The UFC returns to London, England, this weekend with a UFC Fight Night card featuring rising British heavyweight Tom Aspinall in the main event.
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Alexander Volkanovski and Islam Makhachev, the top two pound-for-pound fighters in the UFC, will clash at UFC 284 on Feb. 11. Order the PPV now to watch the champion vs. champion fight live on Saturday.
Aspinall will face Alexander Volkov in a five-round heavyweight fight that will have major significance on the UFC heavyweight rankings. Aspinall, currently ranked #11, now has a chance to move up past Volkov, ranked #6, if he is victorious at the O2 Arena.
The UFC Fight Night 204 card also features a mixture of other British and European fighters including Arnold Allen against Dan Hooker, Paddy Pimblett vs. Kazula Vargas, Gunnar Nelson vs. Takashi Sato, and many more.
Read on for our full staff predictions for Alexander Volkov vs. Tom Aspinall, as well as the betting odds.
- Volkov: +105
- Aspinall: -125
Tom Aspinall is one of the most promising fighters to be rising through the heavyweight division right now, however in front of him is by far the biggest test he is yet to face. In Volkov, Aspinall will be facing an opponent with not only a large advantage in experience over him but also a physical problem in terms of height and reach which Aspinall has not yet seen. Volkov in particular knows very well how to use his height and reach especially well, fighting very far away with jabs and especially a great stabbing front kick to the body which is essentially as long as a weapon gets. He is great at poking and prodding his opponents.
Typically Aspinall has greater output, but he does so due to his explosive style and usual ability to get earlier finishes. In a 5 rounder against Volkov who has shown an ability to work extremely patiently down the stretch, I believe we will still see the explosive flurries from Aspinall but they may not be as constant as usual and with more time between them. Otherwise, especially as a heavyweight, the danger in gassing becomes more prominent and Volkov has a style that mixes things up well and breaks down the opponent’s bodies and legs, especially effective if cardio becomes an issue at some point.
Largely on the feet, I think the winner will be dictated by who sets the pace, Volkov is one of the best at setting a slower methodical pace and just picking his opponents apart by trapping them at a range and timing that suits him. Occasionally he has shown that if he does this he can get a little bit complacent and get caught unexpectedly but it’s difficult to bet on that. For Aspinall, it will really be about balancing how he uses his speed advantage while not gunning himself out too early and getting picked apart in the rounds he has less experience in. One of the greatest tools in doing so I believe will be mixing in the wrestling, Volkov will not one to nullify his reach by clinching up too often, nor does he particularly want to work off of his back. The same speed advantage at striking range for Aspinall will also translate to scrambles, especially against Volkov who can be super technical yet somewhat robotic.
Ultimately Aspinall has to break through that invisible wall that Volkov creates with his jabs and kicks which is a massive ask for such a young fighter. If he can do so the speed and agility become most pronounced and his talent can shine. However, if he can do so and hurt Volkov he can’t chase him to the point of wearing himself out. This fight is very much an opportunity for Aspinall to rise to the occasion, as he fights one of the biggest challenges that has hung over the division for quite a while and it’s going to take a composed and mature version of Aspinall to do so but I believe he can do it.
Prediction: Tom Aspinall to win.
7.2 significant strikes landed and 2.3 absorbed per minute, a striking accuracy of 65% and a striking defense of 70%. Averaging 2.7 takedowns per fight with a 100% success rate and stuffing 100% of attempts. Those are truly impressive statistics for someone with 4 UFC fights and even more impressive for a heavyweight. Those stats belong to Tom Aspinall, the #11 ranked heavyweight in the UFC. He is able to achieve those stats because he has one of the most complete games in the division. Aspinall is a high-level boxer and trains with heavyweight boxing champ Tyson Fury. His combinations, unlike many other heavyweights, are technically sound and thrown in combination. Despite a more fundamental approach, Aspinall still has real heat in his strikes. Further, the young heavyweight has excellent wrestling and slick submissions. His best attributes, though, are his movement and ability to combine all of his skills. Aspinall is adept at athletically bouncing in and out of the pocket where he can land a clean combination and exit out before he absorbs any counters. Additionally, Aspinall is a true mixed martial artist who can chain his striking and wrestling together. The only question around this young talent is what happens if he is rocked. Thus far, Aspinall’s mobility and boxing defense has made him difficult to hit clean. But, in order to climb the ranks in this division, fighters need to be able to eat a heavy shot and keep going.
Volkov, a veteran heavyweight striker, will look to land that clean shot. With 43 professional fights, Volkov has been there, seen that, and done it. Back when the heavyweight division was full of granite chins and sledgehammer fists, Volkov was one of the first to rely on more mobility and intelligent striking compared to blind power punching. He’s beaten many dangerous fighters with by using his significant height and reach advantage, his varied kicking game, his sniping style striking, and, most notably, his mobility. He typically moves laterally, looking for an opening to land a crisp combination with his hands or heavy kick. Then, Volkov will get back on his bicycle, continue his movement, and repeat the snipper-like approach. While he has a more volume-heavy approach than some, Volkov still has legitimate power, especially from his powerful kicks. The gap in his game comes when someone can either match his mobility and out volume him, or, land a big shot and rock him. In either case, few have been able to beat the #6 ranked heavyweight.
Maybe I’m too bullish on Aspinall, but, with his skillset and style, I believe he’ll fight for the belt in the next couple of years. In this matchup, his mobility and durability will be tested because Volkov can move well and will be able to touch Aspinall. As long as Aspinall remains composed, I see him using his boxing and wrestling to get the win and check another box as he continues to climb the rankings.
Prediction: Aspinall to win
Fellow writer of The Body Lock, Michael Pounders, has long coined Tom Aspinall as a future champion of the heavyweight division. The rationale behind doing so boils down to Aspinall being the new-age heavyweight that utilizes athleticism and skill contrary to relying mainly on massive overhand punches.
Diving into the minutia of Aspinall’s skills, the list begins to become quite expansive. First and foremost, Aspinall is a very good boxer, which comes to no surprise given he has long trained with WBC champion, Tyson Fury. Training with the best heavyweight boxer in the world, particularly a boxer that relies on technique over looping power, has translated to success for Aspinall inside the octagon. His success is an impressive combination of using movement to bounce in and out of range that enables him to land technical strikes while negating a big counterattack. This movement is a weaponized attribute as he is able to cut angles and land strong outside calf kicks against his opponent.
Beyond boxing alone, Aspinall has two other key attributes that justify the belief he has the opportunity to be a future titleholder. The first is him having an underappreciated ground game, both with wrestling and submissions. The second, and one that I am most impressed with, is him being mature well beyond his years. What I mean by this is that when he has had impressive performances inside the octagon, he has stated that he does not want to jump the rankings to have short-term, fast-tracked success; instead, he sought to gain experience by chipping away at the division, knowing a systematic climb will enable long-term sustained success. All these attributes are quite strong, and outside of having two early hiccups as a professional – DQ and loss via heal hook – I have seen no weaknesses to his game.
Volkov is perhaps one of the original heavyweight fighters who found success in favoring technical and creative striking contrary to throwing haymaker punches. His style of technical striking is quite effective inside the octagon due to a combination of him being extremely tall and knowing how to use this height and reach advantage to keep his opponent at bay. Maintaining distance is a fundamental approach to best ensure success, particularly with him having impressive kicks to all levels. These kicks are thrown with quickness and precision, which is similar to his punches. Speed over power is the focus of Volkov, as he understands that landing clean strikes will eventually damage the opponent; and once damaged, Volkov often seeks a head kick or straight right hand to finish the fight.
Often, Volkov is able to keep the fight at the distance he desires because he understands range quite well and he has extremely underrated takedown defense. Since being taken down 16 of 25 times by the best wrestler of the division – Curtis Blaydes – Volkov has stuffed 21 of 21 takedowns. The combination of tall fighters being extremely difficult to get down with him having technical takedown defense explains why he is such a difficult fighter to get to the ground for being considered solely a striker.
Volkov is frequently the faster and more technical striker inside the octagon. The differential in these attributes between him and his opponent is what creates success for him, but in this matchup, he will have neither the speed nor technical advantage – at best, the attributes will be even. This lack of disparity in skills mixed with Aspinall having the wider arsenal of attacks with having the greater power creates extreme value on backing the Englishman in this matchup. I expect Aspinall to utilize his athletic movement to bounce in and out of range, landing the more powerful strikes. Although Volkov will land himself, the damage Aspinall throws with should afford him the “win” when exchanges ensue. Ultimately, I foresee Aspinall’s movement and speed being too much for Volkov, and this, combined with the power advantage, affords me having confidence in backing Aspinall.
Braeden Arbour is an aspiring journalist out of Ontario, Canada. He is a recent graduate of Trent University, with a black belt in Karate and a blue belt in Judo. He has also been an avid fan of MMA for the last decade.
Michael Pounders is a high school English Teacher, a boxer himself, and is a fan who loves, gambles on, and nerds out about all things MMA.