The UFC rolls into New York City this weekend and it will mark a landmark moment for British MMA as leading heavyweight contender Tom Aspinall takes on Sergey Pavlovich in a bid to become the first British fighter in history to hold the UFC heavyweight title.
The rest of the card is stacked with competitive fights including Jiri Prochazka taking on Alex Pereira for the vacant light heavyweight strap.
Aspinall, 30, has long been considered Britain’s leading hope in heavyweight MMA and his start to life in the UFC couldn’t have been more impressive. Since making his debut in 2020, he has built a 6-1 record with his only loss coming after he suffered a knee injury fifteen seconds into his fight with Curtis Blaydes. Prior to that freak injury, Aspinall had stopped five opponents all inside two rounds which made him the fighter with the shortest total fight time in the entire promotion.
Aspinall is a true mixed martial artist and that’s what sets him apart in the division. For every brutal knockout victory on his record, he has an equally impressive submission victory to compliment and that blend of styles is unique when it comes to the heavyweight division. Throughout history, the division has had dominant strikers, high level wrestlers and ju-jitsu specialists but it has never had a fighter that blends all the arts as seamlessly as Tom Aspinall.
While there is no denying how impressive Aspinall has been, Sergey Pavlovich has made just as many headlines. The Russian, who is also 6-1, has an unassuming demeanour but once the octagon door closes, he is a ferocious knockout artist who can finish any fight in the blink of an eye.
The only loss on the record for Pavlovich came in his UFC debut when he was matched with veteran Alistair Overeem. The fight simply happened too quick for the Russian on that night but since then he won six straight and finished them all inside the first round.
Despite the records being identical, Pavlovich has the more impressive UFC record with wins over Derrick Lewis, Tai Tuivasa and Curtis Blaydes and the confidence he will have taken from those fights will be a huge advantage at the opening bell this weekend.
Aspinall may be at an experience disadvantage but with his dynamic skillset, he has the greater path to victory here but he must respect the danger of Pavlovich and if he switches off for a second, he will find himself stirring up the dazzling MSG lights. These two are natural finishers so this fight won’t go long but providing Aspinall remains sharp, he should have enough tools to get the win (4/5) and make history for British MMA.
In the main event, former champion Jiri Prochazka will look to reclaim his belt after eighteen months out of the octagon. After winning the belt in 2022, Prochazka suffered a potentially career ending injury and given the seriousness of the injury, he gave up the belt to ensure the division never became stagnant.
Now healed up and seemingly better than ever, Prochazka will look to become the owner of the strap once again but he will need to beat former middleweight king Alex Pereira which is no easy feat, especially after such a long period of inactivity.
Both men are history makers and that’s what makes the matchup so fascinating. In the case of Prochazka, he became UFC light heavyweight champion after just three fights in the promotion, a feat that is simply just unheard of at this level of combat sports. However, Pereira is equally as impressive, he won the middleweight title in just his fourth fight and although he lost the rematch to Israel Adesanya, he now moves up a weight division and looks to become a two-weight champion inside six fights.
This is a fight that could turn into a fight of the year contender. Both men love to stand and strike which will be pleasing for the fans and they can both finish fights with a signal punch. Pereira has been more active which is a huge advantage to have heading into a fight of this magnitude but it’s hard to look past the variety in Prochaska’s game. The former champion is a dangerous striker, but he is equally as good on the mat as he demonstrated when submitting Glover Teixeira to win the build.
Interestingly, Teixeira will be in the corner of Pereira this weekend so the Brazilian will be well prepared but providing Prochazka is the same fighter as he was before his injury, he should have enough variety to get the win here and reclaim the title that he never lost inside the octagon.
BACK Tom Aspinall to win 2pts at 5/6 (⭐
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BACK Jiri Prochazka to win 1pt at evens (⭐
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PROFIT/LOSS (NOV 2023): PROFIT -5.24 points