March 5, 2024

UFC London: Tom Aspinall feels he has a ‘new leg’ after a year out

Centre: O2 Arena, London Date: Saturday, July 22
Cover: Follow live text commentary and reaction on the BBC Sport website & app from 21:00 BST

When Tom Aspinall and Curtis Blaydes shook hands before taking to the stage at the O2 Arena in London a year ago, anticipation among the fans rose.

While throwing a kick, Aspinall, 30, tore his medial collateral ligament (MCL) and meniscus, and damaged his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

American Blaydes was declared the winner and Aspinall’s streak, momentum and confidence of five fights in the UFC was broken.

Amazingly, it’s been an injury for Aspinall for years, nursing it at first before signing his first UFC contract in 2020, but he never got any time to fix it as he continued to grind through opponents and climb the heavyweight rankings.

Although his knee completely gave out when the stakes were highest, it allowed Aspinall to undergo surgery, fixing a problem that has plagued him his entire UFC career.

A year later he is set to return, taking on Poland’s Marcin Tybura back at the O2 Arena at UFC London on Saturday.

“I feel like I’ve got a new leg to be honest with you,” Aspinall told BBC Sport.

“My whole leg – it was just my knee – my whole leg was inactive for a long time. My ankle and my hip were very stiff because I couldn’t really use the leg for years, so now it’s mobile, moving, explosive and feeling good.

“Being able to train with two legs is much easier than before. It’s not only easier [physically], but easier mentally. I can do as many rounds as I want, as many different exercises and movements as I want without fear of my knee giving out or going up, so it’s great.”

Aspinall revealed that the hardest part of being injured was being left almost immobile.

“It’s generally difficult to get hurt, especially in public. It’s a big blow to the ego to say the least, it’s not very nice,” Aspinall said.

“The hardest part was when I couldn’t walk and not being able to get up on my own, not being able to get a drink, not being able to go outside.

“It was a strange time but it’s over now. It’s all in the past and my knee is completely fixed and I’m really happy to move on.”

‘The heavyweight division is the best it’s ever been’

Jones, widely regarded as the best fighter in MMA history, is the current UFC heavyweight champion

The heavyweight division saw a lot of change during Aspinall’s time on the fence.

In January, former champion Francis Ngannou was stripped of his title as he left the UFC, previously participate in the PFL.

Jon Jones made the step up from light-heavyweight to defeat Cyril Gane for the belt in March, and the UFC has set up a verbal bout against former champion Stipe Miocic for his first defense in New York, on November 11.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Sergei Pavlovich has dominated, earning three first-round knockouts in the space of a year, including a win over Blaydes in April, to rise to second in the rankings.

“I think it’s the top 15 [heavyweights] that’s what the UFC has always been in my opinion,” Aspinall said.

“These guys are not prospects, they’ve proven themselves as a contender, and it’s great.

“They all excite me, they’re all very dangerous. I’m looking forward to fighting any of them but Jon Jones would be my dream fight.”

Aspinall is currently ranked fifth in the heavyweight rankings and faces a veteran five places below him in 37-year-old Tybura.

Last March, Aspinall defeated Alexander Volkov in London but during fight week there were doubts whether the Russian would be allowed to compete following his country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Because of the uncertainty, Tybura was brought in as a backup, so Aspinall spent the days leading up to the event preparing for the two fighters.

“It’s always been like a bit of unfinished business between me and Tybura. He’s turned up to fight me and we have to fight, and I’ve always felt a bit disturbed by that,” Aspinall said.

“I think he is a dangerous opponent. The man is good everywhere, he can do everything well, he is very durable, has an unorthodox style, so I have to make sure I am well prepared.”

‘If I can be like my grandfather that’s good enough’

Aspinall’s match with Tybura will be his 16th in almost nine years as a professional, but will be his first without his grandfather Peter, who died in May.

In a post on Instagram,external link Aspinall described his grandfather as a “legend” and “the head of his family”.

“It was an important factor in my life and that every direction is towards your career,” said Aspinall.

“He’s very proud of me. I’m a little sad knowing the last time he saw me fight was when I was injured.

“It’s my first without him so it’s going to be an emotional day.”

Aspinall continued: “He was a very pleasant, calm, nice person to be around. Many people say I have a similar personality.

“If I can be like that, always pleasant, if I can be like that, that’s good.”

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