Tom Aspinall became the third British UFC champion in history by sensationally knocking out Russian powerhouse Sergei Pavlovich in the first round to claim the interim heavyweight title.
The 30-year-old, who took the fight on two-and-a-half-weeks notice having groggily answered a phone call in the middle of the night, obliterated the man he described as the ‘scariest in the UFC’.
He joined Alex Pereira in seizing a gleaming belt on a night of knockouts at Madison Square Garden. The Brazilian had to be hauled away from Jiri Prochazka in the second round of their fight for the light-heavyweight title.
Prior to the main event, which was elevated after Jon Jones’ original fight with Stipe Miocic had to be removed due to ‘Bones’ injury, it was Aspinall who had the crowd on their feet.
He began by softening up his Russian counterpart with leg kicks, bouncing in and out of range. But Pavlovich had finished his last six opponents in the first round and was brimming with confidence.
Alex Pereira and Tom Aspinall claimed victory in the main and co-main events respectively in New York
Tom Aspinall won the interim UFC heavyweight title by knocking out Sergei Pavlovich
It took the Englishman just one minute and nine seconds to secure the victory at UFC 295
Aspinall is presented with the interim heavyweight title belt following the win in New York
Aspinall is the third UFC champion from the UK, joining Michael Bisping and Leon Edwards
He connected with a solid shot that temporarily wobbled Aspinall, but he recovered quickly before landing the killer strikes of his own.
It was a big right hand to the temple and two more shots fired in rapid succession that put the Russian down before a couple more found a home to put the icing on the cake.
‘I can’t even tell you (how it feels),’ said an emotional Aspinall. ‘It’s been a crazy two and a half weeks. If you ever get a chance to do something and you’re scared to do it– you should f***ing do it.’
Aspinall went on to praise Pavlovich, as he had throughout fight week, before dedicating the belt to his father.
‘He’s a big scary guy. But I have a lot of power too and I believe in myself,’ the Englishman said.
Aspinall joins Hall of Famer Michael Bisping and welterweight king Leon Edwards in a short list of UK fighters to bring home UFC gold.
Aspinall and Pavlovich came into the bout as the No 4 and No 2- ranked heavyweights, respectively.
An early knockout was expected, given both men have averaged under three minutes in the Octagon since entering the UFC. Aspinall (14-3) has now won four of his last five fights, while Pavlovich (18-2) had not lost since November of 2018.
The 30-year-old joins Hall of Famer Michael Bisping and welterweight king Leon Edwards
Pereira looked drained of energy when Prochazka managed to take him on in the wrestling exchanges
The powerful Brazilian has won two belts in the UFC in just seven fights for the organisation
It will be fascinating to see how the UFC play with the heavyweight division now. Jones is the champion but tore his pectoral tendon off the bone, meaning he’ll be out for up to a year.
It would be strange for Aspinall to defend an interim title and also far from ideal if he has to wait months before he can put the gloves back on.
The situation is slightly more clear at light-heavyweight. Jamahal Hill had to vacate his belt, meaning Prochazka and Pereira were competing on Saturday night to become the rightful new owner.
Prochazka started well, confusing his Brazilian foe with his unorthodox movement. But he absorbed a handful of low kicks to the calf. Those are a great weapon of Pereira and there was immediate swelling.
The Czech fighter made the shrewd decision to take his opponent down and did enough to claim the first round on the scorecards.
Pereira called out Israel Adesanya after beating Prochazka and is desperate to get that fight back
It was a monumental night for Brititsh MMA with Aspinall’s incredible first-round knockout of Pavlovich
But it mattered little, Pereira’s leg kicks had limited Prochazka’s movement and he was eventually caught by the ferocious power, dropping to his knees and attempting a takedown in desperation.
Pereira then delivered a volley of elbows until Marc Goddard stepped in to wave it off. It was a stoppage many felt was slightly premature, although there was no doubt Pereira had his man seriously hurt.
Afterwards, the new champion called out his old foe Israel Adesanya. The Kiwi has said he wants a prolonged break having lost his middleweight belt against Sean Strickland but perhaps he will be tempted back earlier than planned.
Otherwise it seems most likely that Pereira’s first defence will come against Hill at some point in the first half of next year.