The UFC's time on Fight Island wrapped up with a tactical striking battle between top middleweight contenders Robert Whittaker and Darren Till. Whittaker, fighting for the first time since losing the middleweight championship to Israel Adesanya, survived an early scare to score a unanimous decision victory and get back in the win column.
Early in the first round, Till caught Whittaker lunging in, cracking him with a short elbow and dropping the former champion to the canvas. Till attempted to go for the finish, but Whittaker recovered well and used the threat of winging overhand rights to keep Till from pressing the early advantage.
In the second round, Whittaker scored his own knockdown, bombing Till with a wild overhand right and planting him on the canvas. Whittaker used the opportunity to land some heavy ground and pound shots, swelling Till's face and drawing blood from his nose.
With both men having scored knockdowns, the fight settled into a pattern dominated by feints and leg kicks from Whittaker. Both men would pick their spots to let loose with big shots, overhand rights from Whittaker and elbows and left hooks from Till. Whittaker was the busier fighter in the middle rounds, building up a lead on the scorecards that would ultimately be the deciding factor in the result.
"I tell you what, that fight was so stressful," Whittaker said after the fight. "Honestly, I hope the fans and everybody can appreciate it because that, to me, was one of my most technical fights. ... I had to really adapt on the go."
Till finished the fight with a strong fifth round, scoring the more significant strikes of the pair. Whittaker was left with a nasty gash on the side of his head in the round, the product of another Till counter elbow. But it was too little, too late for the up-and-comer, with all three judges scoring the fight for Whittaker by scores of 48-47.
Pressed after the fight on if he wanted to get back to work and rematch Adesanya for the middleweight title, Whittaker said, "Honestly, I want to go home to my babies and my wife." He also said his main focus would be on helping his teammates prepare for their upcoming fights, a shift in focus for Whittaker, who had admitted to struggling with burnout after losing his championship last October.
In the co-main event, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua completed the sweep over longtime rival Antonio Rogerio Nogueira with a unanimous decision victory. The two first met all the way back in 2005 under the PRIDE banner where Rua also scored a decision win. Rua utilized a solid striking game coupled with decent wrestling chops to slow the 44 year old Nogueira. Plus, Fabricio Werdum stopped the Alexander Gustafsson heavyweight hype train with a first-round armbar submission.
CBS Sports was with you throughout the night providing updates, insights and analysis throughout the main card. You can see the full results, highlights and recaps of the action below.
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UFC Fight Night card and results
- Robert Whittaker def. Darren Till via 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 via first-round submission (armbar)
- Carla Esparza def. Marina Rodriguez via split decision (28-29, 29-28, 30-27)
- Paul Craig def. Gadzhimurad Antigulov via first-round submission (triangle choke)
- Alex Oliveira def. Peter Sobotta via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Khamzat Chimaev def. Rhys McKee via first-round TKO (punches)
- Francisco Trinaldo def. Jai Herbert via third-round TKO (punches)
- Jesse Ronson def. Nicolas Dalby via first-round submission (rear-naked choke)
- Tom Aspinall def. Jake Collier via first-round TKO (punches)
- Movsar Evloev def. Mike Grundy via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
- Tanner Boser def. Raphael Pessoa via second-round TKO (punches)
- Pannie Kianzad def. Bethe Correia via 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 via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)