NEW YORK (AP) – Tom Aspinall sat in the locker room in the hours before a UFC title fight that came together in a matter of weeks and really only had one thought: “What am I doing,” Aspinall asked himself.
Aspinall could say it now, he pulled a muscle in his back and didn’t have much of a training camp. The Englishman in New York – he walked out to the Sting hit song – had visa issues. Aspinall even had to cancel a planned vacation with his family.
So what was Aspinall doing? Try winning a championship in only his eighth UFC fight.
Alex Pereira used a series of elbows to Jirí Procházka’s head to win the vacant UFC light heavyweight championship and Aspinall became the first British heavyweight to win gold in the UFC 295 title fights yesterday at Madison Square Garden (MSG).
“The United Kingdom guy is the world champion,” Aspinall said. “I’m the best in the world now.”
Well, Jon Jones might have a beef with that decree.
Aspinall knocked out Sergei Pavlovich in the first round for the interim heavyweight championship in front of a packed crowd that included former United States president Donald Trump. Aspinall then campaigned for a championship fight in England against Jones.
“Give me my dream fight,” Aspinall said. “Let me fight for my legacy, please.”
The interim title fight was a late addition to the card after Jones tore a pectoral tendon off the bone during training late last month. He needed surgery and his heavyweight title defence against Stipe Miocic at the Garden was called off.
While UFC waits for Jones to return, it’s Aspinall who now holds the gold. “It’s been a crazy two weeks,” Aspinall said. Jones congratulated Aspinall on social media, writing, “That was an awesome performance!”
His teary celebration lasted longer than the fight. Aspinall needed only 69 seconds to earn his 11th career knockout win – he has made it to the second round just once in his eight UFC fights – and then collapsed in tears on the canvas. Aspinall landed consecutive rights to Pavlovich’s temple that sent the Russian crashing to the canvas.
“He’s a big, scary guy,” Aspinall said.
“I’ve never been as scared in my life as fighting this guy. But I’ve got a lot of power, too, and I believe in myself.” Aspinall draped himself against the cage as fans roared for the new champ.
Not much later in the main event, Pereira won his second UFC championship in just his seventh fight for the promotion. Pereira, who won the middleweight championship last November at MSG, badly hurt Procházka and the fight was stopped at 4:08 of the second round. Procházka had won 13 straight MMA fights, including his first three in UFC.
Pereira became the ninth fighter in UFC history to win championships in two weight classes.