Darren Till considered faking injury before UFC 244 walkout: ‘I just simply did not want to get in there’

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NEW YORK – Darren Till had a rough year-plus heading into UFC 244 on Saturday night.

At UFC 228 in September 2018, Till (18-2-1 MMA, 6-2-1 UFC) suffered the first loss of his professional career. Six months later, he was brutally knocked out for the first time at the hands of surging contender Jorge Masvidal. Then, he was arrested for an incident involving a taxi when he was on vacation in the Canary Islands.

“Before (Tyron) Woodley, there was no guy who could beat me,” Till said at the UFC 244 post-fight news conference at Madison Square Garden. “And then two losses like that? It just took a lot away from me inside of me. I didn’t say it, but I fought some hard demons. Then obviously getting arrested and there’s other things. You lose sponsors and it’s a (expletive) whirlwind. It’s good and it’s bad.”

The weight of all of these issues burdened Till – never more so than right before his split-decision victory over Kelvin Gastelum in his middleweight debut Saturday. Moments prior to his walkout, Till began thinking of a way out: a believable excuse, perhaps.

“Just to get in there tonight, I tell you,” Till said. “I was trying to fake an injury before walking out. I was thinking of an injury to fake because I just simply did not want to get in there.

“This is probably a thing fighters don’t talk about. But you know me and I’m honest. That’s just where I was at. Now, I’m here. Confidence is back. Like (expletive) all these middleweights. I’m coming for everything. It’s back.”

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Going forward, Till expects fear to always linger. Whether he wins or loses, the English middleweight admitted he’ll likely always feel afraid before he makes the walk to the UFC cage. He said this is typical among fighters, despite what the persona they often radiate.

“Every fight, no matter what any fighter will ever tell you, they will be scared,” Till said. “If they tell you they’re not, it’s a blatant lie. This fighter wasn’t scared; I was terrified. I wasn’t shaking, but I just didn’t want to go. The magnitude of the event – I was doubting. I was thinking of ways to get out of the fight. This was only today and I’m just so scared.”

The turning point for Till came after the conclusion of the first round against Gastelum (16-5 MMA, 10-5 UFC). He took a step back from the nerves and reassessed his current situation. From there, he was able to get everything under control.

“Then the first round is over and I’m like, ‘Come on, pull yourself together. Now we’re going to win this fight the way we planned. We’re not gonna let him touch you and you’re going to win it,’” Till said. “I knew it was going to be hard to knock him out. I knew I had the power, but he’s a tough cookie. That’s just how it is.

“Fighters might not say it, but I’ll always say it. Whether it’s good or bad, I’ve been criticized in the past or whatever. That’s where I was at today as soon as I woke up.”

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And wake up, he did. Through 15 minutes of fight time, Till landed 53 percent of his strikes en route to his victory

UFC 244 took place Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York. The main card aired on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN2 and ESPN2/ESPN+/UFC Fight Pass.

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