UFC heavyweight contender Tom Aspinall is preparing to make his second consecutive walk to the O2 Arena for a marquee bout, but he says this time a completely different version of himself will be inside the cage.
At UFC Fight Night 208 last July, Aspinall suffered a nasty knee injury after attempting a hard leg kick on Curtis Blaydes, which resulted in MCL and meniscus tears, and ACL damage. The injuries required surgery and physical therapy to get back on track, which he admits was a frustrating process. Now Aspinall is ready for action, and anxious to correct the record when he steps into the same octagon on July 22 to face Marcin Tybura in London.
“I feel like I need to go back to the O2 Arena and absolutely spark someone,” Aspinall told BT Sport. “And I’m itching to do it to like right that wrong. I want to knock someone out in the O2 Arena. … I couldn’t be happier that they’re putting me on the O2, as a main event as well. The same spot that it happened. Almost a year later to the day.
“I’ve got a lot to prove, I’ve got a chip on my shoulder and these heavyweights are in for a bad time now, let me tell you.”
While unable to train during his recovery phase, Aspinall’s mindset began to change. No longer a heavyweight fighter happy to be on the UFC roster, Aspinall’s focus started to become sharper. He made wholesale changes to his day-to-day processes, and eliminated anything or anyone from his life that takes away from his ultimate goal of becoming UFC heavyweight champion.
“I think that pre-injury Tom Aspinall and post-surgery Tom Aspinall are two completely different people,” Aspinall said. “I think before, everything was going well and I was just blaze about the whole thing. … And I didn’t realize how much I loved this sport and how much I want to do it until it was potentially taken away from me. I had no idea how much I am desperate for greatness until it was almost taken away from me. Now I wake up every morning and I can’t wait to go to the gym and train.”
Aspinall won his first five fights in the UFC before the injury just 15 seconds into the first round against Blaydes. Aspinall stopped eight straight opponents overall on his win streak, and the title shot was perhaps right around the corner if he defeated Blaydes. The recovery process from surgery gave him time to put everything in perspective, and is grateful everything happened the way it did.
“This is by far the best thing that’s happened in my MMA career,” Aspinall said. “By far. Everything was smooth sailing before. I was just so blaze about everything. I don’t want to say the hunger wasn’t there, because it was. But my hunger is off the scale now. Ask anyone who’s around me. I’m like on edge for greatness.”