Darren Till was on the brink of achieving the dream of a lifetime six months ago.
The trash-talking Scouse phenomenon had blazed a trail through the welterweight rankings, defeating the likes of Donald Cerrone and Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson along the way, and was promptly rewarded with a fast-track shot at the then-champion, Tyron Woodley.
Legions of Liverpudlians made the pilgrimage to Dallas, Texas, for UFC 228 in the hopes of witnessing history as Till made his bid to become the city’s first ever UFC champion – and only the second British champion after ex-middleweight king Michael Bisping.
But the 26-year-old fell short, tapping in the second round after being dropped and caught in a D’Arce choke by Woodley following an uncharacteristically hesitant showing in the Octagon.
It was a devastating loss - and the first of his 19-fight professional career – but one that provided plenty of lessons to be learned from on his quest to achieve greatness in the sport.
“I think things were going almost too well from what I understand and Darren waltzed into the Octagon for that title fight maybe not feeling very mean,” UFC commentator Gooden exclusively told BTSport.com.
“Everything just went swimmingly well compared to a couple of the other camps where he’d had some tough times making weight with injuries and things like that. I think with the Woodley fight, it was a lot more straight-forward and he was a bit more relaxed.
“Going into the Masvidal fight, he’s going to be warming up a little harder and getting into it a little more aggressively. They are the two key factors in how he is going to approach the fight differently from the dressing room in London.”
With the experience of a world title fight now under his belt at such a relatively young age, Till should be better prepared going forwards – but there are no regrets at Team Kaobon how events played out in Texas.
Gooden continued: “His coach Colin [Heron] turned around to me and said, ‘Darren is a young fighter that has been fast-tracked. However, when the UFC calls, you accept.’ Because you just don’t know what is going to happen.
“You don’t know how the cards are going to fall. And I mean that in the sense of scheduling, injuries, etc, so if you have the opportunity, you tend to take it. I don’t disagree with the strategy Team Kaobon used by putting him into those fights because I know with my own teammates, if we were talking about it, then you would do exactly the same.”
Now tasked with taking on MMA veteran Jorge Masvidal in his first fight since, Till returned to training camp earlier this year seeking to take his first steps back towards a shot at the title – and UFC mic man Gooden dropped in to pay him a visit.
“One thing I’m always reminded about when I go to Team Kaobon is how differently they train from everyone else,” he revealed.
“There is a real level of intensity there that Colin Heron purposefully creates. They train in silence, and they are all super respectful of Colin as their head coach and leader.
“With that, they look to him a lot for direction. They trust in everything that he says and does, and they trust his methods – and his methods are pretty tough.”
Unlike many other gyms, Gooden explained, Team Kaobon fighters carry out sparring in the morning, using light exchanges to warm up before going into gruelling, full-board sparring.
“With Darren, they were alternating the length of the rounds - and they’d brought in a professional boxer, a genuine 7-0 light-heavyweight prospect, as well,” he continued.
“They also had Darren alternating between mixed martial arts and boxing rounds, which was quite interesting. When speaking with Colin, he said it was to create different types of pressure that Darren might come up against with Masvidal.
“Darren was getting wrestled heavily by guys like Mike Grundy, who is also on the UFC London card, and then the fresh boxer would come in after sitting out the round and Darren would have to go up against this very handy fighter, who was working body and head quite beautifully.
“He [Darren] said that it is almost like his coach is trying to mentally break him and he’s been really emotional this camp because it’s been so very tough. But they all understand, all of the Team Kaobon fighters, that this will prepare them for battle.
“They all genuinely believe that nobody else trains as hard as they do. Darren, in particular, because he knows everyone at the gym trains hard – and then he does more than everyone else. He takes confidence in his work ethic, despite, on-camera, saying how much at times he absolutely hated it.”
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