I’ll admit that I wasn’t completely sold on him before the fight. That was mainly due to Sergei having the stronger strength of schedule, beating the likes of Derrick Lewis and Curtis Blaydes prior to getting the chance to compete for the interim UFC Heavyweight Championship.
Instead of the Russian holding interim gold, the belt is going to England, as Tom Aspinall neutralized Pavlovich’s power and overwhelmed him with speed to win the fight in a little over a minute. It was as thrilling as heavyweight contests get.
I’m probably not alone in saying I’d rather watch that 25 times in a row than watch the Lewis-Jailton Almeida fight once, amirite?
And there’s no question that Tom Aspinall deserved to be in that cage. The only setback he’s had so far in his UFC career was against Blaydes in a fight that ended before it began due to Tom suffering a devastating knee injury.
He did bounce back in a big way when he returned a year later, running through Marcin Tybura and putting the whole weight class on notice.
And now look at him. He gets to join his fellow countryman Leon Edwards in donning the black and gold as a reigning UFC champion. Michael Bisping couldn’t be any prouder, I assume.
What are Tom Aspinall’s (interim) plans?
Of course, the title win comes with a major caveat, being that it’s an interim championship. The only reason Tom Aspinall and Sergei Pavlovich fought was because the originally scheduled title fight between UFC Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones and former champion Stipe Miocic got scrapped when Jones tore his pectoral right off the bone.
Hopefully no one is hatching up a failed drug test conspiracy around it like some people posited as the reason why Jiří Procházka was out for a year.
I’m kidding, of course, I’m sure Jon will be back in time for the Royal Rumble.
If he isn’t, though? Then that puts Tom Aspinall in a tough spot. He won’t know what will happen to his interim status until Jones fights again, which may not be for 8 months or longer. Then, when he is ready to go, the plan seems to be to not book a unification match but to instead rebook the Miocic fight.
Aspinall could find himself in a position where, if he waits to fight Jones, he could be waiting for upwards of a year or more before he fights again. Does he really want to put up with that?
The answer is yes.
As important as it may be as a fighter to, y’know, fight, if he wants the big fight for the full championship, his best bet is to wait for Jones to get his Stipe payday and then call out the winner in the aftermath. He should call both men out in the lead up too, as that might be the best chance he has to actually get a fight with either one of them.
I say that because we all know the odds of either Jones or Miocic wanting to fight Tom Aspinall is low. That’s not because either man is scared but because neither man is interested in sticking around much longer. Miocic hasn’t fought in 2.5 years and is only coming back for the Jones fight (since booking him in an interim title fight would be “total disrespect”), while Jones is after one of the only two legacy fights left for him in combat sports (he won’t be getting the other unless he wants to lace up some boxing gloves and beg Dana White).
The UFC heavyweight division is arguably hotter than it’s been in years with contenders like Tom and Sergei and Jailton and Cyril Gane. They’re also risky fights because none of them have been around long enough to have built up significant name value outside the hardcore community. So it’s understandable that neither Jones nor Miocic are looking to get burned. Plus, Jon’s quick submission against Gane at UFC 285 may make any of those other matchups tough sells.
That’s why UFC wants to keep the Jones-Miocic match intact, so they can get the most value out of these guys before they both ride off into the sunset.
Interim title defenses: Could they be any more pointless?
When the interim fight was announced, there was talk that, if Jon Jones vs. Stipe Miocic doesn’t happen until next July or later, it opens up the possibility of an interim title defense, something that hasn’t happened since Renan Barão defended the interim UFC Bantamweight Championship twice in 2013.
But back then, interim championships actually served their intended purpose of representing the full championship while the champion was recovering from an injury or dealing with a contract dispute. Nowadays, interim championships are created to bolster weak pay-per-view cards or recoup whatever money might be lost after a proper title fight falls through for one reason or another.
While it’s infuriating enough that Jon Jones will be allowed to remain champion while he recovers when two of the last three light heavyweight champions were not offered the same luxury, it’s even worse knowing that there’s going to be a heavyweight title fight happening in 2024 and the man who was just crowned interim champion won’t be a part of it.
And if the Jones-Miocic fight falls through again? Then things might get pushed back further. Or it’s likely Dana takes action at that point and does one of two things. He either demands Jones fight Tom Aspinall, which Jones could refuse and choose to retire, denying Tom the passing of the torch moment he needs to claim he’s the rightful champion, or he decides to remove the interim designation from Tom’s name, forcing him to have to prove himself all over again.
He obviously wouldn’t be too far back in the queue if the latter happens but, if the interim champ doesn’t get to fight the full champion, then what’s the point of crowning an interim champion?
And, with that being said, what’s the point in defending an interim championship? No one will care if you were an interim champion if you never become the undisputed champion, so why take the risk of defending a belt when all losing does is set you back from winning the real prize? There’s nothing to gain for anyone in that equation.
Barão only defended the belt because UFC allowed Dominic Cruz to remain champion for over two years before finally forcing him to vacate after his series of unfortunate injuries. UFC wouldn’t let Jones do the same if it came down to it, would they?
Tom Aspinall should do the right thing (and do nothing)
I’m going to remain positive and say that won’t happen. That’s why Tom Aspinall’s best play is to stay put and do nothing, meaning take no fights until the Jones situation is figured out. Best case scenario is Jones fights Miocic, beats him, and decides to defend against Tom Aspinall. Worst case is Jones-Miocic doesn’t happen or, if it does and the winner decides to retire, Aspinall gets a call that he’s either been promoted to undisputed champion or that he’s being stripped but will be placed in a fight to crown a new champion. Either way, he knows he’s getting a chance to wear the real belt.
The timing may work out anyway since Tom Aspinall revealed he fought on Saturday with a back injury, which makes the win even more awe-inspiring. So, all he needs to do is relax, heal up, and wait by the phone.
Anything can happen in this sport, like how Dana said Dricus du Plessis won’t get the next title shot before booking him in the next one because it ended up being the only main event they could cobble together for January. Crazy sport this is. May it always be so irrational and illogical.
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