July 14, 2024

Tom Aspinall beat Sergei Pavlovich to become the first British heavyweight to win a UFC title, while Alex Pereira used a series of elbows to Jirí Procházka’s head to win the vacant light heavyweight championship in the UFC 295 title fights at Madison Square Garden.

Aspinall knocked out Pavlovich in the first round for the interim heavyweight championship on Saturday night in front of a packed crowd that included former President Donald Trump.

The interim title fight was a late addition to the card after the scheduled main event of Jon Jones vs Stipe Miocic in a heavyweight title fight was called off because Jones tore a pectoral tendon off the bone during training.

While UFC waits for Jones to return, it’s Aspinall who now holds the gold.

“It’s been a crazy 2 1/2 weeks,” Aspinall said.

His tearful celebration lasted longer than the fight. Aspinall needed only 69 seconds to earn his 11th career knockout win – he has made it to the second round just once in his eight UFC fights – and then collapsed in tears on the canvas.

Aspinall had landed consecutive rights to Pavlovich’s temple to send the Russian crashing to the canvas.

“He’s a big, scary guy,” Aspinall said. “I’ve never been as scared in my life as fighting this guy. But I’ve got a lot of power, too, and I believe in myself.”

Aspinall draped himself against the cage as fans roared for the new champ.

Pereira crowned light-heavyweight champ

In the co-main event, Pereira won his second UFC championship in just his seventh fight for the promotion.

Brazil’s Pereira, who knocked out Israel Adesanya on November 12 last year to win the middleweight belt before losing it in April in a rematch, had some early success with some vicious leg kicks, but Prochazka’s precise striking posed a problem.

Procházka had won 13 straight mixed martial arts (MMA) fights, including his first three in UFC.

The 31-year-old Czech continued to switch stances and press forward, but his aggression was eventually punished when he was caught out by some precise counter-punches by Pereira that paved the Brazilian’s path to victory and the fight was stopped at 4:08 of the second round.

Pereira became the ninth fighter in UFC history to win championships in two weight classes.

Brazil's Alex Pereira, left, punches Czech Republic's Jirí Procházka
Pereira, left, punches Procházka during the second round [Frank Franklin II/AP Photo]

Pereira then used his post-fight interview to call on Adesanya to step up to light heavyweight and face him in a third title fight, saying “Adesanya, come to daddy.”

The light heavyweight division had been without a champion since Jamahal Hill relinquished the title in July after he was injured in a pickup basketball game. Hill was at the Garden to watch the fights.

He wasn’t the only name in the house.

Trump and musician Kid Rock were greeted by cheers and “USA! USA!” chants as they walked to their cageside seats ahead of the start of the main card. UFC President Dana White accompanied Trump and Kid Rock and watched the fights with them. Trump slapped hands with fans and mingled with visitors.

Former UFC 115-pound champion Jéssica Andrade snapped a three-fight losing streak with a TKO win over MacKenzie Dern at 3:15 of the second round. Andrade became the first woman in UFC history to earn four knockdowns in a single fight and tied Amanda Nunes for most wins in UFC women’s history with 16.

UFC has run a major card in November at Madison Square Garden every year (except for 2020) since New York legalised MMA in time for a 2016 debut. Conor McGregor, Georges St-Pierre and Daniel Cormier all headlined pay-per-views at MSG and this one promised to perhaps be the biggest main event yet – Jones defending his heavyweight crown against Miocic.

Jones, on the short list of great MMA fighters, tore a tendon during training last month and was forced to withdraw. White then deemed an interim championship fight was beneath a fighter of Miocic’s stature. The two-time heavyweight champ, Miocic has not fought since March 2021.

The bout could be rescheduled for as early as next summer, depending on Jones’ health.

“That’s the fight they want, that’s the fight that makes sense, that’s the fight that should happen,” White said.

Even without the anticipated fight, there was reason for the company to celebrate with 19,039 fans and a $12.4m gate at MSG. UFC now holds the top-three spots for highest gate at the Garden. Also, Sunday marks 30 years since the company’s debut show, UFC 1.

UFC Hall of Famer Royce Gracie won three fights that night in Denver in a no-rules tournament that was just the start for the billion-dollar company owned by Endeavor that now stands as the global leader in MMA.

UFC was built on personalities as much as great fights and New York native and recovering drug addict Jared Gordon gave fans at the Garden a reason to cheer.

Gordon scored his first KO since 2017 when he beat 2016 Olympic silver medal wrestler Mark Madsen in a prelims bout. Gordon has been open about his drug issues, overdoses and difficulty staying clean while pursing a brutal MMA career. He had a new reason to appreciate fighting in New York.

“I used to shoot heroin in Penn Station underneath this building,” he said. “Now I’m fighting in it and knocking guys out.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *