Wigan's UFC heavyweight star raring to go after a year on the sidelines

Tom Aspinall insists he's 'very thankful' for his injury-enforced year out of the ring as he prepares to make his UFC return.

The 30-year-old heavyweight, from Atherton, will headline the promotion's latest London card against Poland’s Marcin Tybura on July 22.

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It will be 364 days since Aspinall blew out his knee inside 15 seconds of his main event contest against American Curtis Blaydes - also at the O2 Arena.

Tom Aspinall has been sidelined for a year since suffering this knee injury last JulyTom Aspinall has been sidelined for a year since suffering this knee injury last July
Tom Aspinall has been sidelined for a year since suffering this knee injury last July

After flying up the rankings thanks to eight stoppage wins in his eight fights, Aspinall has spent the last 12 months resting, recuperating and rehabilitating.

But rather than see his time off as a 'lost' year, he believes it was the best thing that could have happened.

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“To be honest, I think I had one of the best years of my life,” he said. “I had so much personal growth out of the experience, and I think my mind is just in a really good place now.

"Any athlete will tell you that your mind is one of the most important tools you can use.

“I think I was a little bit burnt out before - I was so active and going back-to-back-to-back-to-back with fights constantly.

"Everything was going so smoothly, I had no push-back on anything, whereas now I appreciate everything.

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"I appreciate going in there in nine weeks’ time, being able to earn money and get respect from doing what I love.

“I’m very thankful that all of this has happened.”

Aspinall, ranked fifth in his weight division, has selected a tough opponent in Tybura, who is placed just four spots below him.

While it will be his third successive headline fight, Aspinall offered to fight down the order just to make sure he was on the bill.

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“Me and Tybura actually know each other personally,” he said.. “We were both looking for fights and believed that none of the heavyweights were really free, so we said, ‘Let’s get a fight going with each other.’

"I asked the UFC matchmakers when I was in London [for UFC 286 in March], and they were like, ‘We’re keen on it, we just don’t know if Tybura is a big enough name to do a main event.’

“I started seeing people were getting booked for this event, so I messaged the UFC again and asked: ‘What’s going on? Why have you not sent me a contract yet?’

"They said, ‘We’re not overly thrilled on this for a main event.’ So, I said: ‘I don’t mind not fighting in the main event, just give me a fight.’

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"They said they were gonna try a couple of other opponents first, because they wanted me as a main event.

"The opponents declined, so I’m fighting Tybura. That’s where we’re at.”

It's the first step back on the road to a title shot - and Aspinall has no doubt whatsoever where his journey will end.

"For them to have faith in me is a dream. I’m so privileged to be able to represent the UK again, I’m over the moon," he added, in the Independent.

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“It’s definitely important, because I’ve had a lot of fights where nobody cared, to be honest – especially pre-UFC.

“Nobody was bothered whether I won or lost, and as a fighter you want people to be invested, because I’ve invested my whole life in this. I want people to be behind me.

“Numbers aside, I think the UFC realises that I’m definitely gonna be a title contender or champion one day.

“In my mind, I’m gonna be one of the best heavyweights to ever walk the face of the earth.”