UFC 243
Robert Whittaker of Australia, left, will take on Darren Till in Abu Dhabi Image Credit: AP

Dubai The UFC’s stint at Fight Island in Abu Dhabi will come to a close, for the time being, when it stages a rich-in-talent 13-fight UFC Fight Night 174 card early on Sunday morning.

This will be the fourth event of the months staged at the well-contained Flash Forum on Yas Island, but it won’t be the last, with more MMA action to return in the future.

As a tribute to the UAE for its support to the UFC during the coronavirus lockdown, the Las Vegas-based promotion have united some of the best talent in what promises to be a great day’s entertainment, albeit on a bizarre timetable which sees the action kick off at 2am with the preliminaries.

Four titles have already been decided during the three previous Fight Island cards, and while there will not be a belt on offer this time around, the main event between No. 1 ranked Robert Whittaker (21-5) and No. 5 Darren Till (18-2-1) has the potential to have serious implications on the middleweight division and conceivable lead to a title fight for the winner.

New Zealand-born Australia Whittaker is a -120 favourite despite having been beaten in his last Octagon adventure when he suffered a KO by the irrepressible Israel Adesanya at UFC 242 last October.

UFC fighter Darren Till
UFC fighter Darren Till Image Credit: USA Today

Meanwhile, Liverpools’ Till will be buoyed by a points-decision win over Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 242 in November having lost his two previous fights to Jorge Masvidal in March 2019 and Tyron Woodley in September 2018.

In the co-main event, Brazilians Mauricio Rua and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira meet in a battle of veteran light heavyweights, while inaugural champion Carla Esparza and the unbeaten Maria Rodriguez square off in an intriguing women’s strawweight bout.

Whittaker needs a decisive win to move into title contention while Till will be hoping to resurrect his career and prove that he is still worthy of a shot at the belt.

In his last fight, Whittaker looked a poor shadow of himself ending in a second-round stoppage by Adesanya. The defeat snapped his nine-fight winning streak and prompted the Australia to ponder his future in the sport.

Till, who started his MMA career with a tremendous 18-fight winning streak got a big wake-up call when outclassed by former welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, who stopped him the second round of their lopsided September 2018 fight at UFC 228 in Dallas Texas.

Moving up to middleweight seemed a good idea and the Liverpudlian secured an upset decision victory over Gastelum.

In the women’s strawweight contest Rodriguez will be looking to defend her unbeaten run and the veteran Esparza.

Rodriguez will have the advantage if she can fight standing while Esparza will be looking to get this fight to the ground and assert her wrestling.

UFC Fight Night 174

Sunday, July 26, Flash Forum, Yas Island
Robert Whittaker v Darren Till
Mauricio Rua v Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
Alexander Gustafsson v Fabricio Werdum
Carla Esparza v Maria Rodriguez
Paul Craig v Gadzhimurad Antigulov
Nicolas Dalby v Jesse Ronson
Alex Oliveira v Peter Sobotta
Jai Herbert v Francisco Trinaldo
Tom Aspinall v Jake Collier
Movsar Evloev v Mike Grundy
Tanner Boser v Raphael Pessoa
Bethe Correia v Pannie
Ramazan Emeev v Niklas Stolze