Darren Till has watched how the UFC’s richest purses appear to have caused fighters’ enthusiasm for the sport to taper.
Till promises it won’t happen to him.
“There’s a difference between me and Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor. When they get the contract, they look at how much they’re getting paid. When I get it, I don’t [care] about the money. I care about my opponent and how I’m going to beat him,” Till said.
“When I get to the pay-per-views, I still won’t look at what I’m getting. I’m sure my coach will say something about the money, and I’ll say, ‘OK, thank you,’ but, listen, I’m only 25 and I’ve got a good few years in me before I retire. It’s nice to make money, but it doesn’t matter.
“If you put a billion pounds in front of me and said, ‘You can have that or you can have greatness,’ I’d choose greatness every time. Because not everyone can die with that kind of title. There’s many, many rich people in the world. It’s not that hard to get rich. It’s damn hard to be a great in a sport like MMA. That’s why I love it.”
Till (16-0-1) can continue elevating toward proving his point Sunday morning when he meets top-ranked welterweight contender Stephen Thompson in the main event of a Fox Sports 1-televised UFC Fight Night card that begins at 10 a.m. Pacific time in Till’s hometown of Liverpool, England.
The arena, “sold out in two minutes, mate,” Till said, and while Ireland’s McGregor came to Las Vegas and New York to win his two belts, Till says: “Maybe I want to stay in England and build my market here. Why can’t I?”
The eighth-rated Till was granted the home fight by UFC President Dana White following his prior victory over respected veteran Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone.
“I believe I manifested a dream come true and I’m happy I’ve got one of the best fighters in the world to fight in front of my hometown,” Till said. “I could’ve fought anyone, but I wanted the best, and at this time, Stephen Thompson is the best available.”
South Carolina’s Thompson has twice fought currently sidelined champion Tyron Woodley without beating him.
As Woodley recovers from an injury, the UFC has scheduled a June 9 interim title fight in Chicago between Rafael Dos Anjos and Colby Covington, with the winner expected to get Woodley next.
The technical, deliberate Thompson is seen by some conspiracy theorists as the foil to Till’s bright star, perhaps an assignment by the UFC to dampen the fervor over the Brit as the company has observed a blueprint of how a rapid ascent in popularity and massive pay might alter a fighter’s ego and demands.
Rousey stopped talking to reporters after one loss and effectively retired after the second.
McGregor hasn’t been in the octagon in nearly two years after milking his two-division-title stardom into a $100-million novelty boxing match against Floyd Mayweather Jr. last year. In April, he attacked a bus carrying the man who’s replaced him as lightweight champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov, injuring fighters due to flying glass and receiving felony charges.
And Nate Diaz has also been absent for nearly two years after appearing against McGregor in two mega-pay-per-view fights.
“I don’t really know what goes on behind the scenes and I couldn’t really care,” Till said. “At the end of the day, we’re the individual contractors and [the UFC is] the bosses, and they’re the guys who can make or break you, so I sort of do what they say and fight who they say.
“I’m never going to ask to change a fight or complain or say that the money’s [bad], because that’s not really the person I am.”