How a former Leigh star is helping Tom Aspinall to UFC glory: ‘He’s going to be world champion’
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Atherton-born Aspinall will fight Sergei Pavlovich for the UFC heavyweight interim title in New York City this weekend, having accepted the fight on just two weeks’ notice after champion Jon Jones suffered a training injury for his scheduled battle against former #1 Stipe Miocic.
Acton represented Leigh close to 100 times across a five-year stint, including Super League, but was forced to retire in 2019 with Swinton Lions at the age of 27 due to a serious spinal injury.
Owning a gym in Standish, Acton has since worked with Aspinall as his strength and conditioning coach. The former forward met the UFC fighter, boasting a record of 13-3-0, having taken up mixed martial arts himself following his playing career. He is a part of a group of fighters who decided to train together in order to help the current UFC number #4 to his ultimate goal - the heavyweight title.
Speaking at Wigan’s Robin Park Arena during a morning of training last week, Acton said: “It’s a great environment, a great culture and everyone knows their role.
“We’ve probably got the most elite heavyweight group definitely in the UK, if not in the world.
“We’ve got five UFC fighters, among others, and they’re absolutely gigantic humans who can fight.
“At the end of the day, the reason why this group started is to help Tom become heavyweight champion. Even with the individual goals with the different fighters within, everyone knows that the absolute point of this is that Tom gets there.
“I think the best players that I played with in rugby got the little things right, they turned up on time, they always did more than asked and they always came in with a good attitude, despite anything going on such as niggles and injuries. They were the ones never moaning. Tom is the same.
“Whatever mood he’s in, he turns up to training with the same proactive, positive attitude.
“The biggest thing for Tom as his strength and conditioning coach is just holding him back. Tom would genuinely train four or five times a day if you let him. You’ve got to pull the reins a little bit.
“He’s obviously naturally a very gifted athlete, I would say probably the most gifted I’ve ever trained with myself or worked with.”
Acton, now 31, backs his “good mate” to become a UFC champion in the near future, having made a triumphant return earlier in July at UFC London against Marcin Tybura.
He continued: “Tom’s a very clever human being, he knows the score and he knows this game inside out.
“He’s done it for a long time. Tom knows where he’s at and he’s going to be world champion.
“What backs that up, less than a week after his last fight, he was already messaging me asking when we can get back into training.
“He’s been training for this fight for 15 years. The past couple of years, particularly since I’ve known him, he’s taken it to another level.”