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Tom Aspinall has been increasingly impressive in each of his five UFC bouts, all of which he’s finished. In his last time out, he stamped himself a legitimate contender for the heavyweight title by submitting Alexander Volkov with a straight armbar in the first round.
Aspinall’s performance was met with rave reviews. But Aspinall said if you thought that was good, like Bachman-Turner Overdrive once sang, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
He fights Curtis Blaydes on Saturday in the main event of UFC London in a key heavyweight bout. Blaydes is fourth and Aspinall sixth in the division and the victor will be well-positioned for a future title shot.
Blaydes is one of the more studious fighters in the UFC, but Aspinall said he can’t be pigeon-holed into one thing.
“There’s so much of my game that I’ve not shown yet,” Aspinall told Yahoo Sports. "There's a million things that have not shown yet in my game. So if I get the opportunity to do that, I’m more than happy. If I get the opportunity to knock him out in 30 seconds or submit him in 30 seconds, I’m even more happy with that as well. So I'm not really bothered either way.”
Blaydes is that big, burly wrestler who all fighters have to beat if they want to show themselves as championship timber. Aspinall hasn’t seen that kind of opposition yet, but said he welcomes it.
He’s a humble, low-key guy who doesn’t call much attention to himself, but he’s also not going to stand for anyone overlooking him. But Aspinall is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Blaydes is a former national junior college champion wrestler.
A lot of times when fighters are well-versed in grappling, it turns out to be a stand-up battle. Aspinall has already proven in the UFC he has good hands, but he said it’s a mistake to consider him anything but a martial artist. He’s spent plenty of time in camp working on takedown defense, but he can’t get into Blaydes’ head and know for sure what he’s going to do.
So, as usual, Aspinall is preparing for any eventuality.
“I could see it being the case, yeah, because he’s got great wrestling, but I’ve been grappling all my life, as well,” Aspinall said when asked if he foresaw a striking match. “So if he wants to take me down, I’m happy with that. If he wants to stand with me, I’m happy with that, as well. I’m well-versed in all combat sports. I’m not like, ‘Oh, I’m a grappler. He’s a grappler. I’m a striker. He’s a striker.' Whatever. This is MMA and we’ve got to be prepared for everything.”
That being said, Aspinall has been so successful because he’s dictated where the fight is contested more often than his opposition. And he certainly doesn’t want to let that change with Blaydes.
Blaydes is a beefy 260-pounder who will make it an uncomfortable night, at best, if he gets on top of his opponent.
“In the heavyweight division, I’ve got two general rules that I live by, at least, and the first one is don’t let them hit you,” he said. “The second one is don’t let them get on top of you because either one of them is, like, a dire consequence in the heavyweight division. So yeah. If you get a big strong guy like [champion] Francis [Ngannou] on top of you, there’s not much shift in him. It’s going to take a lot of energy to shift him. So maybe it’s not the fact that he’s got great wrestling, which I'm sure he does, but just the size and strength of a guy like that on top of you, it’s going to be difficult to move.”
That would seem to suggest that Aspinall isn’t interested in hunting a submission from the bottom or standing toe-to-toe and trying to knock Blaydes out in a striking battle.
Expect him to be elusive and strike when Blaydes is expecting him to grapple and to go for a takedown when Blaydes wants to throw.
The key will be to remain calm and not let himself get juiced up by the raucous home crowd that will be supporting him. He’s had success at that so far and believes he’ll be able to do it again.
“It’s one thing watching the UFC on TV, but fighting in the UFC, especially in front of a home crowd with 20,000 people, like, that plays on your mind, and not everybody can do it,” Aspinall said. “There might be a lot of people out there with the talent to be able to do it, but actually doing it in those circumstances, it’s not for everybody. But now, it solidifies in my mind that I can perform under those circumstances because not everybody can.
“And that's the honest answer to it. There’s a select few people in the world who can perform under that kind of pressure and under those kinds of circumstances, and I’m definitely one of those people.”