Liverpool Champions League heartbreak soothed by UFC fighter Darren Till’s victory
So much of the pre-match talk centered around Cristiano Ronaldo and what he may be able to conjure against Liverpool in Kiev. In the end, however, it was a player born just a few hundred miles down the road from the Mersey who put the final nails in the Reds’ Champions League coffin on Saturday.
Gareth Bale etched his name into the competition’s folklore, scoring what may have been the most iconic goal in the history of the Champions League, barely 180 seconds after joining the game as a second-half substitute.
The Welshman’s bicycle kick took the wind out of Liverpool’s sails after Sadio Mane had canceled out Karim Benzema’s opportunistic opener, and 20 minutes later he added a second after Loris Karius – who will not have fond memories of this encounter – parried a long-range shot into his own net.
As potent a threat as Ronaldo is, Liverpool found that it was very much a case of ‘pick your poison’ against Los Blancos. Stripped of their chief attacking instigator, Mo Salah, early in the game thanks to a Sergio Ramos-inflicted dislocated shoulder, it was never going to be an easy task to wrest the trophy from Madrid, but Karius’ act of self-sabotage certainly hastened their demise.
With the final whistle and the silver medals that came with it, the first leg of a unique sporting double for the city of Liverpool was gone. The focus, along with the pressure that comes with it, fell squarely on Darren Till, the hometown headliner of the UFC’s first-ever event in Liverpool.
The omens were not good. The specter of the Champions League defeat ran thick through the city and when Molly McCann, the first Scouser to fight on the card, was choked out early in the fight, you couldn’t escape the feeling that we were about to bear witness to a wake rather than a celebration.
Till, the 25-year-old undefeated Muay Thai striker, has been one of the UFC’s most talked about fighters in the last 12 months and his coronation to the main event level, against the top-ranked Stephen Thompson, was the primary reason for this card taking place. And as his crystal ball predicted, when the official decision came was the Liverpudlian’s name which was read as he, and the entire city you felt, breathed a collective sigh of relief.
It was a very tense fight. Neither man wanted to be the first to make a mistake but it was Thompson who blinked first, as he was sent to the canvas by a seismic left hand from Till – the telling blow in the 25-minute fight.
“I played games. I know he thinks I'm an aggressive fighter but I'm also a calm fighter,” Till said after the fight to commentator Dan Hardy. “He is a phenomenal striker and I've never fought a striker like that. I had to use every part of my brain to work him out.
“To all the doubters, yes! Who is doubting me now? No one! No one!”
As Till walked away from the cage to a chorus of adulation from his city, having beaten the number-one ranked fighter in the world, the events in Kiev 24 hours prior had faded, for a few moments at least.