om Aspinall admits he would be tempted by a crossover fight but insists his focus is only on winning the UFC heavyweight championship after a year’s enforced absence from the octagon.
The 30-year-old suffered nasty knee injuries just 15 seconds into his last outing, a defeat by Curtis Blaydes almost a year ago to the day. But now he is back at the O2 aiming to return to world-title contention.
Doubts over whether he would walk away from the sport he has been involved with from childhood – he began martial-arts training aged seven – have subsided in recent months and a headline slot, and victory, on UFC Fight Night against Marcin Tybura would complete a happy homecoming.
“I didn’t know if that was kind of it. I didn’t know if I wanted to come back some days,” Aspinall says. “But I realised how much I love this sport – I really, really love it and want to give myself the best chance of doing the best I can and get where I want to be, which is UFC heavyweight champion.”
WBC world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury’s clash with Francis Ngannou – the man who held the UFC belt until last year – in Saudi Arabia on October 28 has drawn criticism for Fury choosing against a defence of his boxing title.
Ngannou is rumoured to be earning £6million from the crossover fight and Aspinall could see himself making a similar move once his ambitions in mixed martial arts are achieved.
“I definitely would like to do something like that before I retire but right now I’m trying to be heavyweight champion of the world in UFC so that comes first before anything,” he adds. “But the fight is good for the fans, definitely. I’ll tune in, I’ll watch it. It’s interesting to me.”
Fury, from Morecambe, has called upon Manchester’s Aspinall, who knows the Fury family, to help him prepare for the unorthodox challenge presented by Ngannou, the man who can lay claim to the world record for the hardest punch ever thrown.
The Cameroonian is not expected to seriously test the Gypsy King, however, and Aspinall could be on hand to guide him past any pitfalls if they can find the time to train together.
“Likely, yeah,” he replied when asked if he relished the opportunity. “We’ll see how it works out with our schedules. I don’t know when I’m going to be fighting again after this.
“MMA training comes first and I have to be selfish in this but I’d love to. We get on and I know a lot of the Fury family and they’re really good people. I’m close to his uncle Peter and I like being around them.”
Aspinall has experience in professional boxing, having had one bout six years ago, when he beat Hungarian Tamas Bajzath in Manchester.
But, with boxing beset by negative headlines about doping and vast amounts of money moving the sport from the traditional UK and US heartlands to the Middle East, he knows where his heart lies.
“I liked it, I love boxing. I just don’t like the boxing model I guess,” he explains. “Boxing’s having a bit of a tough time at the minute. Some of these fighters are 20-0 and think they’re king of the world, they’ve not even had an actual fight. MMA excites me a lot more.”
It is sure to excite this weekend’s London crowd, too, with a title shot at American superstar Jon Jones, the current UFC heavyweight king, surely on the cards if Aspinall – ranked fifth in the world – overcomes Polish No10-ranked Tybura.
He’s back, at last. But it was a battle. He admits: “They asked me to fight in March and I probably could have been ready but I’d not had much getting kicked to the [injured] leg.
“The night was a bit of a blur for me. I can hardly remember it but I remember the days after the surgery were really tough. It’s embarrassing, it’s painful, it’s uncomfortable, there’s nothing good about it. It’s not a nice place to be.
“I’ve really, really missed fighting a lot and I’m just looking forward to getting back in there and feeling that atmosphere again.”
Tom Aspinall is an ambassador for Gym King. Visit www.thegymking.com