Fighting for the first time at Madison Square Garden, the 30-year-old quickly found his rhythm to land a devastating combination in the opening round and end the Russian’s six-fight knockout streak.
Aspinall made it clear in the build-up to the fight that his main goal was to become UFC champion after suffering a brutal injury in 2022, and is already looking ahead to his next challenge.
“Mission accomplished!” Aspinall told TNT Sports’ Caroline Pearce after the fight. “I made a mission to myself after the knee injury, I decided ‘I’m going to go all in or I’m going to retire’, and I decided to go all in.
“It’s not often that you see me lost for words, but it went more perfect than I could have ever imagined.”
On his future, Aspinall added: “I want to fight at UFC 300, that’s my goal. I’ve had two fights in three months now, I’m happy to have some time away from the pressure of fighting, but April sounds about perfect for me.
“I wanted to be the UFC heavyweight champion, and I’ve achieved that. Anything moving forward is just a bonus, to be honest. I’m really satisfied with what I have achieved in the sport and now it’s just about legacy, I want to be the best heavyweight ever.”
Ahead of what was the Salford-born fighter’s biggest bout to date, Aspinall admitted his emotions had been running high.
“At first, honestly, I was really nervous,” he admitted. “I’ve never been that nervous before in my life. I felt like I couldn’t get my range properly with him at first. It probably took me a few seconds to get the range.
“I definitely stood with him, but I don’t think I stood in front of him. I think I made the correct angles and the correct decisions at the right times which, and I’ve said it a few times now, there’s very, very, very few people on this planet who can make decisions under that kind of pressure. I’m definitely one of them, I think I’m safe to say now that I’m one of those few people.
“I’m not the biggest guy, I’m not the strongest guy, and I’m not the fastest guy – well I might be the fastest guy – but I make decisions at really good times and that’s really rare.
“There were loads of doubts. I had never been so scared in my life. I was sat in the changing room thinking, ‘I’m not sure this was the best idea!’ But it’s all paid off, I’ve achieved my career goal now.”
Aspinall dedicated the victory to his dad, Andy, who had “worked harder than anybody”, and sent a heartfelt message to all of those who have helped him get to where he is today.
“I dedicate it to my dad, but I also dedicate to every single person that’s helped me,” he said. “You can’t do this on your own or with one or two people.
“I hope every single person who were involved can look at me and be like ‘I’m proud to have had that little bit’, because it takes a lot of people to be where I am.”
Andy Aspinall himself was never in doubt that his son would become a UFC champion.
“I’m not surprised, no,” he said, reflecting on his son’s victory. “I knew when he was young that if he wanted to do something he could be good at it.”
On the performance, he added: “Tom was always going to kick his leg if it was there, so he kicked his leg. Then he got punched which he shouldn’t have done.
“Tom’s got a good right hand, he sees stuff, he’s a natural finisher. He saw what he saw. I shouted a few things, not that he had to listen, but he was good.
“It got me upset, which it would because he’s done it all his life. It wasn’t for me it was for him, he’s sacrificed a lot of stuff to do it.”
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