UFC London: Home Turmoil Clouds Volkov’s Bout with Rising Star Aspinall

Alexander Volkov and Tom Aspinall, UFC London
Alexander Volkov and Tom Aspinall, UFC London media day Credit: Jay Anderson/Cageside Press

After dealing with covid and finding himself amidst an international crisis, Alexander Volkov has arrived at UFC London to face one of the UK’s top prospects in Tom Aspinall.

To say the cards are stacked against Alexander Volkov going into UFC London is an understatement. Aside from facing one of the UK’s native sons on their home soil, the Russian heavyweight dealt with a case of covid during his camp.  While the UFC attempted to bring him to London early as the situation escalates in his native country as the military invades the Ukraine, Volkov made the decision remain in Russia as long as possible to get the most out of his training after losing a vital chunk of preparation time going into a headlining bout.  It has been a point of heavy discussion in the weeks leading up to fight week, though Volkov has won the proverbial fight before the fight in arriving to London earlier this week despite the turmoil.

Though he has been in the fight game for a significant amount of time, “Drago” faces a crossroads in his latest headliner.  His career has seen highs such as victories over former champion Fabricio Werdum, and difficult times in coming up short against Ciryl Gane, Curtis Blaydes, and Derrick Lewis.  It is no secret that he has been positioned as the proverbial stepping stone as he takes on the surging local prospect in his latest booking.  As much as he is there to test Aspinall, the bout is also a test of his own abilities to show that he remains in the upper echelon of the heavyweight conversation and in pursuit of another top five bout at this stage of his career.

For Tom Aspinall, the UFC London main event is seen as his test to enter the circle of potential title hopefuls.  A lifelong martial artist who was introduced to the various disciplines at a young age, the UK’s Aspinall posted a 7-2 mark in English promotions such as BAMMA and Cage Warriors before eventually making his way to the UFC in 2020.  Since then, he has notched four victories in the Octagon to bring his overall win-streak up to seven and added names such as former champion Andrei Arlovski, Sergey Spivak, Alan Baudot, and Jake Collier to his resume.

Outside of the buzz of headlining the UFC’s first show in the UK since 2019, Aspinall’s bout may be happening at the perfect time.  While the established guard of Ngannou, Miocic, and Blaydes continue to dominate the division, the 28 year-old Aspinall joins names like Tai Tuivasa as a potential breath of fresh air at heavyweight.  Should he record a victory over an established veteran and currently number six ranked Volkov, then a high profile bout to catapult him into title contention would likely be next in 2022.

Dealing with a highly technical veteran in Volkov, it is expected that Aspinall will need to combine both his physicality and a smart game plan to get the job done at home.  The English heavyweight should pick his spots to surge forward with his explosiveness, crowding Volkov towards the fence where he will be more susceptible to body shots or takedowns from the clinch.  For Volkov, footwork and effective counter-striking will once again be the key to victory as he avoids getting corralled into the fence and attempts to use his reach and technicality to keep Aspinall on the outside.

Looking ahead in the heavyweight division, the current champion Francis Ngannou is expected to be out of action until mid-2023.  With that in mind, an interim title is expected to be a possibility later this year with names like Stipe Miocic, Jon Jones, and Tai Tuivasa all in the running for the potential shot at the belt.  Assuming the aforementioned fighters are all unavailable, a fight with number five ranked Derrick Lewis is expected to be next for the Volkov vs Aspinall winner.