Tom Aspinall Exclusive Interviews with OLBG

Tom Aspinall regularly talks to OLBG about his career, and gives his views on other fighters and news in the UFC. His latest interview with us was in February 2023.

Tom Aspinall Exclusive Interviews with OLBG
Image: ITV

UPDATE: February 2023 Exclusive Interview ahead of Jake Paul v Tommy Fury

The whole world would watch Fury vs Ngannou 

“Tyson Fury said he wants to fight Francis Ngannou in MMA gloves inside a cage but with boxing rules, the whole world would watch that. There's nothing I would enjoy more than that fight. That would be absolutely awesome. If they did three five minute rounds and they were allowed some kind of clinching as well, maybe let them clinch for like 30 seconds, let them have some under hooks and that, I'd love to see that more than anything else.”

“I would have loved to see Jones-Ngannou but I think what Ngannou has done is really good. I respect people who stick to their views and if something is not right for them they still stick by what they believe. I really respect that on a personal level. If someone is convinced of something and they won't move on it, you have to respect that in any walk of life.”

Jake Paul has made Tommy Fury take training seriously - Fight prediction is 50-50

“It's a 50-50 fight between Jake Paul and Tommy Fury. I like Jake Paul and Tommy Fury is a mate of mine, I've known him since he was 14 years old. I've not seen him train for a while but I spoke to his brother recently, Roman Fury. And Roman said he's really turned a corner in his training. He said something has switched in him and he's looking amazing in the gym and has really turned the corner, and I guess that's true because Roman's not said that on any media outlet, he wasn't saying it to big Tommy up - sometimes people say things to the media that aren't true. Roman said it in a private situation, so if he's saying that I believe that's the truth and I think it's going to be a 50-50 fight.” 

Scouring the UK betting sites we can see that bookies don't quite agree with Tom on this being a 50-50 but the odds are close. They have Jake Paul at a best priced 1.73, Tommy Fury at best priced 2.45 and the draw at 15.  It's 1.73 that the fight will go the distance with the shortest price method of victory a Jake Paul win by Decision or Technical Decision at 2.8. You can see what the boxing betting experts think by checking out the latest boxing predictions here

I’m not interested in doing anymore Michael McIntyre stints, it was fun but I’m focused on fighting

“Going into the programme I had been away, I hadn't trained for weeks, I'd been eating rubbish.  And then they've got me taking my shirt off on the TV. No-one told me I'd be taking my shirt off, I'd have gone on a diet for a week if I'd known, or at least done a bit of training. So they told me to take my shirt off and I was thinking do I have to take my shirt off? But it was funny. Chris Ramsay is a comedian and apparently a fan of mine. It was fun, but for me I'm interested in fighting, I'm not into celebrity stuff, it doesn't bother me. I'm more interested in fighting.”

Sparring is exhausting, I might not make UFC286 but there’s a slim chance

“I spoke to the UFC before Christmas about UFC286 and they just said keep them updated if I wanted to be on the show or not. Especially for a UK show, I'm a pretty big draw, and without sounding arrogant, it's up to me whether I want to be on that show or not. I'm sure they'll try to get me on it if I want to be on it. I'm just waiting to see where everything is at. 

“If I want to get on that show I'm sure they'll allow me. There's no cut off date per se, but if I give them a reasonable amount of notice, if I give them six or eight weeks, I'm sure they'll do their best to get me on. But it also depends on the division, it's got to be a fight that makes sense. It's got to be someone I'm interested in fighting, I'm not just going to fight some unranked guy, it's got to be someone who is a good fight for me. My gut feeling is I'm not going to be on the card but who knows, I'm feeling pretty damn good in sparring, I've done my first two spars this week. My cardio is exactly where it needs to be, I'm strong as hell because I've been lifting loads of weights, my timing is good because I've been drilling loads, even though I've not been sparring. 

“I feel really good and who knows, I might have a couple more spars and think stuff it, let's go for it, there’s a slim chance of that happening. Throughout my UFC career so far I've always been a bit keen to please everyone else, whether that's the UFC, fans, people around me - and I do not want to do that anymore. I think it's upto me now. I've got my foot in the door pretty good, I'm in a really good spot and will come back when it's right for me. Not just because I'm pressured into it. I might turn around next after two great spars again and feel like I can fight in nine or ten weeks, or I might think I'll come back when it's right. I don't think having this break has done me any harm, it's actually got me in a good spot mentally. I went on a wild run of being really active and finishing everybody and now I'm ready and getting my body ready to do what I set out to do, which is be UFC heavyweight champ of the world.”

“I've been doing everything until this point, except full MMA sparring. I've even done some boxing sparring a few times. I've rolled and wrestled but there's nothing quite like MMA sparring where anything can happen and it feels good, it feels so good. But I did forget how tough it is to be honest. It's really hardwork. I forgot how exhausting it is to have someone punching and kicking you in the face and everything. But it's a lot of fun to be back.”

Cyril Gane will be tough for Jon Jones, but he won’t feel the effects of ring rust

“I think Ciryl Gane is a tough fight for Jon Jones. I highly rate Gane. He's really good and has a style unlike a lot of other heavyweights. You could make a case that me and Gane have similar styles. Jon Jones, even though he's coming up to heavyweight, is better off sparring light heavyweights who are light on their feet and good movers because that kind of work is really hard to find at heavyweight. Maybe do a mix of both, spar a heavyweight for a round and then a light heavyweight. He needs to get someone who is a good mover - Gane's style is really rare for a heavyweight - he's not just a plodder and a swinger. There's a lot of techniques, setups, and his movement is great. It's a tough fight for him but Jon Jones is one of the best to grace the Octagon, so you can never count him out.”

“I would have been a good sparring partner, but he's not asked me. I'm not saying I'm exactly the same as Cyril Gane, but there's not many guys who are our size and can move like we both can. It's pretty rare. Our style are different but the footwork and movement we have is not something a lot of heavyweights have.”

“I don't believe in ring rust, I think it's a load of rubbish but it does depend on who you are. I actually feel better because of the time out. It is sometimes good to take a break from the pressure of it all. But someone like Jon Jones who has had five million title fights, it's not going to affect him too much. His timing might be off a little bit for a couple minutes, but it's not going to be a massive factor for him. The biggest factor is the move up in weight, he's not going to be miles bigger than everyone else, he's going to be a smaller guy in most fights and that's way bigger factor than having three years out. For an upcomer without experience ring rust may be a real thing but we are talking about one of the best guys ever, who has had a ridiculous amount of title fights, I don't think it will be any issue for him.”

“Heavyweight MMA is the wildest division in the most unpredictable sport in the world. I can't pick a winner. You're only one punch away from getting knocked out. Let's be realistic, don't put your mortgage on anybody winning in heavyweight MMA. It's wild.” 

“I'm very athletic, I'm not one of these big plodders, so I think that my speed would be the difference if I fought Jones. I'm quicker than Jon Jones, I'm fresher than him, in that I've not had a million title fights, and I've not got a lot of miles on the clock, so I have that to my advantage if I'm fighting someone like Jones. But I'm not saying it would be easy because it absolutely would not.”

I’d like to fight Rozenstruik, Romanov, Tuivassa or Tybura

“I've called people out in the past and they never seem to give me the fights. I've done it a few times, I called out Sergei Spivac, granted I did end up fighting him, but didn't get him when I first called him out. I called out Blagoy Ivanov, but they didn't give me that. And I also called out Tai Tuivassa and they did not give him either. So that's three times and they've not even given me them and don't even like calling people out. I did that because I felt like the UFC wanted me to. But to answer the question who is on my shortlist for a return fight, there's a lot of good heavyweights coming up. Marcel Tybura is fighting soon. If he wins that's a potential fight. I think Jairzinho Rozenstruik is potentially a good fight for me because of where we are in the rankings. I know Alexandr Romanov is fighting Alexander Volkov, that's a big ask. I don't think he beats Volkov, but if he wins that's a potential fight. You've got Tai Tuivassa, there's loads. And also I've noticed, especially in the heavyweight division, they're not really as bothered about the rankings as they are in other divisions, like Volkov just beat Rozenstruik, now he’s fighting Romanov who just lost to Tybura. Ones coming off a loss and ones coming off a big win and they're still putting them together. It's a free for all and I'm ok with that, I'm not here to avoid anyone. Rankings don't mean anything to me, anybody in the top 15 can beat each other or any given day.”

Leon will beat Usman

“I'm backing Leon to beat Usman. I think the whole altitude thing was a factor the first time round. I've not fought at altitude myself but I know Leon was looking great in the first round and then seemed to go a little bit flat for a few rounds. Leon has never had problems with gassing before in all of his fights, I've seen them all. A c-level Leoncan beat Usman pretty easily.”

I want to fight abroad - I know I’m not a big name internationally but I’ll have traveling support

“I think I could definitely have that Ricky Hatton style support when I eventually fight abroad. I think that even though I'm not as big a name internationally as I am here, I’ll have that travelling support when I eventually fight abroad. I think that's on the cards. A big group of people with me when I fight aboard. Maybe not Vegas first, maybe a little European away day to warm us up, let the people get used to travelling, then let's see where it goes. It's going to be great.”

I’m not ruling out an unexpected return at UFC London next year

My ego wants to go 'stick me on the card I'm good to go' but I need to think long term which I've not been doing and need to get everything right.

“I'm not ruling it out (fighting at UFC London). At the minute it's still like 14-15 weeks away.  And at this point I've not done much heavy training. It's just been rehab really. But can I get ready in 14 weeks? The answer is yes. Will I be ready to start a title run in 14 weeks, I don't know. And if I don't know - that's not the answer I'm looking for. It's highly unlikely but not a complete no at this point.

“I can't afford for that [the injury] to happen again. I'm not talking about finances, I'm talking about my ego. My ego can't take that again. Me on my back, clutching onto my knee - it's just not going to happen again. There's just no chance I can let that happen again. The knee has to be one million percent. My ego wants to go 'stick me on the card I'm good to go' but I need to think long term which I've not been doing and need to get everything right.

“My dad doesnt want me on the card, it's as simple as that, my dad says don't be on the card. I should listen to him more.

“I'm not kicking just yet, but I've been doing a bit of sparring and stuff. I can full-on wrestle now which is great. I literally started that this week. I'm looking to get signed off by the physio in 8-12 weeks, he reckons, completely signed off and back to full on training, I'm really happy with it all.

“I get asked every time I step out of the frigging house. Realistically I'd love to give someone a date when i'm coming back and be like 'yep this is when i'm coming back' but it's not as simple as that. It's not as easy as coming back on this date. Bodies are complicated and pretty big injuries like i've had, they're quite complex. So I can't say this is when i'm coming back, who knows, I might hurt the knee again. It might start swelling up again, you never know. When I feel ready I'll be back.

“There still is [doubt in my mind about the knee]. I want that to be gone because that's what I've been dealing with the last four or five years with this old injury. I've been dealing with 'I can't do this because of the knee and I can't do that'.  I don't want to train or fight like that anymore. I want to fight free of that, that's why I'm not giving the comeback a time frame because I want that to be completely free before continuing with my career.

I considered retirement after suffering injury

“I seriously had to ask myself the question after the injury ‘is this what I want to keep doing?’ Getting hurt like that in front of all those people, it was tough mentally. I seriously had to sit on that for a week. Do I want to keep on doing this? I have other ways of making money. It's not just fighting I have in my life. I could take the same energy and put it into something else. But ultimately I really, really want to do this sport more than I ever had before. So I had the conversation with myself for about a week after. And then I started telling myself I can definitely come back, change a few things, and now I think I'm going to be UFC heavyweight champion.” 

I had to borrow money to feed my kids and put petrol in my car…

“I've not been lucky on this journey, it's been a f*****g tough one. I didn't really have a teenage life really. No college life, no adult life. I was literally in the gym. From being 14 years-old I've been in the gym everyday working in the cold and also in the summer - when everyone's going to Magaluf and all that sh*t. When everyone else was at these parties I was in the gym with a load of sweaty men in their 30s. I was 16 getting battered. So it's not been easy. I had three children by the time I was 25. I had no job, no fights, I was just in the gym everyday and some people, family friends, actually said to my wife 'you need to get a man that's going to support you properly' rather than this guy who is living in a dream world kind of thing. It's paid off now but at one point I felt like an absolute bum. I wasn't in the gym, I wasn't fighting. I'd have fighters pullout of fights, I had nothing.  I had to really, really believe in myself to go through it.

“I had to lend money off people. I see myself as a responsible person, a responsible parent. So it's quite embarrassing when you're a fully grown man and you've got to ring your mate up and ask him for twenty quid for fuel so you can get to training. I was doing personal training as well on the side, teaching a bit of jiu jitsu - that would get me by. But it wasn't consistent. If I didn't have any PT clients that day, I'd have to rely on friends and family to borrow the money to put fuel in the car or to buy the kids sandwiches. It was tough but this is what you have to go through. I wouldn't change anything that happened. I'm happy with the person I am right now and with what I've got. Compared to some people I've had it easy, I would not change anything now.” 

The Changes I am Making

I was wasting way too much energy on sh*t that did not serve me. If I was in training camp someone said to me 'will you come to my cousin's birthday they're a massive fan' i'd be like 'ok, go on then'. So it would be a wasted afternoon that I could have spent in the gym, resting or training. Or I'd turn up to training sessions and the biggest guy in the room would be a lightweight and I'm a heavyweight - what's the f**king point? Is that going to help me become UFC champion, fighting a lightweight that's going to be easy to deal with.

 That's not serving me. Stuff like running loads of errands, saying will you come to this place or that place  - I can't be doing that sh*t. Will I do this interview or that interview 'oh my mate has just started interviewing and he's got ten followers, will you help grow his channel' and I'd say 'go on'. Sh*t like that. What am I doing? That's not going to help me to get to where I need to be. 

I would consider [moving to America], I'd consider anything that would help me. It's under consideration, I'm always on the lookout for stuff like that. I feel like at the moment I've got some really, really good training partners so I'm pretty happy but I do not rule it out. I'd definitely go somewhere else to train, but my last two camps in the UK and Holland have been really good and I enjoyed it and it worked out well. 

Zion Clarke is a hero

Image: Name cannot be blank/twitter

“It's quite unbelievable to see that. Fair play to him. Even doing exercise with the disability he's got - he's not letting it hold him back at all, nevermind doing one of the most physically demanding sports in the world. I can't believe someone has the mental fortitude to do that, it's unbelievable.  

UFC deserves more respect after Leon Edwards SPOTY Snub

“The UFC needs way more respect, especially someone like Leon. Leon really does have a story where he came from nothing to where he is now. He was overlooked by everybody, people did not respect him and see him as the frontrunner or being a title holder, everyone just thought he was an opponent. He was losing the fight and pulled it out the bag and what a story. It's just a shame that MMA is behind in this country, he should have been up there at least.” 

Image: Publicist

Leon Edwards next opponent rumours

“I thought it was going to be Edwards v Masvidal but I think Stephen Thompson would be a great fight, I'm a Stephen Thompson fan. I really like his style, does not get hit too much, I thought his last fight was brilliant, that's an interesting fight. But I would prefer to see Masvidal, it would be more entertaining and I'd enjoy the build up. I'd enjoy the needle as they say. I'd enjoy both fights but I'd enjoy Edwards v Masvidal build up more.”

Paddy’s close fight with Jared Gordon

“I've only seen the highlights to be honest and I'm not a judge. I know there's a big outrage about it and I know Paddy has rubbed people up the wrong way with his comments on fight week. Paddy puts an absurd amount of pressure on himself and fair play to him because he's still performing under pressure. It must be tough. He puts a whole load of attention and pressure on himself. I think he rubbed people up the wrong way with his comment on Ariel Helwani and stuff and I think a lot of people were biased against him but I don't know.” 

“I know Paddy personally and he's just being himself and fair play to anybody who is being themselves in the media. I know some people definitely try and play a character but Paddy definitely does not do that because I know him personally.”

Image: skysports

Jake and Paddy sparring

“If they're going to spar boxing it's going to be a tough time for Paddy because I think Jake Paul is a decent level professional boxer while Paddy is a good level MMA fighter. But if it's just boxing Jake Paul is going to get the better of him for sure. I think he's pretty good, everyone thinks he's a Youtuber but it does not mean he can't fight. He's just beat Anderson Silva. He might be a 48-year-old MMA fighter but he'd still outbox most of the UFC roster. He's a good, experienced fighter that can box and Paul beat him so fair play that's a good win.”

KSI and Dillon Danis

Gymshark, CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

“He was on Ariel Helwani's show last night and I was expecting him to be funny but he was f**king boring.  I was expecting him to be this massive character who is funny and witty but he seemed a bit timid. Ariel was schooling him. He was a bit vanilla. I only know who KSI is because I've seen him on Gogglebox but I've seen Dillon Danis box and he looks f*****g terrible, so I would imagine that KSI will win.”

Darren Till

“I think that Darren Till's got all the talent in the world. But he needs to get his mind and body in the right spot. He's got a lot of long term injuries and I think maybe the losses he's been taking have affected his confidence a little bit. I don't know, I'd have to speak to him, I'm always team Till and want what's best for him. If he wants to carry on I'm sure he can but needs time to figure it out.”  

Conor McGregor Return

“Only he knows if he's got anything left to give, it does not really bother me. I liked Conor when he was really good. I just don't like the sh*t talking. I hate when there's loads of talk and nothing happens. It's like playground stuff, it gets boring. Am I bothered about Conor coming back? If he's fighting at a high level, yes, if he's not - I'm not bothered.”

Image: shutterstock/motorsports Photographer

Jon Jones Return

"He's been talking about coming back for three years. At first I was invested in it, I was like 'yes, Jon Jones is coming back to the heavyweight division, it's going to be awesome'. But now i'm like 'will you just f*****g fight or stop talking about it'. It's pretty boring at this point. I'd love to see it, I'm a massive Jon Jones fan. I think he's one of the best fighters to grace the Octagon but let's see it, let's get a fight booked and crack on. I am not going to fight him in 2023 but I might fight him before both our careers are over, I'd love that fight."

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