When UFC welterweight Darren Till first boarded his ride to stardom in 2017, his head coach, Colin Heron, knew it would be a hard ride to ever slow down. Two years ago, Till was just a 24-year-old prospect from Liverpool, England. A promising talent, for sure, but nothing remotely close to a household name.
That all changed, drastically, when Till knocked out fan favorite Donald 'Cowboy' Cerrone in the opening round of a UFC main event that fall. That fight put Till on a path to stardom he and his team knew they would have to see through -- a point of no return, in a sense.
"When we got offered Cowboy, I said to Darren, 'This fight has come three fights too early, in my opinion,'" Heron told ESPN. "'It's the perfect fight where you'll probably knock Cowboy out, and then they're just gonna come at you. If you're prepared to make this run, like you say you are, you're not gonna get any breaks.'
"I kind of wanted that fight three fights later. It would have given us another 12 to 18 months in the background. But Darren said, 'No, I want to go for this.' And I said, 'OK, I'm with you all the way, but it's going to mean two or three years of nonstop work.' And that's what he's done."
If there is an authority on the topic of Till -- other than Till himself, of course -- it's Heron. Heron has coached Till for over a decade, and once gave him a room to sleep in at his gym. In 2012, when Heron instructed Till to move to Brazil because the city of Liverpool was a bad influence on him, Till went. No questions asked.
Heron has a unique perspective on the past two years of Till's career. During that time, Till has gone from the UFC's undefeated future star to 0-2 in his last two fights. He fought Tyron Woodley for the UFC championship last September and lost via second-round submission. Then in March, Till suffered his first knockout defeat to Jorge Masvidal in London.
In April, concerning reports surfaced that Till had "stolen" a taxi and trashed a hotel room in Spain. UFC president Dana White recently said to ESPN that the UFC may have "pushed [Till] a little too soon."
According to Heron, Till did go through a rough patch following his loss to Masvidal, but the 26-year-old now is in a better place heading into the second half of 2019.
"He got right back into training at first, but then his personal life spiraled," Heron said. "The taxi thing brought some other issues to the forefront, and we had to address it. We took him out of the swing for a bit. I didn't want a damaged fighter on my hands, and we were close to that, coming off two defeats.
"He's dealt with some s--- in his private life. He gets a hell of a lot of attention. He can't move in this city now without someone throwing a camera in his face. He can't sit at a traffic stop with his window down, or he's getting shouted at or approached for a picture. It's a lot to put on someone so young. It happened very fast -- but having said that, I saw where Dana said he may have pushed him too soon, and I wouldn't agree with that. It did come quick, but if we wouldn't have thought he was ready and capable, we would have told the company, 'No.'"
But Heron says for the first time since that high-profile win against Cerrone, Till has been able to slow things way down. The UFC has offered several fights since March, but Heron has informed the promotion he's not targeting a return until late October, early November. Till has started working with a mental health coach, and he deleted his social media accounts for awhile in April. Heron believes that Till has taken the right steps and that Till remains confident in his future.
"You've gotta ask yourself those questions, the little questions in your head of, 'Am I who I thought I was? Am I going to be what I thought I was going to be?'" Heron said. "I know that went through Darren's head. And you know what? He's come back with the same answers. 'I still believe I'm going to be a champion. I believe I'm going to be the best.'
"I'm pretty happy with where he's at mentally, now. The losses made him ask those serious questions, but he was able to answer them. 'I am the best. This was a glitch, a hiccup. My end game remains the same, but for now, this is the path I'm on. Now, let's get back to it.'"
One of the major questions that does still need an answer is which weight class Till will move forward in. His struggles to make 170 pounds have been well-documented, and he recently posted a now-deleted image on social media with the caption, 'Come den m-----f-------- middleweights.'
Heron said he's very open to Till moving up in weight, but added a final decision has not been made yet. The team plans to figure out Till's appropriate division by the end of September.
"The obvious answer is, 'He has a tough weight cut and needs to go up,' correct?" Heron said. "What people don't see is the lifestyle between fights. It's hard for me to make correct decisions, until I see a fighter, especially Darren, walking around lean between fights.
"Here's the problem with Darren Till, and it's no secret: He eats s---. As disciplined as he is in the gym, between fights, he will eat the most amount of s--- you've ever seen in your life. ... The fact of the matter is he will probably be a middleweight, but whether it's now or later, I don't know. My only concern is he goes up to middle(weight), and that will give him the license to eat more. Then we end up with just as big of a cut, but with bigger consequences in the actual fight. So, I would like to get him lean and then make a decision."