Tom Aspinall is aiming to make his mark in the UFC heavyweight division this weekend, believing a swift win over former champion Andrei Arlovski will prove he is the “real deal”.
Aspinall has already made an impression by dispatching Jake Collier and Alan Baudot in a combined 140 seconds but he faces a big step-up in competition in his third fight with the organisation against Arlovski on Saturday night.
The Belarusian-American was champion from October 2005 to May 2006 and has more recently fought a number of standout names including current titlist Stipe Miocic and contenders Francis Ngannou and Jairzinho Rozenstruik.
He told the PA news agency: “I think he will be my toughest test – on paper for sure. He has shown a bit of improvement in his last couple of fights.
“He’s changed his style completely, he’s quite negative and doesn’t go in swinging like he used to because I know he got knocked out a few times by doing that. He’s learned from that. He seems to be improving to me.
“If I can stop him and stop him quick, that’s going to be a little bit of a statement for the UFC and the rest of the guys that I’m the real deal, and that’s obviously the plan.
“I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t here to win and win impressively, I’d be doing something else with my life.”
While power in the highest weight class is the ultimate currency – and Aspinall’s is obvious with eight knockouts or technical knockouts in his nine wins – the 6ft 5in Wigan fighter believes his speed is his biggest weapon.
The 27-year-old (9-2 in MMA) said: “For me as a heavyweight, what sets me apart from the other ones is I’m a lot quicker than the rest of them.
“Believe it or not, no-one has really seen my speed yet, they’ve seen bits of it, but no-one’s really seen what I can do.”
He has also shared a ring on a number of occasions with Tyson Fury, sparring with the current WBC heavyweight champion in the build-up to his fights against Christian Hammer and Wladimir Klitschko six years ago.
Asked what he learned from Fury, Aspinall replied: “The main one was just to relax and enjoy yourself. That’s what you’ve got to do in this sport – it’s not all serious, just enjoy it in there.
“It’s just a sport at the end of the day. Obviously, I learned technical stuff as well but that’s the main thing I can take away from sparring with him – just to enjoy myself.”