UFC 295 breakdown: With six straight first-round KOs, can Pavlovich stop Aspinall for heavyweight gold?

MMA Junkie analyst Dan Tom breaks down the UFC’s top bouts. Today, we look at the co-main event for UFC 295.

UFC 295 takes place Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPNews and early prelims on ESPN+.

Sergei Pavlovich (18-1 MMA, 6-1 UFC)

Sergei Pavlovich
Sergei Pavlovich

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’3″ Age: 31 Weight: 260 lbs. Reach: 84″

  • Last fight: Knockout win over Curtis Blaydes (April 22, 2023)

  • Camp: American Top Team (Florida)

  • Stance/striking style: Orthodox/kickboxing

  • Risk management: Good

Supplemental info:
+ Regional MMA titles
+ Greco-Roman wrestling base
+ 15 KO victories
+ 15 first-round finishes
+ KO Power
+ Serviceable feints and footwork
^ Seldom out of position
+ Good boxing instincts
^ Works well off of jabs
+ Devastating right hand
^ Coming forward or off the counter
+ Strong inside of the clinch
^ Favors overhooks
+ Shows serviceable wrestling ability
– Struggles when put on his back

Tom Aspinall (13-3 MMA, 6-1 UFC)

Tom Aspinall
Tom Aspinall

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’5″ Age: 30 Weight: 258 lbs. Reach: 78″

  • Last fight: TKO win over Marcin Tybura (July 22, 2023)

  • Camp: Team Kaobon (England)

  • Stance/striking style: Orthodox/kickboxing

  • Risk management: Good

Supplemental info:
+ Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt
+ Multiple grappling accolades
+ Amateur MMA titles
+ 10 KO victories
+ 3 submission wins
+ 12 first-round finishes
+ KO power
+ Solid feints and footwork
^ Pivots, shifts stances, etc.
+ Good boxing technique
^ Fast hands and a good feel for counters
+ Heavy leg kicks
+ Serviceable wrestling ability
^ Defensively and offensively
^ Excellent grappling/finishing instincts from topside

Point of interest: Heavyweight hands

Jul 22, 2023; London, UNITED KINGDOM; Tom Aspinall (red gloves) fights Marcin Tybura (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at O2 Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 22, 2023; London, UNITED KINGDOM; Tom Aspinall (red gloves) fights Marcin Tybura (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at O2 Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports

The co-main event for UFC 295 features an impromptu interim title fight at heavyweight between Sergei Pavlovich and Tom Aspinall.

Although Aspinall was indoctrinated into martial arts through the world of jiu-jitsu (thanks to his father), the 30-year-old phenom has seamlessly picked up on the striking side of the sport.

Training out of Team Kaobon, Aspinall embodies a similar swagger to his stablemate, Darren Till. And though Aspinall will sometimes show a southpaw stance, the Wigan native primarily operates out of orthodox, applying a style that is all his own.

Typically taking the front foot from the jump, Aspinall wastes little time when it comes to poking and prodding his opposition with everything from lightning-fast straight punches to thudding low kicks. And when Aspinall’s eyes pick up on a counter opening mid-exchange, the Englishman always keeps a whipping right hand on a hair trigger.

Aspinall also has some nice knees and elbows that he keeps on a counter-balancing hair trigger, but I’m not sure how much time the Englishman will be looking to spend in front of someone like Pavlovich.

Looking like a refrigerator with giant arms attached to sides of it, Pavlovich is certainly an imposing character who comes off bigger than his listed dimensions would lead you to believe.

Despite coming from a wrestling background, Pavlovich makes his money in the striking department. Carrying some basic boxing fundamentals that are often underutilized by big men, Pavlovich does a good job of keeping his feet beneath him while looking to come forward and punch.

Seldom out of position, Pavlovich keeps potent punching power at his disposal, even if he’s just throwing a jab. The 31-year-old Russian also does decently at feinting before getting his offense going, which will be a crucial key for his striking in this match.

I also wouldn’t mind seeing more kicks out of Pavlovich, but doubt he employs those techniques given the level-changing threats of Aspinall.

Point of interest: Potential grappling threats

Mar 19, 2022; London, UK; Sergei Pavlovich (blue gloves) defeats Shamil Abdurakhimov (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at O2 Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 19, 2022; London, UK; Sergei Pavlovich (blue gloves) defeats Shamil Abdurakhimov (red gloves) during UFC Fight Night at O2 Arena. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports

Considering where the biggest on-paper discrepancy lies, no one should be shocked if this fight hits the floor Saturday.

Growing up on the jiu-jitsu mats under the care of his father, Aspinall knows a thing or two about grappling. Sure, jiu-jitsu is obviously not the same art as wrestling, but Aspinall appears to be well-trained in the transitional phases.

Aspinall has always appeared to have a solid reactionary sprawl in open space, but his comfortability off his back appeared to cost him at times early on in his career.

Since then, Aspinall has been much more diligent about keeping his hips heavy and prioritizing a superior position. And if his pressure doesn’t pull out a shot from his opponent, then Aspinall isn’t shy about changing his level and shooting a takedown of his own.

From topside, Aspinall parlays his aforementioned hips into dominant, fight-ending positions (showing an excellent passing ability in the process). But if Aspinall ends up underneath a heavy-handed fighter like Pavlovich, then he’ll need to be urgent with his submission and scramble attempts.

Coming from a Greco-Roman wrestling base, Pavlovich should at least be a decent force to reckon with in the closed quarters. There’s not a ton of wrestling in Pavlovich’s sample sizes, but I did go back to watch more of the Russian on the regional scene.

Despite his Greco background, Pavlovich seems to prefer level-changing shots when he does decide to go for takedowns. He displays decent defense for the few shots out in the open he’s had to defend, and shows a solid awareness for grips inside of the clinch (traditionally favoring overhooks).

However, if Pavlovich does end up underneath a fighter like Aspinall, then he’ll need to be more urgent to improve his position than he did against Alistair Overeem (who made him like a turtle turned upside down).

Point of interest: Odds and opinions

Tom Aspinall
Tom Aspinall

The oddsmakers and the public are slightly favoring the Englishman, listing Aspinall -122 and Pavlovich -104 via FanDuel.

Considering that Pavlovich was originally scheduled for this date as a backup fighter for the originally-slated title fight between Jon Jones and Stipe Miocic, I don’t blame anyone for believing that the Russian is live as an underdog here.

Although Aspinall is the one with boxing experience and a more asthetically pleasing style, the Wigan native is not beyond entering and exiting pocket exchanges with his head being barely protected by his shoulders. Whether it’s the chosen stylistic swagger of Aspinall or an effect of the insulation that his height provides him, the English fighter tends to play it a bit too fast and loose for my liking.

If Pavlovich decides to add a shifting left hand to extend exchanges, then don’t be shocked to see him find success on a retreating Aspinall.

https://www.instagram.com/reel/CtZFdehRNs0/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link&igshid=MzRlODBiNWFlZA==

That said, despite only having three weeks notice for this fight, I still find myself siding with Aspinall.

Aside Aspinall having a huge advantage on the floor, he also appears to be operating at an elevated level both physically and mentally since returning from his knee surgery last year.

Not only does Aspinall seem more confident and focused to get to the top, but Team Kaoban product was also able to briefly show off an even sharper version of his underrated kicking game in his last outing opposite Marcin Tybura. Add in the fact that Aspinall is good about burying his head into his opponents chests on takedown shots like a prime Chael Sonnen, and I feel like I have to pick him here press his advantages.

A Pavlovich knockout wouldn’t surprise me, but I’ll take Aspinall to wrap up a rear-naked choke by round 2 after softening up his Russian foe with some hard strikes from a superior position first.

Prediction: Aspinall inside the distance

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC 295.

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie