Here's a big hot topic as of late: the UFC's seeming lack of any prospective future superstars.
Ronda Rousey is gone and may or may not come back (she won't be back). Jon Jones? He's looking at some hard times spent on the sidelines after his second USADA violation. Conor McGregor? Maybe he'll be back to fight Tony Ferguson or someone else, or maybe he won't; it's not like he needs the money.
Where is the next McGregor, the big international star who becomes a bona fide drawing card across the globe? A glance at the UFC's current roster reveals few candidates.
But, look, it's not all hopeless. This is the same conversation we've had for over a decade. It happened when Georges St-Pierre went on hiatus. It happened when Chuck Liddell retired, and when Brock Lesnar retired, and when Tito Ortiz retired. A big star heads for greener pastures or a less-violent profession, and the hand-wringing about the sport being doomed starts all over again. Someone always comes along and picks up the mantle, and yet we're always surprised when it happens.
But if you look a little closer, the rise of a star is almost always easy to predict because they typically have three traits in common: They can fight. They are media-savvy, with an innate understanding of using the press and promotional spots for their own good. And they understand that what's truly important in the fight business is the business of the fight, even more so than the fight itself.
Which is why it's easy to look at Darren Till and just say, man, this guy? He gets it.
Till went in the Octagon over in Poland on this fine Saturday and just absolutely, positively wrecked Donald Cerrone. He handed Cerrone his third straight loss, which is as rare of a thing in mixed martial arts as anything we've seen. And it wasn't just the wrecking, but the way he went about it and the way he told us exactly what would happen before it ever started.
(NSFW: The following tweet contains profane language.)
Cowboy Cerrone @Cowboycerrone
One hell of a job @darrentill2 safe to say you broke the fuck out my nose 👃!!! I don’t make… https://t.co/fxibMQgJiR2017-10-21 23:08:03
Till walked Cerrone down and blasted him, without fear or trepidation—much the same way Cerrone used to do to people (and sometimes still does when he's actually trying to fight with intelligence instead of counting the minutes until he can pick up his envelope at the pay window).
That was one trait. The second trait happened in the lead-up to the fight, when Till was everywhere telling the world exactly what he would do to Cerrone. Maybe it all seemed like so much bluster back then. Or maybe you didn't know who Darren Till was or that he was an actual UFC main event fighter.
But then the media bluster turned into fact. Till did, in fact, obliterate Cerrone and made us question if Cowboy still has the chin and the gumption to keep doing the Cowboy thing. Without that performance in the Octagon, well, there's only so long media bluster can hold up before fans start thinking they might've been sold a bill of goods.
The third trait really only works if you've been able to deliver on the first two parts. You can win fights all day, but if you can't give an interview, there's a certain limit to your potential stardom. And you can say ridiculous, non-sensical things until you're blue in the face, but your limit is still something like, say, Artem Lobov.
But if you've got the charisma, the interview skills and the fighting down, then you've got a chance to use trait No. 3 to truly get yourself over. Which is exactly what Till did when he used his post-fight interview to set up a future fight with Mike Perry (also a brilliant promotional tactician).
If you're one of those types who immediately started wondering why Till would target Perry instead of calling for someone higher up in the UFC rankings, well, you just don't get it. And maybe you never have. The only real thing about the UFC's rankings is just how embarrassing and devoid of reality they are. Seriously. They're voted on by a panel of "media members," but no member I've ever heard of knows anyone who actually votes on those panels.
The most important thing a fighter can do for himself is create fan interest in his fights. Like him or not—and there's plenty of reasons to dislike him, starting with his ridiculous hair and clothing choices and moving along to the more serious matter of apparent racists inhabiting his corner on fight nights—Perry moves the needle.
Ibrahim Banks 👑 @TheShowOff85
Mike Perry and Darren Till have just cut a brilliant promo. That could headline a fight night card! https://t.co/GMmTnY55rl2017-10-22 00:01:11
And that's what Till wants: a winnable fight that moves the needle. He can worry about the killers at the top of 170 later.
The whole thing should give you a little bit of hope for the UFC's future. There may never be another Conor McGregor, and that's both terrible and also good for our future. And while the UFC would no doubt love to have more Conor McGregors running around, you can be sure they're very appreciative and enthused about the prospects of Darren Till right now.