For a man who gets his work done quickly in the Octagon, Tom Aspinall actually wants to take his time in terms of climbing the heavyweight ranks. Granted, when you score three early finishes and essentially dominate a former champion, things start happening rather quickly. For Aspinall, that took form when he found himself in the Top 15 after submitting Andrei Arlovski in February.
Before fighting Arlovski, Aspinall expressed a desire to rise up the division at a more methodical pace. Although the kind of win he earned confirmed his name as one to watch, he isn’t letting any hype alter his long-term plans for his career.
“The plan has not really changed,” Aspinall told UFC.com. “I feel like I’ve got at least another 10 years left. I’m only 27, and I know a lot of the heavyweights develop much later than smaller guys, so I’m only expecting to fully develop. I think I’m a bit of a late-bloomer, so I’m really going to be good in my mid-30s, and I’m only mid-to-late 20s at the moment. There’s no rush. I’m going to fight everybody anyway, so let’s just go through them one-by-one. I’m not trying to skip the queue or anything. I’m just trying to fight everybody and work my way through.”
Don’t mistake Aspinall’s patience for a lack of fighting desire, though. He definitely wants to get another fight in either June or July to keep his momentum going and get some more time in the Octagon.
“I don’t want to be leaving it any later than that,” he said. “The UFC know what they’re doing, and my managers know what they’re doing, so I’m sure they’ll give me the right fights at the right times.”
It’s hard to blame him for the urgency. Nine of his 10 professional wins have come inside the first 95 seconds of the fight and, on average, his fights last less than two-and-a-half minutes.
Aspinall is well-acquainted with the can’t-miss prospects who came before him, only to rush into big-time fights and fall out faster than they rose. It’s a fate of which he wants no part. Instead, the Salford native is keen on longevity.
“I want to be that guy who is getting into that Top 5, Top 10, whatever, getting around that title and staying there,” Aspinall said. “I don’t want to be in and out quick. I want to be learning my craft as I’m going as opposed to just getting up really quick and going down even quicker. I want to be getting up slow and sticking around for a long time.”
Solidifying His Name As One To Watch
Even though his win over Arlovski was certainly the biggest win of Aspinall’s young career, the 27-year-old was self-critical of his third win in the UFC.
“I don’t think it was my best performance,” Aspinall told UFC.com. “I just need more experience, and when you’re fighting an experienced guy like Andrei, you learn a lot from it. Next time, I’m going to use what I learned, and I’m going to show that a little bit.”
Aspinall did say, upon re-watching the fight, it went better than he initially thought that night. He found success early, seemingly rattling Arlovski, and he subsequently swarmed him. Aspinall said he probably should’ve “taken a step back” instead of unleashing that mad flurry, but his ability to recover his energy in the middle of the round is notable. After clinching with Arlovski to regain some energy, Aspinall remained composed. In the second round, Aspinall timed a leg kick, shot a double-leg takedown and snatched up a rear-naked choke.
The submission was the second of Aspinall’s pro career and his first win to come in the second round. A jiu-jitsu black belt, Aspinall said before the fight he didn’t really want to show off his grappling abilities to the division if he didn’t have to just yet, but they certainly came in handy.
“It was nice to see the second (round) a little bit,” he said. “It was nice to know I do have the ability to nearly finish someone, and then be able to recover, and go again. It was a good experience for me.”
Despite being a little cold on his performance at first, Aspinall found plenty of positives, especially in gaining more Octagon time. His coaches reminded him of Arlovski’s recent form as well. The 42-year-old had won three of his previous four fights and thwarted a couple prospects like Aspinall as well.
Of late, it feels like the heavyweight division is turning a page to the next chapter – especially after Francis Ngannou took the belt from Stipe Miocic – and an influx of new contenders seem to be rising. As a Top 15 fighter, one might feel the natural progression is to start calling for Top 10 opponents. Aspinall does understand, however, the different dynamics at heavyweight, and while he enjoys the Top 15 stature he earned so far, he’s not getting ahead of himself either.
“The heavyweight division is not as deep as the other divisions,” Aspinall said. “It does seem to be getting a few more up-and-coming guys. It’s cool. It’s what I expected.”
In It For The Long Haul
When looking at an under-30 heavyweight with a penchant for first-round finishes, especially one often getting his work done in less than two minutes, it wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility that the young fighter would start to buy into their own hype and start calling for the biggest fights possible. Frankly, nobody would blame Aspinall. So far, he’s earned that right, and while he gives off an air of confidence, he isn’t getting ahead of himself either.
Which begs the question, why not?
“Just because I’m not an idiot,” he laughs. “I’ve got a good team around me. They’re very experienced as well, and like I said, I’m a UFC fan. I’ve seen people do it. I’ve seen the way people come in and they go up quick, and they go down quicker. I don’t want to be that guy. I want to be just learning my craft on the go.”
In fact, Aspinall admitted he was a little hesitant to sign with the UFC at first, believing he needed more time to hone his skills and comfort in the cage. An inability to find willing opponents on the regional circuit in Europe forced his hand, though, and so he signed onto the roster.
Working with Team Kaobon in Liverpool, Aspinall regularly trains with UFC middleweight Darren Till, who quickly found himself in a welterweight title fight as a 26-year-old after scoring a pair of big-time wins against Donald Cerrone and Stephen Thompson. Then undefeated with five wins in the Octagon, Till would lose to champion Tyron Woodley and then to Jorge Masvidal before moving up to 185 pounds and becoming a top contender in his new weight class.
Although Aspinall’s motivation for a slow rise is of his own mind, he has absorbed the advice of Till and what he’s learned from his quick ascension to fighting the best in the world.
“(Till) said, ‘Look, these Top 5 guys, they’ve all had five-round fights,’ and the longest fight that I’ve been in is probably, I don’t even think I’ve been into the third round yet,” Aspinall said. “I just need more experience because that’s where they’ve got the big advantage on me. I feel like a lot of the heavyweights, I’m beyond their skill level, to be honest, but I’m not beyond their experience level, and the experience counts for a lot.”
Tom Aspinall Post-Fight Interview | UFC Fight Night: Blaydes vs Lewis
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Tom Aspinall Post-Fight Interview | UFC Fight Night: Blaydes vs Lewis
Aspinall hasn’t shown many holes in his game from a technical sense (although that’s in part to the fact that he’s finishing fights so quickly). From that point, he feels confident. The craving for competitive cage time is borne out of honing the mental side of fighting, such as facilitating a clinch against Arlovski so he could recover and regain his composure.
If he gets his way, Aspinall will fight plenty in the meantime, hopefully starting with an early-summer date, and while he mainly expressed interest in getting a fight in that time frame, he also entertained the idea of fighting fellow top-15 heavyweight Blagoy Ivanov, citing the Bulgarian's durability as a good test for himself. The father of three joked he doesn’t have much else to do in England at the moment anyway given the lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic other than “dad stuff.”
When asked what he expects his career to look like in the next five or 10 years, Aspinall said he expects to be around the title picture in the former and retiring after the latter. Perhaps it’s that casual confidence that’s most impressive about Aspinall – the comfort and self-assurance in his ability to expect championship-level success.
“A lot of the top heavyweights are in their late-30s, so no rush for me. Absolutely no rush. I’m just going to be enjoying it. I’m just here to get experience and enjoy it and get some wins.
“Sometimes, I just forget how young I really am.”