Curtis Blaydes vs Tom Aspinall: A Striking or Grappling Affair?

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With a slew of UFC Fight Nights and pay-per-views lining the oncoming months, it’s hard to not get excited about the volume of quality competition.  One Fight Night that stands out due to the compelling matchup it presents is a fight between #4 ranked Curtis Blaydes and #6 ranked Tom Aspinall.

The two men are set to fight on July 23rd and the winner will certainly be incredibly close to a title shot.  Emphasis should be on the word close, as the heavyweight division is currently plagued by question marks and unknowns.  Will Francis Ngannou continue to fight in the UFC?  Is Jon Jones truly going to make his debut anytime soon?  And, most importantly, who will get the next title shot.  We could see Ngannou fight anyone from  Jones to Tai Tuivasa, or perhaps there would be an interim or vacant title depending on the situation.  Suffice to say, a win here for either fighter could put them next in line for a title shot.  If Ngannou vacates the belt, there will be an opening for a title shot that could rightfully go to either fighter.

Blaydes vs Aspinall: A War of What Battlefield?

This is a question that typically arises when two excellent grapplers are set to face one another.   Will they strike or does either fighter wish to take the fight to the ground?  Looking at their previous fights, it is clear to see this one could end up going either way.

On the Ground

There are reasons that would give either fighter pause to take the fight to the ground.  For Blaydes, he must be wary of Aspinall’s excellent jiu-jitsu.  In the UFC, he has showcased this on two occasions.  First, in his bout with Andrei Arlovski, Aspinall was able to take down and almost instantly secure a rear-naked choke on Arlovski.  His second submission came in his most recent fight against Alexander Volkov.  After slipping a cross to secure a beautiful takedown, Aspinall was able to, in a similar fashion to his fight with Arlovski, secure an armlock with great haste after his takedown.

What one can take from the ground game we have seen from Aspinall in the UFC is that his grappling is highly aggressive.  He does not use grappling to tire opponents or win rounds with control(which are perfectly valid paths to victory), instead Aspinall is always looking for some way to end the fight.

This is contrasted by Blaydes who leans more into the aforementioned control and tire opponents method of grappling.  To see this in action, look no further than to Blaydes fights with Alexander Volkov and Justin Willis.  In his fight with Volkov(the only common opponent between Blaydes and Aspinall), Blaydes was dominant for a majority of the fight and was able to secure the decision win.  Blaydes was able to repeatedly get Volkov to the ground and take with it a huge amount of control time which won him the fight.  It is important to note that Blaydes is much more patient and is not always looking for a finish when he is on the ground.  He is perfectly content with putting his weight on you and tiring you out before looking for any openings.  Each time you get up, he takes you down and continues to land ground and pound while looking for better positions.  His fight with Willis proceeded in a similar way, with Blaydes getting numerous takedowns, controlling Willis, and tiring him out.

With this in mind, it is hard to guess who could end up on their back in this fight.  This fight could be a case where two excellent grapplers accept their skills and decide to keep things standing, as in the case of Colby Covington vs Kamaru Usman.

On the Feet

Although different in approach, the excellent grappling of both men serves a similar purpose: it sets up their standup.  Because of how dominant each of the fighters is on the ground, their opponents are mindful of the takedown at all times.  Blaydes is especially aware of this, constantly level changing to set up strikes.  He is often able to rock opponents and finish them or take them down as his wrestling will set up his opponents for his strong right hand.  A prime example of this is shown in his fight with Junior dos Santos, where, although he never secured a takedown, the mere threat of getting taken down kept dos Santos’ hands low.  This allowed Blaydes to finish the fight in the second round after landing a heavy jab-straight combination.

Blaydes standup is not the best in the heavyweight division.  However, his standup is successful, being able to strike with the likes of Volokov or Chris Daukaus, because of his wrestling.  This means, his simple and slower strikes are still effective, especially when you factor in how powerful he is.

Aspinall’s striking approach is different from Blaydes’.  He uses far fewer level changes and has strong boxing credentials.  Aspinall is just as aggressive with his striking as he is with his grappling.  He is constantly looking to counter his opponents using slick head movement and fast, precise strikes.  This is not to say he cannot finish on the feet, as he has three first-round knockouts in the UFC.  He is light on his feet and confident in his head movement, keeping his hands down frequently in order to bait out shots which he can slip and counter with strikes or a takedown(i.e Fight with Volkov where he left his head in the open, Volkov fired off a cross, and Aspinall slipped the cross to secure a takedown).

Overall, A Hard Fight to Call

Knowing all of this, it is easy to see how this fight could take place anywhere.  Both fighters are solid on the feet and in grappling exchanges.  There are several additional factors that could play into the fight.  For one, Blaydes typically comes into fights at a heavier weight than Aspinall who normally comes in around the 250 mark.  However, he has been seen weighing similar(around 248), such as in the case of his fight with dos Santos.  It is possible he could come in heavier for a grappling advantage or stay lighter in order to keep the speed and cardio on equal ground.  In addition, either fighter may be hesitant to grapple due to the other’s ability, so it is hard to predict where the fight could take place.  What is known with certainty is that whoever wins this fight is likely within one fight of getting a shot at the belt.  That means both men will be at the top of their game, and that will make for a stunning showcase of skill.

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