Can Aspinall knock down the self-proclaimed 'brick wall' Pavlovich?

Can Tom Aspinall smash through self-proclaimed ‘brick wall’ Sergei Pavlovich? Stats show UFC 295 rivals are closely matched on the feet but British star’s brilliant ground game could be key

  • Tom Aspinall accepted Sergei Pavlovich clash on two-and-a-half weeks notice 
  • Co-main event at UFC 295 will be for the interim heavyweight title 
  • Eddie Hearn on his greatest-ever boxing venue: Listen here to The Hook

Tom Aspinall and Sergei Pavlovich have been on a collision course for some time as the next generation of top UFC heavyweights. 

But the manner in which their fight for the interim heavyweight title has come about leaves scant preparation time for both men. 

After Jon Jones’ planned defence against Stipe Miocic was scrapped following the champion’s injury, the UFC moved quickly to find a replacement bout. 

The legacy bout has made way for one pitting two young, hungry contenders against each other.

Both have lost only once since joining the UFC, Aspinall through no fault of his own after suffering an injury seconds into his clash with Curtis Blaydes. 

Tom Aspinall (right), seen here beating Marcin Tybura, faces Sergei Pavlovich on Saturday

Pavlovich has been in the octagon for just over two rounds when all the times of his previous six encounters are combined. 

As Aspinall has said himself, it is difficult to prepare for someone who ‘steamrolls people’, given the lack of material to pore over.

So what is the Brit’s best path to victory? How can he overcome the man with the highest average knockdown rate per 15 minutes in UFC history? 

It is a question Aspinall’s coaches will no doubt have been working on around the clock, ever since he accepted the bout on a late-night phone call with the UFC. 

Pavlovich is not a one-trick pony in that most of his finishes aren’t with the kind of one-shot kill power that Francis Ngannou possessed. 

He overwhelms with relentless combinations and volume to go with his natural strength and impressive technique. 

Pavlovich does put himself in the firing line in order to land his shots, but benefits from a long reach – which will be six inches longer than Aspinall’s on Saturday night. 

Aspinall has a great ground game and is seen here choking out Andrei Arlovski

The British heavyweight also tapped out Alexander Volkov in March last year

To fight fire with fire would be a complete lottery for Aspinall and do a disservice to his skills of calculation. 

At his best the Brit springs in and out of range, using his elite athleticism to box and move, as he did magnificently in beating Marcin Tybura this year. 

Aspinall has the second best striking differential of all time – landing 4.75 more strikes per round than his opponents. 

Pavlovich lands 4.39 more than his rivals per round, so the pair are not separated by much, although arguably the Russian has fought stronger opposition. 

Average fight time also shows the ruthless streak of both men when they smell blood. 

Aspinall – at 2mins 19seconds is the shortest in UFC history – while Pavlovich’s average is only two seconds longer. 

Odds are, if this is just a firefight, the first to land hard will be able to put his opponent away. 

Pavlovich is a young, hungry contender and competes with Aspinall for interim gold

Where Aspinall will hope to shift the fight to his favour is by making use of his jiu-jitsu. 

His submissions of Andrei Arlovski and Alexander Volkov were brutal and brilliant and he could see this as an area where he is levels above an otherwise well-matched heavyweight. 

Aspinall will first have to take Pavlovich down and here’s where the fight could be won or lost. The Russian has trained in wrestling since he was a young boy. 

And Aspinall’s flawless 100 per cent takedown success rate will be severely tested. Against one of the division’s best wrestlers, Curtis Blaydes, Pavlovich reflected: ‘I understood that if he was going to try and go for a shot, and it was basically just going to be met with a brick wall, he’ll start to psychologically crumble — and that’s exactly what we worked on, that’s what we prepared.’ 

Aspinall is a far more fluid striker than Blaydes but if Pavlovich manages to be ‘a brick wall’ again, he could cut off his opponent’s cleanest route to victory. 

His takedown defence success is at 75 per cent, which does offer hope to Aspinall that persistence could pay off. 

Alistair Overeem (top) is the only man to defeat Pavlovich so far in the UFC

Aspinall will believe he can get the better of Pavlovich if he takes him down

The way Alistair Overeem managed to finish Pavlovich relatively quickly with ground-and-pound will also offer real belief to Aspinall. 

One of the fascinating aspects of the co-main event is the lack of real adversity faced by both men in most of their fights in the UFC. 

Predominantly they’ve had it their own way and their championship mettle has not been thoroughly tested. 

Given the stats and all the comparisons on paper, it looks extremely unlikely that this one will run for 25 minutes. Aspinall himself has said: ‘Someone is getting finished, it is inevitable, goes without saying.’

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