It shouldn’t have been so easy. UFC London’s main event in March saw Tom Aspinall headline a UFC card for the first time, while also battling in front of an arena full of fans for the first time since signing for the promotion. On the other side of the Octagon stood Alexander Volkov, an MMA veteran with twice as many knockouts as Aspinall had fights. In just over three and a half minutes, Aspinall had dispatched the Russian, submitting the former Bellator heavyweight champion with a right arm lock after getting ahead of Volkov and bringing him down in clinical fashion. It shouldn’t have been so easy.
In three minutes and 45 seconds, Aspinall had shown the sharpness of strike, speed of reflex and precision of timing that set him apart at heavyweight and earned him four stoppage wins from four UFC performances. . Bringing those totals to five each was one thing, but doing it in the O2 Arena pressure cooker and against his toughest opponent was another. Four months later, Aspinall must reoffend. On Saturday July 23, the heavyweight from Wigan will face Curtis Blaydes in an even tougher test as he headlines UFC London once again.
“I think [the March event] was definitely a special circumstance, but I expect the same again – if not more,” says Aspinall, 29 (12-2), recalling how UFC London’s first card in three years turned into a night memorable in British MMA history and captivated fans around the world. “We have set the bar high now, so we have to keep that momentum going. You can’t buy experience, but I’ve done it now, so I know exactly what to expect from the crowd and what it’s like.
“I’m not saying it’s going to be easier this time, because I’m sure I’ll still be very nervous. I’m nervous for every fight, there’s a lot at stake for every fight. It’s something we have to be prepared for as top athletes. This is the life I chose, I chose to put myself in these positions. If I didn’t want to do that, I’d work in an office or a garage, or do something that didn’t require any pressure. I have to kiss it and I like it, so when I stop feeling like that, I’ll probably stop fighting and do something else that brings me the same kind of feelings.
Blaydes (16-3, 1 No Contest) has twice appeared to be on the verge of a shot for the UFC heavyweight title. On both occasions, the American saw winning streaks interrupted by knockout losses – first to defending champion Francis Ngannou in 2018 and then to former title challenger Derrick Lewis last year. Now the 31-year-old is mounting another winning streak, entering the England capital with victories over Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Chris Daukaus. A wrestling specialist, Blaydes has honed his striking skills over time, which means his matchup with Aspinall represents a meeting between two of the most dynamic heavyweights in the UFC.
“On paper, this is definitely the toughest test of my career – 100%, by far,” Aspinall says. “It would be stupid to look past someone as good as Curtis. In my opinion, he’s the toughest challenge in the division, so for me to look beyond that is basically suicide. He’s the guy everyone avoids, but if everyone avoids him, it makes me want to fight him more.
This may be more a case of confidence than courage for Aspinall, which makes sense for a man who has won his 12 pro wins by stoppage and hasn’t lost since 2016.
“I’m one of the most dangerous fighters in the UFC, I have the best finishing record in the UFC and I’ve finished in every position,” the Briton said. “I can win literally anywhere, which is pretty rare, especially for heavyweights. This is how I see myself winning [against Blaydes], get a finish. It’s heavyweight MMA, the gloves are so small and the heavyweights are so big; we can all fight. Ngannou is the champion right now, and I know he’s a devastating puncher, but if someone lands cleanly on his chin, he’ll go through like anybody else.
Although Aspinall mentions Ngannou and is convinced to fulfill the predictions of fans and fighters that he will one day be a UFC champion, the Briton is wary of getting drawn into any discussion of a specific road to a title.
“As selfish as it sounds, I knew this stuff was going to happen. I had seen it in my head long before anyone else had seen it, so it feels completely normal to me,” Aspinall says. “I believe that one day I will be UFC champion – at some point in the next 10 years, before I retire. I don’t care who fights who, how it goes; none of that I have a firm belief that I will one day be a UFC champion, and it will work out on its own.
Whether Aspinall achieves that goal or not, his role at UFC London in March was vital to the advancement of British MMA. If he can replicate that kind of performance against Blaydes, or even just pick up a victory over his toughest opponent to date, Aspinall can be proud to further showcase the sport in his home country and enable all that that goes with.
“I’m not just selfish,” he says. “It’s a selfish sport, but I also want the best for British MMA. I want those kids who come into MMA to be paid properly. I don’t want those people to have what I want. had when I arrived and they scrape the barrel financially. I want MMA to be as big as possible in this country, and it’s a team effort of everyone.