This wasn’t how Tom Aspinall thought his UFC debut was going to go. In fact, it didn’t go at all after his fight against Jake Collier in London was postponed due to the COVID-19 situation.
But the resourceful Brit took it in stride, posting on Instagram that there was now “More time for me to prepare mentally and physically.”
More time to prepare for anything is a good thing, but even though the 26-year-old Salford native is just 7-2 as a pro mixed martial artist. He’s already proven that he’s ready for prime time, even if he didn’t know now would be the time.
“I've kind of always expected to be in the UFC from the first time I started fighting, to be honest,” said Aspinall. “Maybe it's not something I was expecting right after my last fight, but I knew it could come at any time, so I was ready for it.”
And at this point in his career, the options were getting a little slim on the domestic circuit, and he was told as much by his promoter, Cage Warriors, after winning his two fights in 2019 in a combined two minutes and 17 seconds.
It was a similar situation to the one Aspinall was in back in 2016. He had compiled a 5-2 record, finishing all his wins in the first round, and a lot of eyes were on him. There was talk of him getting a call to the UFC, but Aspinall wanted to get more experience. Then a look at the local heavyweight scene, coupled with some positive sparring work with Tyson Fury, prompted him to leave MMA to give boxing a shot. It was a no brainer, especially to be working with Team Fury and fighting in a country where heavyweight boxing is always a big moneymaker. But all was not as it seemed to Aspinall.
“You would think it was a big moneymaker, but it turns out it's not,” he said. “Long story short, I found it difficult to get my boxing license because I was an MMA fighter. They didn't want to give me a license because MMA is like a rival sport and that's just the way it is over here.”
Aspinall would ultimately get licensed, and in his pro boxing debut, he needed just 84 seconds to halt Tamas Bajzath. But already disillusioned by the business end of the sport and realizing that without a significant amateur background the hill would be a lot tougher to climb, he started to drift back to his initial love.
“I started doing a little bit of MMA training again and I realized that I loved MMA,” he said. “I like boxing, don't get me wrong, but I just don't think it's something I could do the next ten years of my life.”
He was back in the cage in 2019, and after those quick wins, the UFC came calling. And though there was a lot of hype behind the signing and the booking of his first fight in the Octagon, those closest to him in the Team Kaobon gym in Liverpool, including UFC vets Darren Till and Mike Grundy, advised him to keep this all as normal as possible.
“The people outside of the gym who don't know anything about MMA, they're making it a big deal,” he said. “But the coaches or UFC fighters I spoke to tell me to treat it like another fight. And that's what I'm doing.”
That can’t be easy, though, especially with a record like his, that includes six wins in 1:21 or less and a nine-second finish. Most folks would be asking for Stipe Miocic after that run. But Aspinall is not most folks.
“Maybe it's my ego,” he laughs. “I've got a decent ego, I think. If you would have spoken to me five years ago, I would have jumped straight in (to the UFC) and done it, but so many people go in and go straight back out and I don't want to be that guy. I want to have a run at the title and win the title. I don't want to just go in and then get knocked out and leave straight away and get back to square one. I'm trying to learn from other people's mistakes, especially UK guys. A lot of UK guys go in, win one, lose two and that's it; they're gone and you never hear from them again. I didn't want to be that guy.”
It's looking like he’s not going to be. So what should UFC fans expect from Mr. Aspinall?
“They should expect a heavyweight that can do everything.”
And quickly, I assume?
“I wouldn't mind a longer fight,” he said.
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