On Saturday, Jul. 23, the UFC heads back across the pond to the O2 Arena in London for the second time in 2022. And, for the second time, it will be Tom Aspinall headlining the fight card, as he faces off against former NJCAA wrestling champion Curtis Blaydes for UFC Fight Night: Blaydes vs. Aspinall.
Aspinall will look to win his ninth straight fight and sixth straight since joining the UFC. Blaydes, meanwhile, will look to extend his winning streak to three after notching a decision victory over Jairzinho Rozenstruik and a first round TKO win over Philadelphia’s Chis Daukaus.
In the co-main event, middleweights square off as Jack Hermansson takes on rising star Chris Curtis. Both men will look to make one last run towards the top of the division, as they enter the latter half of their careers. Also on the main card is British superstar Paddy Pimblett who takes on Jordan Leavitt in a lightweight contest. Pimblett’s stablemate and good friend Molly McCann also lands on the main card as she looks to capitalize on the momentum she gained with her knockout of Luana Carolina when she faces Hannah Goldy.
UFC Fight Night: Blaydes vs. Aspinall will air in its entirety on ESPN+ with the preliminary card kicking off at 12 p.m. ET, followed by the main card at 3 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Tom Aspinall has looked nearly unstoppable in his climb up the heavyweight division; does he have the requisite skills to defeat Curtis Blaydes and earn a title shot?
Sumian: Tom Aspinall has the skills to defeat Curtis Blaydes and continue his climb towards the top of the heavyweight division. However, whether or not he will he defeat Curtis Bladyes is an entirely different question. Blaydes has three total losses throughout his entire professional career. They have come courtesy of Derrick Lewis once and Francis Ngannou twice. In many ways, Blaydes is the perfect fighter. He has a prolific wrestling background and his striking has vastly improved since joining the UFC in 2016. The Illinois native has one of the best gas tanks in the heavyweight division and consistently utilizes pressure to keep his opponents off their game. The only way to defeat Blaydes is to catch him with a powerful shot and finish him before he is able to implement his gameplan. A win over Aspinall will undoubtedly put Blaydes in a title eliminator fight before the end of the year.
Aspinall is the greatest heavyweight prospect since Cain Velasquez was coming up. The Manchester native has quickly secured a top-10 heavyweight ranking and utterly demolished the competition put in front of him. He is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with knockout power and is capable of finishing any heavyweight that the UFC throws at him. Aspinall defeated Alexander Volkov with ease back in Mar. 2022 and officially entered the conversation as a heavyweight-title contender. An impressive win over Blaydes will undoubtedly secure Aspinall a title-eliminator fight in the near future.
This is matchmaking at its finest. Both heavyweight combatants are elite talents, and one or two wins away from earning a title shot. Expect this fight to take place primarily on the feet. Blaydes will look to utilize his speed and movement to continuously keep Aspinall guessing. The Brit will need to remain calculated and pick his shots, as Blaydes looks to throw combinations. In round two, Aspinall will clip Blaydes with a powerful hook and wobble him. Aspinall will flurry Blaydes with powerful shots and secure a second-round finish. Aspinall is one of the best heavyweights in the world and has all the tools to become a prolific heavyweight champion.
Petela: The last time that Curtis Blaydes stepped into the cage, it was in what most people assumed would be a classic striker-vs.-grappler showdown against Chris Daukaus. The hard-hitting knockout artist Daukaus should have had the advantage on the feet as long as he avoided the clinch work and wrestling of Blaydes. However, the fight did not play out that way at all. Instead, it was Blaydes who had the advantage on the feet en route to a stunning first-round TKO finish. Anyone who takes the constantly improving stand-up game of Blaydes lightly will have to pay for it with their consciousness.
On the other hand, Tom Aspinall made his name by knocking out opponents, but his game in the cage has evolved, too. He is a jiu-jitsu black belt and notched submission wins in two of his last three fights. The way both of these men have evolved will make this a much more interesting fight. Blaydes will be much more competitive on the feet than he would have been even just a year or 18 months ago, and Aspinall won’t be like a fish out of water if Blaydes gets him flat on his back.
This fight will be a back-and-forth affair with stretches of striking exchanges and stretches of time fought on the canvas, until Blaydes begins landing heavy ground-and-pound in the main event rounds and picks up a TKO win after the referee is forced to step in and wave things off.
Chris Curtis has made a career resurgence after announcing his retirement back in 2019; will he continue his hot streak and defeat Jack Hermansson?
Petela: This is the toughest test Curtis has faced in his run with the UFC. He has looked incredible and rejuvenated in his return to the sport and is fighting better at 35 years old than he did in what is typically a fighter’s physical prime of 29 to 32 years old. He is also catching Jack Hermansson at a good time, coming off of a loss and alternating wins and losses in his last six bouts.
Curtis will have to avoid the tricky grappling of Hermansson, but, with a somewhat cautious striking approach, he will be able to stay out of danger and pick “The Joker” apart on the feet over three rounds. This will be a good performance for Chris Curtis, but it won’t be a show-stopping knockout win over a crafty opponent like Hermansson.
Sumian: Chris Curtis is as game as they come, but Jack Hermansson will prove to be too much for the rising middleweight star. The Joker will win a clear unanimous decision victory, but this will not affect Curtis, given he is taking this fight on short notice and against much stiffer competition.
Charles Johnson — do we need to know his name?
Sumian: Charles Johnson has some solid experience outside the UFC and has fought notables such as Brandon Royval and Michel Graves. Unfortunately for him, he is facing flyweight prospect Muhammad Mokaev. In no shape or form is this an unwinnable fight for Johnson, given that Mokaev is still fairly green. Johnson is an established finisher and is riding a four-fight winning streak. Even if he loses, he will likely get a second shot in the UFC given the high-profile opponent he is facing.
Petela: Yes, we should definitely know Charles Johnson. Anyone who comes out of a successful LFA run into the UFC is a prospect worth knowing. My colleague is right in that he does have a tough draw in his debut, but, even in defeat, he will prove to fans that he belongs in the big show.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Petela: Alexander Gustafsson. He hasn’t won a fight since 2018 and has flirted with retirement multiple times since then. He made a comeback attempt at heavyweight, but came up short against Fabricio Werdum and hasn’t fought since then. That was two years ago, so there is little doubt that a loss will mean the end of the road in the UFC for “The Mauler.”
Sumian: Volkan Oezdemir is one loss away from officially leaving the conversation of top-10 light heavyweights. He is 2-5 since Jan. 2018, and a loss to Paul Craig will surely mark the end of his consideration as a top light heavyweight of the world.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Sumian: There are so many potential answers to this question given how good this card is from top to bottom. Charles Rosa versus Nathaniel Wood should be one of the highlight bouts on the preliminary card. The pair combine for 25 finishes throughout their professional careers and should provide fans with an entertaining featherweight bout.
Petela: Makwan Amirkhani vs. Jonathan Pearce. Amirkhani snapped a three-fight losing streak in his last fight, which happened to take place in London just a few months ago. Pearce has only one loss in the UFC, dropping his debut against Joe Lauzon before rattling off three straight wins. These two will both be looking for a standout performance and that will make for one heck of a fan-friendly affair from start to finish.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Petela: Volkan Oezdemir. He needs a win in a bad way, having dropped his last two contests. His game plan for this fight is simple, stay away from the grappling world and punch Paul Craig until he is unconscious. That is exactly what will happen. It seems like, in every Paul Craig fight, he gets nearly knocked out before latching onto a submission. Unfortunately for Craig, he won’t get that chance this weekend, and Oezdemir will land the finishing combination before Craig can get the fight to the canvas.
Sumian: Tom Aspinall. The rising heavyweight star will make it 6-0 as a UFC competitor when he knocks out Blaydes in stunning fashion. The potential in Aspinall is something we have not seen in some time and he will deliver in impressive fashion come Saturday.
Pair this card with…
Sumian: An English breakfast and pint. This card is stacked from top to bottom. The UFC is packing this London fight card with a ton of British talent and should provide fans with another memorable London fight card. English natives such as Aspinall, Pimblett, and Mokaev will shine bright on the big stage and continue their rise in their respective divisions.
Petela: This fight night is going to belong to Curtis Blaydes, who lives and trains in Colorado. In that vein, pair this card with a Coors Light and enjoy a few afternoon Silver Bullets while you watch an exciting day of fights.
Main Card (ESPN+, 3 p.m. ET)
HW: Curtis Blaydes vs. Tom Aspinall
MW: Jack Hermansson vs. Chris Curtis
LW: Paddy Pimblett vs. Jordan Leavitt
LHW: Nikita Krylov vs. Alexander Gustafsson
Women’s FlyW: Molly McCann vs. Hannah Goldy
LHW: Paul Craig vs. Volkan Oezdemir
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 12 p.m. ET)
LW: Marc Diakese vs. Damir Hadzovic
FW: Nathaniel Wood vs. Charles Rosa
FW: Makwan Amirkhani vs. Jonathan Pearce
FlyW: Muhammad Mokaev vs. Charles Johnson
LW: Jai Herbert vs. Kyle Nelson
Women’s FlyW: Mandy Bohn vs. Victoria Leonardo
WW: Claudio Silva vs. Nicolas Dalby
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