Darren Till on knife crime, 'surviving' in Brazil & meeting Steven Gerrard

Darren Till
Till's professional record stands at 17-1-1

Near-death experiences, moving to the other side of the globe, meeting his idols and fighting for a world title.

Darren Till might only be 26, but the Liverpool fighter's life has already packed more punch than most of his fellow UFC welterweights combined.

So don't expect Till to be fazed when he steps into the octagon to face Jorge Masvidal on 16 March at London's O2 Arena.

Here, he talks to BBC Sport about knife crime, "surviving" in Brazil, meeting Steven Gerrard and avenging the first loss of his UFC career.

'If there is someone listening who carries a knife, don't'

Back in 2012, Till was a 19-year-old fighter on the rise in his home city of Liverpool, but things were about to change.

The teenager was stabbed twice in the back during an altercation at a nightclub, with doctors saying he was lucky the knife narrowly missed a nerve.

Seven years on and the number of fatal stabbings in England and Wales is at its highest since records began.

The message from one of the country's top mixed martial artists is that carrying a blade is never the answer.

"I don't know whether it's friends influencing each other, but it's not good - stay away from it," he told BBC Sport.

"I don't know if what I say is going to change things, but if I could have a little bit of input and there is someone listening who carries a knife, don't.

"I would never dream of going out and trying to hurt another man with a knife and potentially kill him."

Darren Till

Following the stabbing, Till opted to pursue his mixed martial arts career in Brazil where his coach, Colin Heron, felt he would be away from trouble but also in the perfect environment to improve his skills.

"It was like someone throwing you in the middle of the sea and saying 'go on, get along'," said Till.

"I didn't speak the language, I didn't really know a lot about what was going on - in my head all I needed to do was survive. I felt like I came out on top. I made a success of myself over there.

"No money, no nothing, just finding a way and making a success of yourself - that's a story on its own."

He might have been an 11-hour plane journey from his family, but Brazil soon began to feel like a second home for Till and he ended up staying for nearly four years - becoming a father for the first time while he was there.

"They have a wicked sense of humour like in Liverpool," said Till, who returned home at the end of 2016. "I got along with everyone.

"My family and friends missed me and I had to adapt to a whole new life again at home. I'm happy - I've got all the things you need in life."

And the Till family got bigger when his second daughter was born last year.

"Her mother is a star - she just looks after her and lets me get on with my job training and providing for the family," he said.

"When you become a father you have got to mature in certain areas. You have got two people there that you really love and would die for, and you need to look after them.

"When you're on your own you're still a selfish person. It's all about them two now and not me, but when it comes to fighting it's all about me - I am in this for me.

"A lot of people know me in Liverpool and a lot of people support me. I am very proud of where I am in life and I train hard and put the honest hard work in."

A huge sporting year for Liverpool?

It could turn into a huge sporting year for the city and for Liverpool fan Till if he beats Masvidal and the Reds deliver a first Premier League title this season.

"It's going to be a double whammy. If I win in March, they win in May - celebrations all round, I'll buy you a pint!" laughed Till, whose success has caught the attention of former Liverpool captain and current Rangers manager Steven Gerrard.

"We're not 'friends', I am a fan and I think he likes the way I fight and I've spoken to him a few times and I consider him someone I know," he added.

"I am just a massive fan of Steven Gerrard. He invited me up to watch a match and I am buzzing, over the moon. Hopefully one day he invites me for dinner or something... he's a good guy, a good person."

So will Gerrard be at the O2 on 16 March?

"I can ask him - whether he says 'yes' is totally up to him," added Till, who would like to fight at Anfield one day.

"It's not me campaigning for a fight right now. It's just a dream of mine and hopefully I can make it happen, turn that dream into reality."

First and foremost in the 25-year-old's mind is on putting on a performance in London.

And coming off the back of his first loss in the UFC against American Tyron Woodley in September, his first shot at the UFC welterweight title, Till is even more determined to put things right.

"It was a big fight, a big scale, I lost and had to deal with that myself," he said. "I don't think I'll ever fully get over it - it hurts and it's like a thorn inside of me I'll have to take out some day.

"I am looking forward to doing what I do best - I am a showman. I love the English fans, they really come together as one, they sing together, they chant. It's very special.

"It's the Darren Till Show. It's going to be incredible. You get nervous thrills and chills, it's overwhelming. It's moments like that you will never forget in your life."

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