NEW YORK — Tom Aspinall said it was his destiny to win the UFC heavyweight championship in Madison Square Garden. Hard to argue with that after what took place at UFC 295.
Aspinall (14-3) won the UFC interim heavyweight title in emphatic fashion on Saturday night, as he knocked out Sergei Pavlovich at the 1:09 mark of the opening round with a pair of right hands. Aspinall took the fight on short notice, after heavyweight champ Jon Jones was forced to pull out of his scheduled fight against Stipe Miocic.
“It’s been a crazy 2.5 weeks,” Aspinall said. “I just want to say to everyone at home, if you ever get a chance to do something and you’re scared to do it, you should do it, because there’s a chance it will pay off.”
Aspinall, of England, has been touted as a potential heavyweight champ for years, but Saturday looked like a tall task, coming in on short notice. Pavlovich (18-2) had finished six opponents in a row inside the first round. He was not scheduled to fight at UFC 295, but had been training as the official alternate to the heavyweight title fight. The UFC is hoping to rebook the title fight between Jones and Miocic in 2024, which is why it sought Aspinall as a last-minute opponent for Pavlovich.
“He’s a big, scary guy,” Aspinall said. “I’ve never been so scared in my life, but I believed in myself. I really believed in myself.”
Aspinall dedicated the victory to his father, Andy, who has overseen his entire career. Aspinall has been virtually unbeatable in the UFC. His only loss came 15 seconds into a main event fight against Curtis Blaydes in 2022, when he injured his knee in one of the first kick attempts he threw. Aspinall later revealed he’d been dealing with knee issues for years, and underwent surgery later in the year.
Pavlovich, of Moscow, landed a couple of punches early that appeared to really get Aspinall’s attention. Aspinall started off with leg kicks, but paid the price in one exchange for leaving his head stationary. He survived the shots, however, and landed his own stinging right hands moments later. The first one stunned Pavlovich across the temple, and the second one put him down for good.
Miocic was in attendance for the interim title fight. Jones suffered a torn pectoralis tendon while training for that fight. No expected timeframe for the rebooking has been announced.