For Curtis Blaydes, UFC 304 rematch with 'cool dude' Tom Aspinall feels brand new


Curtis Blaydes has shared the octagon before with UFC interim heavyweight champion Tom Aspinall before – but not really.

When they first met in July 2022, all it took was one leg kick gone wrong from Aspinall to suffer a serious fight-ending knee injury in just 15 seconds. Two years later, Aspinall (14-3 MMA, 7-1 UFC) and Blaydes (18-4 MMA, 13-4 UFC) are set to meet in the UFC 304 main event on July 27 at Co-Op Live in Manchester, England.

And far as Blaydes is concerned, it’s only right that they’ll face off for UFC gold.

“I knew that I would have another opportunity to fight him again,” Blaydes told MMA Junkie. “Whether or not it was for a belt, I wouldn’t have been able to guess it. But I think it’s a little poetic that it is for a belt.”

Thinking back to those 15 seconds, the only real takeaway for Blaydes is that he remembers Aspinall being aggressive and unafraid to put himself within range of a takedown. “He came at me fast and hard,” Blaydes said.

Other than, there’s nothing really of use from their first encounter.

“Immediately after the fight, as I’m not even out of my shorts yet, I’m telling my coach, Vinny, ‘What can we get from this fight?'” Blaydes said. “Nothing happened. I don’t know what to take from it. … There’s not a whole lot you can take from a fight that doesn’t even last half-a-minute.”

Adding to the mystery is the fact that since Aspinall returned from a year-long layoff following their fight, he’s got just a combined 2:22 of cage time in two first-round finishes – TKO of Marcin Tybura in just 1:13 followed by his interim title-winning knockout of Sergei Pavlovich in 1:09 last November at UFC 295.

This doesn’t give Blaydes much to study in terms of film, but he knows better than to believe Aspinall isn’t a different fighter since they met.

“I’m not gonna think that over the past two-and-a-half years he hasn’t added anything else to his game,” Blaydes said. “He just hasn’t had to use it. That’s not to say he doesn’t have it.”

Blaydes, who’s won three of his past four bouts, including a second-round knockout of Jailton Almeida most recently in March, feels like his first shot at UFC gold – interim or undisputed – has been a long time coming. And it couldn’t have come against a better guy than Aspinall.

“He’s a cool dude,” Blaydes said. “There’s no beef. I don’t know if I’ll be able to, but I would like to disperse the negative narrative that you have to hate the guy you’re gonna fight. I’ve been an athlete since I was 9, never hated any of my opponents, won a lot – football, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, MMA. Never hated anybody. You don’t have to hate somebody to physically compete and do your best to win. I know he’s gonna do his best to knock me out; I’m gonna do my best to knock him out. But there’s no animosity behind it. It’s just that’s his job, that’s my job.”

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC 304.

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