UFC 295: Pavlovich vs Aspinall to Crown the Best Heavyweight?

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 10: (L-R) Opponents Sergei Pavlovich of Russia and Tom Aspinall of England face off during the UFC 295 ceremonial weigh-in at The Theater at Madison Square Garden on November 10, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Jon Jones may reign supreme, but the best heavyweight in the UFC may be determined by the winner of the upcoming fight between Sergei Pavlovich and Tom Aspinall at UFC 295.

Jon Jones will go down in history as one of the most dominant talents the sport of mixed martial arts has ever seen.  But with respect to his body of work, the man at the top of the summit in the heavyweight division is likely to be the winner of the UFC 295 co-main event this Saturday.

The 31 year-old Sergei Pavlovich has given everything a fan can ask for over the past several years.  The Russian native went a perfect 12-0, winning and defending the Fight Nights Global title in his home country, before he was signed to the UFC at just 26 years-old.  The next big thing, quite literally though we didn’t know it yet, was given no gift in being assigned to face the former K1, Strikeforce, and DREAM kickboxing champion Alistair Overeem.  To date, the fight is the only loss for Pavlovich as the more established veteran was able to return to the win-column in a bout that Pavlovich admitted he did not perform up to par.

Since then, the Russian powerhouse has needed less than five minutes in his next six consecutive bouts to stop his opponents.  Reading like a murderer’s row of sluggers, Pavlovich has added names such as all-time UFC knockout leader Derrick Lewis, Tai Tuivasa, Shamil Abdurakhimov, Maurice Greene, and most recently perennial title threat Curtis Blaydes.  Along the way, Pavlovich has earned the respect and admiration of the UFC brass and fans alike.  Earlier this year, he was the backup fighter assigned to the vacant title fight between Jones and Ciryl Gane and was going to be the backup fighter again prior to both Jones and Stipe Miocic being removed from the card.  While a UFC title has not been added to his resume yet, it’s difficult to deny that Pavlovich has not established himself as the best performing heavyweight of today.

Similar things could be said of the newest face of UK MMA: Tom Aspinall.  A noticeable notch more reserved than his mentor Michael Bisping, Aspinall is the latest Englishman to take the torch from “The Count” as a next generation star for the UK that the UFC believes could help anchor events overseas.  He has done just that in the past two years; the UFC’s belief in Aspinall is such that he has been the main event for three straight events at London’s O2 Arena.  It has been well earned, he has needed a little less time in the cage than Pavlovich to record victories over veterans such as Alexander Volkov, Serghei Spivac, and Jake Collier.  The 30 year-old is a highly regarded prospect who has his home country behind him, but he could cross the threshold to bonafide superstardom with a seminal victory over the vaunted Pavlovich.

While Aspinall’s star may be higher considering the fan reception to his events (his headliner last March was considered the top event of 2022), he is the one who has been dealt the more difficult hand.  The Englishman suffered a brutal knee injury last year that sidelined him nearly twelve months.  While he bounced back in superb fashion against Marcin Tybura in July, he is the one who has had the least amount of time to prepare.  While Pavlovich was training to be a potential backup, Aspinall was scheduled to simply enjoy the show when he received the call a little less than three weeks ago to fight for the interim title.  Should he leave Madison Square Garden with a victory, it would be a huge moment for not only himself but also for the sport in the UK to bring another UFC title back to the country.

It is expected that the winner will wait to see if they can entice undisputed champion Jon Jones into a unification bout, despite Dana White’s comments that Jones will still face Stipe Miocic upon his return.  If the Jones fight doesn’t materialize for the winner, then the surging Jailton Almeida stands out as a possible opponent as does former interim champion Ciryl Gane.  While Pavlovich or Aspinall will have the word interim attached to their championship title, the body of work they have provided are more than a fair argument that the winner deserves to call themselves the best heavyweight in the UFC.  2024 will be about them putting a stranglehold on such a moniker.