UFC Liverpool In Camp With Darren Till: ‘The Gaffa And His Gladiators’
by Tony Moran
Little talking, no pleasantries, bad intentions and laser-like focus written across the face of Darren Till as he enters the gym.
He radiates an aura and energy that says nothing less than “I am a future UFC Champion”.
Here’s an inside perspective on the UFC Liverpool fight camp at Kaobon MMA…
I wrote an article about Darren a couple of years back named ‘Living The Dream’ and within that two years, the dream has gathered much more momentum towards becoming reality.
While I can’t be certain, I imagine beating the #1 ranked contender in Stephen ‘”Wonderboy” Thompson, puts Darren in line for a title shot. I don’t just imagine Darren is going to beat Thompson either, I believe he’s going to demolish him based on what I have observed and also encountered myself as his sparring partner.
I’m no slouch and have mixed it with the very best in the world across karate and boxing as well as MMA, either in competition or through countless rounds of sparring in the toughest of gyms.
I’ve bumped into Darren on a few occasions and when I heard he had been matched with Thompson, I offered my services to Colin Heron in the belief I could mimic Thompson’s karate style.
The first element of combat I learned and excelled in from ages 13 to 26 was freestyle karate and I was a national champion consecutively from boy to man and also captured European and World honours.
There ain’t many I’ve ever competed against or sparred who I haven’t been able to land kicks on at will and Darren is one of those few. The sparring is at full intensity and when you step into the cage you are going in there to fight. At first, I believed it may be because it was my position as an outsider entering the fight team of Kaobon, that every punch and kick was of knockout potential.
But this fight team go at it hard whether teammates or not and Coach Heron has no time for tech spars once that cage door closes.
The Gaffa and his gladiators
Kaobon is a team defined by it’s people. The likes of Mike Grundy, Chris Stringer, Ally McLean and Michael Evans are lads I knew prior to this camp and our bond has only grown deeper with every drop of sweat we’ve shared on the mat. To a man, they carry war wounds that would leave the average person home from work, but these gladiators power through on a daily basis all in effort of helping their teammates reach a higher level.
Kaobon is a modern MMA gym that reminds me of an old school martial arts dojo in that there is one man in charge and that man is most definitely Coach Colin.
So, before I give you further insight into my perspective on Darren Tills preparation and mindset, I will give you an insider’s perspective of the coach and team of fighters at Kaobon, starting with a quote I wrote in the past which goes a long way to giving a taste of the ethos at Kaobon.
“A fighter gets the public praise and respect, whereas a coach receives something much deeper and much more meaningful…he receives the fighter’s praise and respect.”
The respect for Colin Heron from his fighters is palpable, in as much that without over exaggerating, I imagine most of these men would be prepared to stand in harm’s way and stand very firm against others if the need ever arose on his behalf. From being an observant man, I have understood from afar that loyalty is high on Colin Heron’s list of personal attributes, and for those I know from the team who have been there from the beginning, namely Mark Scanlon and Terry Etim, they see Colin as a father figure.
My own history with Colin is a strangely interlinked one, going back as far as 15 years of age when I had my first full-on boxing spar with his brother Peter, giving me my first ever wobble when he hit with a perfect right cross to my adolescent chin. When I was 26 our paths crossed again, well before MMA was a mainstay on UK shores, Colin’s Thai Boxing gym and one of his earlier marquee fighters were tearing it up in World K1. Chris Woods was a joy to watch fight, and as there were still only 5 TV channels at the time, seeing him regularly on one of the channels’ fight shows was big news and inspired me to want the trappings of a combat sport more mainstream than karate.
In the days before even mobiles and social media, connections with others got me Colin’s parents’ house number, and I remember having the same no nonsense talk with him then when he was a much younger man and coach… “You come, you suffer, you win” was the definite theme of the feedback. Getting the opportunity to box professionally instead shortly after, I rang Colin to thank him for the invite he had offered and explained my reasons for declining. Its’ a choice I’ve regretted many times over the years when my fight careers have gone stagnant and the coaching I’ve received has been less than credible for my personal potential.
So, this is how Darren Till and Colin Heron blend perfectly as a deadly duo of destruction, one gives the orders and one follows them with machine like focus in a way I’ve never seen or been around before. I’ve been around lots of gyms and fighters in my 30 years as a competitor, and there is no doubt in my mind all the top fighters at Kaobon now and over the years have had this committed connection with the head coach and, in truth, it’s something I both respect and envy in equal measure.
Darren Till is realising his full potential at Kaobon in a way that fits him perfectly. A dangerous striker from a Muay Thai background is a complete match for the way Colin Heron and Kaobon have developed as a world class MMA team. A team that gives Darren the kind of confidence which means you believe he will succeed with his stated goal to become a 3 weight champion in the UFC.
To know he is operating at welterweight at this time is hard to reconcile when you first step in the cage with him. I’m 14 stone and 6ft 7ins and somehow he seems bigger than me. His stance and style are like nothing I’ve ever come across, and his aura is one that means you harm in the most hurtful ways he can, with more pin point and powerful strikes I have ever had to defend from one attacker. I think f myself as a world class striker too, so I know what I’m talking about when I say I’ve faced few fighters with both precision and power like this.
Tom Aspinall the heavyweight standout at Kaobon, Jack McGann an old Wolfslair teammate and Chris Fishgold of Next Gen also have this razor like precision, and it’s something which if you haven’t experienced it as a fighter it can leave you feeling like a very vulnerable target indeed. Beside the high level of ability, it is the full on focus of the fiercest and most formidable kind, something most fighters – myself included – dip in and out of. Only those who truly excel have the ability to maintain it.
It is known in sport as “The Zone”, and it seems Darren Till knows how to access that almost sacred place almost at will; especially when he has Colin Heron pressing all the right buttons in perfect sequence. I witnessed this in awe on the day I started to write this article, when Darren completed 12 x 5 minute full MMA rounds with a fresh sparring partner for each, with only 30 seconds rest between rounds. This is a level of preparation and intensity I have never engaged in myself, and have never witnessed in all the title or top level fight camps I have done myself or been a part of.
Every elite fighter in any combat sport has that extra bit that means so much in making the difference, but I also know this… until the right talent and potential in a fighter meets the right coach, the magic the fighter possesses may likely never be truly realised. That unique relationship often squares the circle for the achievement of brilliance.
All the greats have this often quiet and humble coach in the background; the most obvious I think of in explaining my understanding of this point was Cus D’Amato, who coached and guided the magic from Mike Tyson’s hands. Darren Till has Colin Heron in this MMA story, and many more qualities than just hands alone with which to demonstrate his magic. A kind of magic I can tell you first hand is also at play in the gym, where the fight preparation is producing something I believe is perfect for the extravaganza which lies ahead.