Darren Till fell to defeat for the third time in his last four bouts as he was beaten on points by Robert Whittaker at UFC Fight Night 174.
The pair clashed at the Flash Forum on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Till was making just his second appearance at middleweight having bounced back from two losses at welterweight to beat Kelvin Gastelum in the heavier division in November.
It was a stern test for him up against the experienced Whittaker, who started well behind his jab though each fighter took a round apiece in the opening exchanges.
Till dropped Whittaker with an elbow in the first round which looked to have rocked the New Zealander but he slowly managed to recover.
In the second round it was Whittaker’s turn to return the favour, knocking down his opponent with a fierce strike before dominating on the ground as he unleashed body shots into the Liverpudlian’s ribs.
Blood began to come from Till’s face and ear as the clash continued through round three, while Whittaker missed with several wild headkicks.
Till caught Whittaker with some heavy blows in quick succession early in the fourth but couldn’t keep up the tempo as the balance of the fight started to drift towards his opponent.
The cuts Till had sustained were nothing compared to the one Whittaker was sporting in round five, as blood gushed from the left side of his head.
However a late take down from Whittaker ensured it would be his arm that was raised victorious after the bout, as all three judges awarded him the contest by unanimous decision 48-47.
The win puts the Sydney-based star in a strong position for a title shot against middleweight champion Israel Adesanya, though he admitted his only immediate thoughts were getting back to his family.
Speaking after the bout Whittaker said: “That fight was so stressful.
“That was one of the most technical fights I’ve ever had to fight. I had to really adapt on the go. Such a dynamic fight.”
Earlier in the evening Mauricio Rua beat Antônio Rogério Nogueira by split decision in the third meeting between the pair.
After the light heavyweight bout Nogueira confirmed he would be retiring from the sport with a record of 23 wins, 11 losses.
Fabricio Werdum won his heavyweight match-up with Alexander Gustafsson by second round submission, and there were victories for Carla Esparza, Paul Craig, Alex Oliveira and Khamzat Chimaev.
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