone. Till, 28, won his UFC middleweight debut against Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 244 in November 2019. “The Gorilla” is a former title challenger at welterweight, falling to Tyron Woodley.
In the co-main event, top heavyweight prospect Tom Aspinall meets late-notice replacement Serghei Spivak. Aspinall (10-2) is 3-0 in the UFC and coming off a submission win over Andrei Arlovski in February. Spivak (13-2) has won three straight, most recently a unanimous decision win over Aleksei Oleinik in June.
Also on the card: English lightweight prospect Paddy Pimblett makes his UFC debut against Luigi Vendramini; welterweights Alex Morono and David Zawada face off; and knockout artist Khalil Rountree Jr. returns against Modestas Bukauskas.
Follow along as Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim recap every fight, or watch the action live on ESPN+.
Fight in progress:
Morono came in with 12 finishes in his career, with all but one coming in the first round. Zawada entered the bout with finishes in 15 of his 17 wins. And both men showed that kind of urgency in this fight.
The fight went the distance, though, with Morono a beat ahead throughout a fight that remained a standup contest for the full 15 minutes. The 31-year-old from Houston was first in most punching exchanges, and also had the last word as well. By leading the dance the whole way, he earned three 30-27 scorecards for his third win in his last four fights.
It was his ninth win since 2016, tying him for fourth-most among UFC welterweights over that time.
Zawada, who is 31 and from Germany, has lost four of his five UFC fights.
Leg kick TKOs have become more and more common with the surging popularity of the low calf kick. But this was an entirely different situation.
Rountree stopped Bukauskas with the rarest of kick TKOs at 2:30 of the second round. The technique was a step-in, downward kick to Bukauskas’ left leg, specifically his oblique. Bukauskas buckled, he let out a scream of pain and referee Herb Dean stepped in to stop it. The injury appeared to be one to Bukauskas’ knee.
“I did study that [technique] and I did know that that was something I wanted to do when the opportunity came,” Rountree said.
OMG 😱 that side kick to the knee was brutal #UFCvegas36
— Thiago Moisés (@ThiagoMoisesMMA) September 4, 2021
Rountree came out aggressive with big power shots. He landed a hard one-two combination early in the first round and finished with a massive double-hook combination. Rountree also attacked the lead leg with kicks, causing a cut on Bukauskas’ left leg.
In the second round, Rountree said he was waiting for Bukauskas’ jab to use that oblique kick — and it worked exactly to plan, finishing the fight. The unfortunate part is that Bukauskas could now be looking at an extended period of time on the shelf.
Rountree, 31, snapped a two-fight losing streak with the finish. The Los Angeles native, who trains out of Thailand, has four finishes in five UFC victories. Bukauskas, a 27-year-old Lithuania native fighting out of England, has dropped three straight following a win in his UFC debut in July 2020
Pimblett warned anyone who would listen ahead of his UFC debut that he intended to steal the show on Saturday. And that’s exactly what he did.
The Liverpool, England native knocked out Vendramini in devastating fashion at the 4:35 mark of their lightweight bout. The finish came after Pimblett survived an early knockdown by Vendramini, courtesy of a left hook to the chin. Pimblett appeared to be in serious trouble from the shot, but he ultimately worked his way out of bottom position following the knockdown and recovered on his feet.
Pimblett’s kicks stood out early, but his hands closed the show. He caught Vendramini with a flurry to the head and then literally chased him across the Octagon, unloading more shots along the fence until Vendramini was knocked out cold. It is the 10th time in Pimblett’s career he’s finished a fight inside the first round.
Well! Damn! I’m definitely gonna be talking about @PaddyTheBaddy 😳
— Paul Felder (@felderpaul) September 4, 2021
Pimblett landed 47 total strikes to Vendramini’s 25, and connected on 58 percent of his significant strikes. A former champion under the Cage Warriors banner, Pimblett has won three in a row.
Molly McCann throws punch after punch as she gets the unanimous decision victory over Ji Yeon Kim.
The fight was in its final 30 seconds, and McCann had a message for her opponent. The message had no words. It was conveyed with two hands pointing to the mat at the center of the cage. Fight me right here, the gesture said. And that’s precisely what the two women did until the horn sounded.
It wasn’t the first time in the fight that McCann had dictated where the fisticuffs would take place. Righty at the start, the 31-year-old from England came charging across the cage and immediately erased Kim’s 10-inch reach advantage. But the South Korean stood her ground, used swift footwork to evade damage and landed counter-punches.
But McCann kept coming.
It was a close fight all the way, and an entertaining one in which each fighter had her moments. In the end, all three judges turned in 29-28 scorecards favoring McCann, who broke a two-fight losing streak with her first win since 2019.
For Kim, also 31, it was her second loss in a row. She has dropped three of her last four.
It would still be accurate to keep the “prospect” tag on Shore. But he certainly does not fight like it.
Shore outpointed Sholinian via unanimous decision (30-27 on all three judges’ scorecards) in an impressively efficient performance. Shore landed takedowns early, showing off his superior wrestling. But he also boxed up Sholinian on the feet and mixed in hard calf kicks to keep his opponent off balance. Shore put forth a truly well-rounded game.
In the first round, Shore took Sholinian down and looked for an arm-triangle choke. Shore could not get the finish, but then got into mount. As good as his grappling was, he didn’t use it as much in the second and third rounds. Instead, Shore highlighted his improved standup skills, even wobbling Sholinian in the third round with a combination.
Good scrap! I like both of these guys! Congrats to Shore #UFCVegas36
— GIGA CHIKADZE (@giga_chikadze) September 4, 2021
Afterward, Shore said he wants a top-15 caliber opponent next.
“I feel like I’m ready,” Shore said in his postfight interview. “I feel like I’ve proven that I’m ready. The only way is up for me. I’m only getting better and better.”
Shore, 26, is now 4-0 in the UFC. This was his second straight decision after five finishes in a row. Shore, a Wales native, has to be considered one of the top up-and-coming fighters in the bantamweight division. Sholinian, a 31-year-old Ukraine native, had a four-fight winning streak snapped.
Julian Erosa takes down Charles Jourdain in the 3rd round and submits him with a D’Arce Choke.
Erosa, of Yakima, Washington, picked up a slick submission over Jourdain on the back end of a very entertaining 150-pound catchweight fight.
The finish came at 2:56 of the third round. Erosa pounced on a D’arce choke as Jourdain looked to work back to his feet from a takedown. Jourdain was caught completely off guard by the attempt, and tapped moments later. It marks the first time Jourdain, of Quebec, has ever been finished.
It was a decisive finish for a bout that went very back-and-forth on the feet. Erosa, who improved to 4-4 in the UFC, did some good work to Jourdain’s body. Jourdain answered with lead left hands in the second round, including one that resulted in a knockdown.
Jourdain falls to 1-1 on the year. Erosa, who signed with the UFC off the Dana White Contender Series, is now 4-1 in his last five after starting off 0-3 in the UFC.
For 15 minutes, Barriault did not take a step backward. That, in itself, was impressive, as he was in the Octagon with a powerful man who threw everything with maximum oomph. But Barriault steadily walked down Lungiambula the whole time, and by the time the fight was in its final minute, he had an exhausted Lungiambula on retreat.
Damn that was awesome. Barriault didn’t care if he was winning he was fighting to get the finish. Great fight and very impressive! #UFCVegas36
— Tatiana Suarez (@tatianaufc) September 4, 2021
Barriault did not get the finish he was trying for right to the final horn, but he put an exclamation point on all three judges’ cards, as they scored it 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28. That gave the 31-year-old from Quebec two wins in a row after he’d gone winless in his previous four fights.
Lungiambula, a 34-year-old native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is based in South Africa but has been training in Las Vegas. He threw power shots the whole time but landed nothing that stopped Barriault from advancing. Lungiambula did score two takedowns in Round 1, but he faded as the fight wore on and lost for the second time in three fights, following a win in his UFC debut in 2019.