Top prospect, Tom Aspinall, looks to continue his fast rise up the Heavyweight ladder by taking out grinding wrestler, Curtis Blaydes, this Saturday (July 23, 2022) at UFC London inside O2 Arena in London, England.
Aspinall very much looks the part of a future champion. He possesses rare speed for a Heavyweight contender, as well as an unusually rounded skill set. At 29 years of age, the sky really is the limit for Manchester’s top Heavyweight. Despite that obvious potential, however, Aspinall faces a serious challenge here, as Blaydes is not the usual Heavyweight up-and-comer himself. He’s a damn determined wrestler with the conditioning to make anyone’s life miserable ... and we’re about to see if Aspinall falls into the classic English wrestling stereotype.
Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
Aspinall made have a brief background in professional boxing, but 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 down his foe, 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.
Aspinall feints a lot more than the average Heavyweight, too.
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.
In two of his 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).
Against Alexander Volkov, Aspinall understandably spent as much time wrestling as he did striking. When the two did exchange on the feet, however, Aspinall used his fleet-footedness and feints to draw out Volkov’s kicks. Then, he’d either return fire in combination right away, or he’d close distance in an attempt to force the Russian toward the cage.
Aspinall is four-for-four on takedowns inside the Octagon, which is a real good starting point.
All four of Aspinall’s takedowns were well-timed power double legs, which 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.
Aspinall’s wrestling opposite Volkov looked downright special. At first, he scored a nice power double leg along the fence after using punches to raise Volkov’s guard — fundamentals applied smoothly.
Just prior to the finish, however, Aspinall’s head movement prompted a right hand from Volkov. Slipped that blow beautifully, Aspinall reacted with a perfectly timed double leg, effortlessly putting Volkov back on the canvas. That kind of reactive double is rarely seen among the big men, and Aspinall executed flawlessly (GIF).
Aspinall is a jiu-jitsu black belt, and in his short amount of time spent on the canvas, he’s already scored two submissions and three finishes!
Andrei Arlovski was the first submission win of Aspinall’s UFC career. After a bull-rushing 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).
That was a nice display of opportunism, but again, the tapout of Volkov was even slicker. Twice, Aspinall attempted to lock up the kimura as Volkov scrambled back to his feet. The first time, the Russian was able to deny the hold and get up without issue, so he didn’t seem as worried the second time around, particularly since half guard is not an ideal finishing position.
The kimura is possible from the figure four grip when the defending opponent’s elbow is bent, ideally at a roughly 90° angle. Keeping one’s arm locked out is therefore a viable defense to the kimura, but since Aspinall already had his grip secured, he was able to slide up the arm and attack the elbow instead (GIF). It can be difficult to generate enough force to finish this type of armlock, but given Aspinall’s size and strength, he had no trouble.
Aspinall has showed stellar offensive boxing, wrestling, and jiu-jitsu. However, he’s never faced an opponent like Blaydes, one who’s going to try to wrangle him to the canvas and get him tired. If he can pass this test, Aspinall is certainly ready for a title shot.
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.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC London fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 12 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (also on ESPN+) at 3 p.m. ET.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC London: “Aspinall vs. Blaydes” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.