This card will be remembered – Aspinall


The UFC is back in the UK for the first time in three years and the MMA promotion has a new star topping the bill – English heavyweight Tom Aspinall.

Aspinall, 28, headlines for the first time on Saturday night against Russian Alexander Volkov, with English trio Paddy Pimblett, Arnold Allen and Molly McCann also in action.

The Manchester native has garnered a massive reputation in his short tenure in the UFC – with four fights and four stoppages – and is not just considered a star in waiting, but also a champion in the making.

The UK’s first UFC champion Michael Bisping is just one many experts to predict UFC gold in Aspinall’s future, but Aspinall is trying to keep his focus on a tough opponent.

“This is heavyweight MMA. This is the craziest division in the craziest sport in the world,” Aspinall told BBC Sport.

“I expect myself to show that I’m levels above the rest of the division.

“But I’m nervous,” he added. “It’s scary. But the nerves and the fear, I feel like it makes me do stuff I couldn’t without the nerves and fear.”

Scotland’s Paul Craig – who fights Ukrainian Nikita Krylov on Saturday – joined Bisping in his praise of Aspinall and expects a special event at the O2 Arena.

“I genuinely think it’ll be a clean sweep for the Brits. This card will be remembered,” Craig said.

“It’s definitely a golden generation in the UK.”

‘He’s a new breed of heavyweight’

Now retired and promoting a documentary about his legendary rise to MMA prominence, Bisping has spent much of the week singing the praises of Aspinall.

Craig has already predicted Aspinall will be heavyweight champion by the end of 2023.

The UK is yet to produce a heavyweight contender in the UFC. Before the pandemic, London events made a habit of producing big stars and Bisping is confident Aspinall can climb to the top of a famously unpredictable division.

“On paper he has ability, he’s very big, he’s a good-sized heavyweight, he moves well – agile and fast,” Bisping said of Aspinall.

“He moves like a middleweight for such a big guy, which is a great advantage over a lot of other heavyweights. A lot of them are slower. They’re big – very big – and some are very athletic, but some of them not so much.

“Tom’s got a really good mixture of being very big but fast, agile, technical as well. He’s not a big oaf.”

‘Fight of the night’ – Arnold Allen v Dan Hooker

Ipswich-born fighter Allen is on a remarkable ten-fight winning streak, eight of those in the UFC. He takes on long-time lightweight contender Dan Hooker, who is dropping down to featherweight to test his skills against potentially the most underrated 145lb fighter in the division.

This has been the fighters’ pick for fight of the night this week, with headliner Aspinall suggesting the smaller men might steal his spotlight.

At 28 years old, Allen is on the cusp of his peak and Craig is convinced a win over 32-year-old Kiwi Hooker will give the Englishman the recognition he deserves.

“Arnold Allen is almost a forgotten guy,” he said. “He is a top contender in the featherweight division but he doesn’t get the recognition. Nobody mentions his name.

“No-one says he’s deadly, but he is. It’ll be a guillotine I think, second round. Hooker is tough, very good jiu-jitsu but I just believe Allen is better everywhere else.”

Pimblett & McCann – gym mates and best mates

After big wins on the same card six months ago, flyweight McCann and lightweight Pimblett are back in action. The duo are almost inseparable as gym team-mates and close friends, and Craig considers them genuine title contenders in their respective divisions.

“Arnold Allen, Mike Grundy, Paddy Pimblett, even Molly McCann – they’re all title contenders. Molly has no quit in her,” Craig explained.

Pimblett takes on Mexican Kazula Vargas, while McCann faces Brazilian Luana Carolina. With the crowd behind them and a chance to kickstart a side-by-side winning streak, Craig is confident of seeing two finishes for the Liverpudlians.

“Paddy will be confident in his abilities and I think he’ll be throwing heavy, heavy hands. It’ll be a knockout, first round,” Craig predicted.

“McCann will take shots. You’ll see blood in this fight but McCann will come back in the second. People in the UK can take a beating. Carolina will gas herself out and McCann will capitalise in the second round. TKO.”

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