UFC London’s main event sucked last night (Sat., July 23, 2022), though neither Curtis Blaydes nor Tom Aspinall are to blame.
Those two came out ready to bang, immediately exchanging big shots until Aspinall’s knee exploded when he threw a low kick 15 seconds into the contest (watch highlights). That’s a bad outcome for everyone. Blaydes lost his chance to make an argument for a title shot, essentially treading water as a result of the freak injury. The fans lost out on a great main event, one which could perhaps have saved the fairly pedestrian live show.
For Aspinall, however, it’s the absolute worst-case scenario.
Aspinall is just about everything you could want in a Heavyweight prospect. The English talent has shown plus skills in all areas. He puts together combinations like an experienced boxer, times takedowns like I’ve never really seen before in a Heavyweight, and he finishes fights almost instantly once on the canvas. Most important, Aspinall moves with the quickness of a much smaller man, which is the reason he’s been so consistently devastating. Aspinall’s athleticism is a huge part of why he was able to skyrocket up the ranks and become a contender so quickly.
Despite Aspinall’s obvious skill and potential, there remain unknowns about his game. Perhaps Aspinall struggles from his back or doesn’t yet have the cardio for a five-round fight. We don’t actually know how he’d handle either of those situations, and there’s a real chance this Blaydes fight would have revealed the answers. Even if this match up did prove some weakness in Aspinall, flaws like conditioning and wrestling are fixable, especially at 29 years of age. Often, such adversity — in victory or defeat — helps guide a young prospect toward improvement by revealing what issues need addressing.
There’s no such silver lining here, as Aspinall now faces an entirely different problem. A simple movement resulted in a catastrophic knee injury. That’s a sign that Aspinall, who weighs upward of 250 pounds, might be too athletic for his own body — a complicated situation with no easy solution.
We don’t yet know the extent of Aspinall’s knee injury, but based on his instant collapse and clear agony, you don’t have to be a doctor to know the prognosis likely isn’t ideal. Knee injuries are tricky, often becoming lingering issues even for young athletes. We just don’t know that Aspinall is right as rain in 12 months time.
Let’s take a second to remember Travis Browne’s career. In 2012, Browne was 30 years of age, undefeated at 13-0-1, and had knocked out a majority of his opposition. He wasn’t as technical or well-rounded as Aspinall appears to be, but Browne moved damn quick for such a big man, commonly catching his opponents off-guard with well-timed bursts.
Then, he fought Antonio Silva, hurting his knee while throwing a kick and suffering his first career defeat because of strikes shortly afterward. Though “Hapa” returned from injury with a win streak, it’s fair to stay that Browne was never the same.
After that injury, Browne stopped trying to athlete his way through opponents. He doubled down on his boxing, trying to become a more refined pugilist rather than instinct-driven knockout artist. That all reads nice on paper, but the actual outcomes proved the opposite. An older, slower man like Fabricio Werdum never should have been able to chase him around the cage, let alone twice. Even Browne’s best wins post-injury came from his infamous elbow strikes (don’t need knees for those!) or inhuman toughness (Alistair Overeem), not newfound technical prowess.
As mentioned, Browne was undefeated in 14 fights leading up to the “Bigfoot” fight. After that injury? Browne retired 5-6 in his final 11 bouts, ending his career on a four-fight losing streak. For the sake of Aspinall, the Heavyweight division, and English MMA as a whole, I desperately hope Aspinall has a simple road to recovery, and that this incident was simply an unlucky aberration on his path to greatness.
That’s no guarantee, however.
For complete UFC London: “Aspinall vs. Blaydes” results and play-by-play, click HERE.
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