MMA Junkie analyst Dan Tom breaks down the UFC’s top bouts. Today, we look at the main event for UFC on ESPN 14.

UFC on ESPN 14 takes place Saturday at Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. The event airs on ESPN and streams on ESPN+.

Robert Whittaker (20-5 MMA, 11-3 UFC)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’0″ Age: 29 Weight: 185 lbs. Reach: 73.5″
  • Last fight: Knockout loss to Israel Adesanya(Oct. 5, 2019)
  • Camp: Gracie Jiu-jitsu Smeaton Grange (Australia)
  • Stance/striking style: Orthodox/kickboxing
  • Risk management: Good

Supplemental info:

+ Former UFC middleweight champion
+ Hapkido and karate black belt
+ Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt
+ Australian National Wrestling Championships gold medal
+ 10 KO victories
+ 5 submission wins
+ 6 first-round finishes
+ KO power
+ Consistent pace and pressure
+ Good footwork and distance management
^ Quickly and deceptively blitzes
+ Accurate left hook
^ Coming forward or off the counter
+ Unique angles and off-beat attacks
^ Disrupts opponents’ rhythm
+ Excellent wrestling ability
+ Improved overall grappling
+/- 3-0 against UFC-level southpaws

Darren Till (18-2-1 MMA, 6-2-1 UFC)

Darren Till

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’0″ Age: 27 Weight: 185 lbs. Reach: 74.5″
  • Last fight: Decision win over Kelvin Gastelum(Nov. 2, 2019)
  • Camp: Team Kaobon (Liverpool, Eng.)
  • Stance/striking style: Southpaw/muay Thai
  • Risk management: Good

Supplemental info:

+ K-1 European title
+ Luta Livre purple belt
+ Thai boxing experience
+ 10 KO victories
+ 2 submission wins
+ 5 first-round finishes
+ KO power
+ Good feints and footwork
^ Manages distance well
+ Accurate left hand
^ Coming forward or off the counter
+ Hard Thai kicks
^ Works well to the body
+ Strong inside the clinch
^ Dangerous elbows and knees
+ Underrated wrestling ability
+ Serviceable grappling skills

Point of interest: Finding the left hand

The main event for UFC on ESPN 14 features a fantastic middleweight matchup between two men who make a lot of their money off their left hands – but do so in different ways.

Coming from a traditional martial arts background, Robert Whittaker has developed into one of the more unique striking stylists at 185 pounds.

Using a combination of speed, accuracy and a fluid economy of movement, the Australian will deceptively blitz off different angles that he actively looks to set. Like many karate-based strikers, Whittaker will feint or show a certain speed to draw his opponent into a false sense of security, only to disrupt the perceived timing with off-beat strikes.

The former champ also has no issue when it comes to sticking to his fundamentals, building offense off of deceptive jabs and feints – though I suspect his jabbing lanes could be muddied given the stance pairing at hand.

Though able to fight from both stances, Whittaker primarily operates out of orthodox, as he seems to somewhat enjoy the open stance look (currently standing at 3-0 when pitted against UFC-level lefties).

As we’ve seen in previous southpaw pairings, Whittaker will often assert himself through rear-legged front kicks that he uses to launch himself into advantageous angles in order to land variations of left hooks and shifting overhand shots. This theme of drop-stepping/shifting can be useful when trying to find creative ways to close distance on longer opponents who tend to fight from opposite stances (something we’ve seen work against his current counterpart before).

Nevertheless, Whittaker is not beyond being taxed for these very entries, as it’s not crazy to suspect that counter strikers could be his kryptonite.

Enter Darren Till.

Embodying his own version of muay Thai spirit, Till mixes in a unique brand of southpaw swagger that is reined in by head coach Colin Heron. Despite the bravado that the Englishman exudes, Till smartly works behind subtle feints and solid footwork while creating angles that allow him to capitalize and counter on his opponent’s reactions.

Favoring his crafty left cross, Till possesses a pull-counter that is slightly akin to another famous European southpaw, typically stunning his opposition when landing it cleanly. The 27-year-old also throws left Thai kicks that tend to flow off of his left-handed threats, but he could get more than he bargains for should he throw them nakedly (without setup) against his current counterpart.

That said, I do suspect we may continue to see more weapons and tactics brought to the table by Till. Admittedly fighting through injuries during the main stretch of his UFC tenure, Till seemed to limit himself to just a few choice weapons.

In his defense, Till has tried to open up in more recent efforts, whether it be by showing moves like oblique kicks or staying much more active with his right hand. Though both of those will serve him well in theory, I will be curious to see if any of his adjustments come within the clinching department – a place that Till was quietly effective in when making his middleweight debut.

Next point of interest: Potential grappling threats