English prospect, Tom Aspinall, will square off opposite Russian kickboxer, Alexander Volkov, this Saturday (March 19, 2022) at UFC London inside O2 Arena in London, England.
It is often wise to be cautious with Heavyweight prospects. For every Ciryl Gane who rises through the ranks and proves himself an elite challenger, there’s more than a handful of young sluggers who find themselves flustered at the hands of an Andrei Arlovski decision loss. While Aspinall has already passed that specific Belarusian test, he’s still just four fights into his UFC career. Still, all the early signs have been promising. The 28-year-old talent is finishing opponents left and right, and he appears to have a well-rounded game.
Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
Speed really separates Aspinall from the Heavyweight pack. A lifelong martial artist, Aspinall has a fair bit of experience in boxing, including a single professional win.
Really though, it’s the combination of size and speed that make Aspinall so deadly. This is not a small Heavyweight, a man who could theoretically make 205 pounds if he dieted. No, Aspinall is 6’5” and nearly 250 pounds with a very fit frame. Combining that size with his hand speed is a frightening prospect for most Heavyweights, which is why Aspinall is almost always able to force his opponents on the back foot early on in fights.
Aspinall pressures smartly, however. Walking his foe down, Aspinall still maintains his preferred distance. He flashes a quick jab while cutting off the cage, hidden between level change feints and occasional false starts. Better yet, Aspinall will take his jab to the body. At this stalking distance, Aspinall will also dig low kicks.
While pressing and jabbing, Aspinall is waiting for an opening. If his foe tries to fire back and back him off, Aspinall will typically stand his ground with a check hook or plant-right hand. On the occasions Aspinall does fully disengage, he tends to do so in a straight line, which is risky. Otherwise, he moves his head well.
When Aspinall faces a more conservative opponent, he’s plenty happy to lead exchanges. That impressive hand speed and smart use of feints means that his right hand very often finds the target, typically after using his jab to line up the power shot. In general, Aspinall does well to mix up his right hand, going through and around the guard equally. If in closer quarters, Aspinall will mix in the uppercut too. Outside of the body jab, Aspinall mostly head hunts, though he did target the body a bit when flurrying on Andrei Arlovski (GIF).
Either way, Aspinall does a nice job of firing his right hand then pulling away and maintaining good position to block or keep firing.
A heavyweight with lightweight speed— Cage Warriors (@CageWarriors) September 29, 2019
The UK has a serious prospect on its hands! Check out Tom Aspinall's stunning knockout from last night pic.twitter.com/XA0WEP4clb
In two of his four UFC stoppages, Aspinall has proven himself a very violent man from close quarters. In his debut victory came over Jake Collier, for example, Aspinall froze the larger man with a well-timed knee to the gut. Before Collier could respond, Aspinall cracked him with a 1-2 down the pipe and sent him to the canvas (GIF).
More recently, Aspinall turned his takedown defense into offense. Sergei Spivac is a very skilled clinch wrestler, so Aspinall smartly used the A frame position — one arm is used as an overhook while the other acts as a frame on the face/neck/chest to prevent the opponent from getting good position — to deny Spivac’s clinch attempt. When Spivac tried pushing through the A frame, Aspinall almost simultaneously landed a knee and elbow that put Spivac down (GIF).
Aspinall is two-for-two on takedowns inside the Octagon, which is a real good starting point.
Both shots were well-timed power double legs, and they both showed strong drive and technique. Against Arlovski, Aspinall picked up on his opponent’s timing when Arlovski threw one too many naked low kicks in a row — that’s pretty much the ideal time to shoot! Versus Alan Baudot, Aspinall found himself locked in the cage with an opponent throwing all sorts of chaotic strikes. Rather than engage in the weirdness, he changed levels along the fence and scored an easy takedown straight into mount.
Ground strikes ended the contest soon afterward.
Aspinall holds a jiu-jitsu black belt, but seeing as he’s spent all of 30 seconds on the UFC canvas — producing two finishes in the process! — it remains something of a question mark. Prior to his UFC career, Aspinall landed and was submitted by a heel hook, which is a unique but not particularly helpful stat.
Back to Arlovski, the sole submission win of Aspinall’s UFC career. After that aforementioned takedown, Arlovski tried to start wall-walking. He was a bit slow to press his back to the fence, however, which allowed Aspinall to get behind him. With barely a hook in, Aspinall attacked the neck, found himself under the chin, and forced the finish (GIF).
It was a nice opportunistic moment, and a good reminder that the margin for error at Heavyweight is thin on the mat, too.
There’s still a lot we don’t know about Aspinall, perhaps most importantly how he’ll handle a fight that goes beyond the six minute mark. It’s still clear that the 28-year-old’s future is bright, and this main event slot is an opportunity for him to prove himself a title threat at this very moment.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.
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