Yahoo Sports' Kevin Iole interviews Tom Aspinall ahead of Saturday's UFC London, where the No. 6-ranked heavyweight will be facing No. 4 Curtis Blaydes in the main event.
- Hey, everybody. I am Kevin Iole. Welcome to Yahoo Sports. Back in March, UFC Fight Night in London became the biggest selling UFC Fight Night of all time. And headlining that show was this young man, Tom Aspinall, the number six heavyweight. Right now, he's going to fight on Saturday in London once again, number four, Curtis Blaydes. Tom, are you expecting another record gate there in London?
- I am, I am expecting it to be. I feel like we set the bar hard last time. And this time, everybody knows the script this time. Everybody knows what we need to do. So this time we're going to be even bigger and better this time, for sure.
- You know, obviously, the fight game, so much of it is the mental part of the game. And you clearly have the physical skills to succeed at the highest level. I wonder now that you're becoming a star at home and there's so many people grabbing at you and want you, how does that affect things and what have you done to try to make sure that you focus on your job and not let all the outside factors become an issue?
- It doesn't affect things, to be honest with you. If you let it and buy into that kind of stuff, it's going to affect you. But I have a small circle, and that's the way I keep it, you know what I mean? I'm a pretty introverted guy anyway. So I'm not too bothered about going out and letting people pull me in all different directions and all that kind of stuff. Like, I like who I like and I just keep it that way, really.
- Right. Now I think in every UFC fighter's career when there are prospects coming up, they have to fight that big burly wrestler. That's always the question. Yeah, he's done this, but he hasn't fought that big burly wrestler. Coming off a really impressive win against Alexander Volkov, now you get Curtis Blaydes, that big burly wrestler. How does things change when you have a guy that you know is as good as Curtis is getting people to the ground?
- You better be ready to be exhausted and uncomfortable for most of the training camp when you're fighting a guy like Curtis Blaydes because the training camp has consisted heavily of me starting in bad positions, me getting up from bad positions, fresh guys on me all the time, and just preparing for the worst spots. That's what you got to prepare for is someone who's going to try and hold onto you and not let go.
So multiple sparring partners, multiple positions, and just preparing for it that way. But I'm not just prepared for the wreslting, this is an MMA fight. I'm prepared for the wrestling, obviously, but it would be silly just to prepare for wrestling when there's so many other options that you can do as well. So I'm prepared for heavy wrestling, but I'm also prepared for everything else as well.
- Do you feel like-- I guess it's trite, but it's true to a degree. Like, when you have two guys that are as good as you two are on the ground, that maybe sometimes this turns into a stand up fight. Could you see that being the case?
- I could see it being the case, yeah because he's got great wrestling, but I've been grappling all my life as well. So if he wants to take me down, I'm happy with that. If he wants to stand with me, I'm happy with that as well. I'm well-versed in all combat sports, I'm not like, oh, I'm a grappler, he's a grappler, I'm a striker, he's a striker, whatever. I'm just like this is MMA, we've got to be prepared for everything.
- Do you feel like there's not a lot of people that have wanted to be on the ground with you, right? Because they respect your jiu jitsu and everything. So, I mean, they've got to do something, so I guess, a lot of times, they try to strike, the fact. Do you relish the idea that there might be somebody that would like to get you the ground because then you can actually, as people just by the virtue, that you have a lot of submissions and you're a black belt that you can do that, but do you relish the thought of, hey, if you get it to fight that guy on the ground and have a chance to show that aspect of your game on a larger scale?
- Oh, definitely. There's so much of my game that I've not shown yet. There's a million things that have not shown yet in my game. So if I get the opportunity to do that, I'm more than happy. If I get the opportunity to knock him out in 30 seconds or submit him in 30 seconds, I'm even more happy with that as well. So I'm not really bothered either way.
- You are a finisher. You were 12 and 2 in 12 finishes. You haven't gone to a decision yet. You were disqualified in one of your losses. The other one, you were submitted to a heel lock, I'm sure that must have felt pretty good. But, anyways, what I wanted to know from you, is there a special mindset that you have, Tom, like, to get that many finishes in? Or do you have to have a different mindset than just, hey, I want to go in here and win the fight?
- My mindset is just I'm not emotionally attached to anything. I'm not looking for a finish, I'm not looking to go the distance, I'm just being free and living in the moment. I'm not thinking about anything. I'm thinking about different techniques that I can see along the way. It's not like I've got to finish it, I'm looking heavily for the finish. To be honest, all my finishes come when I'm not looking for the finish. Each and every fight, I go in and expect to do the full distance. So yeah, it's never been like, oh, I'm desperate to get to finish because it's not that at all. I'm more doing the opposite, if anything.
- Interesting. The UFC Heavyweight Division, I think, is as good as I can remember it. I've covered the UFC for a couple of decades now. And I think the Heavyweight Division top to bottom really has more talent than I can ever remember it. But I just want to run through the list and how do you think you match up with some of these guys when you look at the champion and then one through five guys are ahead of you. Champion, of course, Francis Ngannou. Number one, Ciryl Gane. I think you and Cyril Gane one day would be an amazing fight.
Number two, the former champ, Stipe Mioic. Number three, Tai Tuivasa, who you had called out. Blaydes, we'll get to see you with him on Saturday, and Derrick Lewis is number five ahead of you. When you look at that group, do you feel like you have potential good matchups with those guys?
- Yeah. And I think that this is Heavyweight MMA, it's unlike any other division. We've got the top five, top 10, top 15 guys, whatever. And anybody can beat anybody on any given day. We're massive giant guys with tiny, tiny gloves on. Like, it doesn't take much to win a fight. Any of us can be-- we can all beat each other on any given day. So I don't really look into the rankings to find out too much, it's not as important in the Heavyweight Division. Obviously, it is important, but it's not as accurate as it would be for, say, like the Flyweight Division. The number one guy, generally, is the more skilled guy, whereas it's not always like that at Heavyweight, you know? It varies.
- I mean, when I look at-- like, to me, if I say who I think the most skilled guys of those six, seven that I mentioned, you and Cyril, right, I mean, seem to be athletic and have multiple things that you can do with your game. But having said that, and that leads me to my next question, I'm sure you saw the fight that when Francis and Cyril fought. And when you see Francis Ngannou wrestling and doing that, that has to give you a cause say, hey, this division is not so easy, right?
- Yeah. I mean, with the Heavyweight Division, you got two general rules that I live by, at least, and the first one is don't let them hit you. The second one is don't let them get on top of you because either one of them is, like, dire consequences in the Heavyweight Division. So yeah. If you get a big strong geezer like Francis on top of you, like, there's not much shift in him. It's going to take a lot of energy to shift him. So maybe it's not the fact that he's got great wrestling, which I'm sure he does, but just the size and strength of a guy like that on top of you, it's going to be difficult to move.
- After the Volkov fight, you moved up in the rankings. Does the fact that you're now a legitimate championship contender hit home with you more? And can you kind of sense that, hey, you're not that far away from the title? And does that add anything to these fights that lead up to it when you eventually get that shot?
- No. I mean, it just solidifies that I'm good. And I knew I was good anyway. It's just that the world didn't really know I was good. And now people are starting to realize that. But as far as the title and stuff like that, like, I'm so young for a high level heavyweight. I just turned 29 a couple of months ago. And I've got another 10 years left in the sport, so I've got plenty of time to win the title and all that kind of stuff and have the title for a while. So I'm not really too fussed about any of that kind of stuff. The way I look at it is we're all going to fight each other anyway, so I'm just out here taking whoever they want to put in front of me at the moment.
- When you got into the UFC, obviously you were a talent and you had that talent to get you to the highest level of the game, but are you a better fighter now because you've had that experience of being at the top level and fighting guys that you had read about and heard? Does the experience make you more dangerous than you were when you went into the UFC? And maybe you were younger, you might have been more physically gifted then.
- Definitely. I mean, it's one thing watching the UFC on TV, but fighting in the UFC especially in front of a home crowd with 20,000 people, like that plays on your mind, and not everybody can do it. There might be a lot of people out there with the talent to be able to do it, but actually doing it in those circumstances, it's not for everybody. But now, like, it solidifies in my mind that I can perform under them circumstances because not everybody can. And that's the honest answer to it. There's a select few people in the world that can perform under that kind of pressure and under those kind of circumstances. And I'm definitely one of those people.
- When you're behind the curtain the last time before you fought Volkov and you're ready to walk out and the arena is filled, it's got a record crowd in there, you're ready to come out, walk me through, what does it feel like and what's going through your head as you're making that walk to the cage? Are you nervous? Are you confident? Like, what is the bearing of Tom Aspinall as he's on the way to the cage?
- I'm just trying to take it all in. I'm just trying to take it all in because I feel very privileged to have these moments. There was a couple of times in my career a few years ago when I really stopped doing this thing and just got a regular job, just live like everybody else. And I'm very privileged to be out here, living my dream. And I'm really grateful for it. So these moments, they're very short moments in time, even though I plan on being around for another 10 years in this sport. Like, there's still when you add all the moments up, it's not that long that you're going to be able to experience stuff like this in your life. So I'm just trying to take it all in, that's what I'm trying to do. I just try to enjoy it and take it all in as much as I can.
- It's going to be a great scene on Saturday when you fight Curtis Blaydes, the highest ranked opponent you fought. How do you see the fight going down and what do you believe is going to be the key to victory for yourself?
- I wouldn't be surprised if it was a 1-minute finish, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was a 5-round absolute battle. Like, I'm prepared for everything. This is Heavyweight MMA, anything can happen. But I think my ways to win is just making the right decisions at the right time. That's how you've got to beat Curtis Blaydes. I've got a special thing over a lot of these other heavyweights. I'm smart, I make good decisions in fights. And a lot of these other heavyweights, they just want to weight in and plod forward with big swinging punches. And I'm not like that. I make good decisions in the heat of battle, and not many people can do that, and I can.
- Awesome. Well, we're going to get a chance to see Tom Aspinall on Saturday, again, against Curtis Blaydes, UFC London in the main event. Tom, wish you the best of luck. Thanks, as always, for your time. I appreciate you.
- Thanks, Kev. All the best.