November 11th, 2023, could well be remembered as one of the most important nights in European MMA history, as British heavyweight Tom Aspinall becomes the first UK heavyweight to compete for UFC gold.
Should he achieve the feat against Russian behemoth Sergei Pavlovich, he would add his name to an exclusive list alongside the likes of Michael Bisping, Joanna Jędrzejczyk and Conor McGregor as Cage Warriors alumni to capture the grandest prize in combat sports.
After amassing a 5-2 record on the UK regional scene, Aspinall signed with Cage Warriors in late 2018.
His debut – a main event in Liverpool, close to his base at Team Kaobon – did not go according to plan, with opponent Sofiane Boukichou suffering a horrific leg break off a checked kick in the first round.
The Wigan man would return seven months later and finally get to showcase his skills, stopping undefeated French slugger Mickael Ben Hamouda in just 56 seconds at Cage Warriors 107, also in Liverpool.
“When we’re sparring, whether it’s full MMA or boxing – his speed, his movement (and) his angles are terrific. He’s like the Muhammad Ali of this era!” said former UFC star Darren Till of his training partner’s potential.
High praise, coming from one of the most recognisable names in the sport.
Others, including Michael Bisping, another former CW athlete to capture UFC gold and current colour analyst, have echoed Till’s sentiments.
“I think he beats him (Pavlovich)… I think he beat Jon Jones if that comes up and I think he dominates the heavyweight division for some time.” ‘The Count’ recently told TNT Sports.
Aspinall’s journey from Cage Warriors to UFC glory is another in a long line of athletes that have been ‘drafted’ from CW to the world leader.
The recent UFC Paris event featured numerous CW alumni, with Caolan Loughran, Rhys McKee and Morgan Charriere all appearing.
Former CW champs Paddy ‘The Baddy’ Pimblett and Ian ‘The Future’ Garry are both set to feature on December’s UFC 296 PPV in Las Vegas.
As the MMA world waits with baited breath for Aspinall’s first crack at the gold in the hallowed halls of Madison Square Garden this Saturday night, on this side of the pond, a new generation of MMA superstars will be strapping on the famous yellow gloves as they look to follow in his footsteps at CW 163.
Team Renegade’s Omiel Brown, Mateusz Figlak (brother of UFC athlete Mike Figlak), Shawn Da Silva, Will Currie, Jimmy Quinn and more will all be out to make an impression as CW lifts the curtain on one of the year’s biggest fight nights, further establishing the brand as the #1 path to the UFC.