Curtis Blaydes: Tom Aspinall fight at UFC 304 makes sense, but I learned ‘don’t get my hopes up’

Curtis Blaydes learned a long time ago that just because a fight should happen in the UFC, doesn’t mean it will happen.

Following a knockout of top prospect Jailton Almeida in March, the perennial heavyweight contender immediately started calling for a rematch with current interim champion Tom Aspinall. Their first encounter ended in less-than-spectacular fashion after Aspinall blew out his knee just 15 seconds into the opening round.

Even though Blaydes’ record reads that as a win, Blaydes doesn’t actually count it towards his résumé, but that also leaves some unfinished business with Aspinall since they never really got the chance to fight. With UFC 304 now scheduled in Manchester for July 27, Blaydes rematching Aspinall in the main event seems like the easiest no-brainer available for UFC matchmakers. But the former NCAA junior college national champion wrestler knows better than to start celebrating just yet.

“I learned a while ago, I don’t get my hopes up,” Blaydes told MMA Fighting. “I don’t predict. I hope. It would be nice. Do I believe there’s a path? Do I believe it makes sense? Yeah. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. All I can do is be prepared. I’ll be ready.”

Blaydes has found himself in a similar position in the past.

He’s built a couple of impressive win streaks during his UFC career that could’ve easily led to title fights, but he’s still never competed for gold. A huge swath of time during Blaydes’ UFC tenure has been eaten up with the division’s title picture stuck in a standstill, like Francis Ngannou and Jon Jones both sitting out due to injuries and back-to-back-to-back rematches involving Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier keeping the belt occupied.

Right now, Jones is recovering from a torn pectoral muscle, but once he’s ready to fight again, he’s expected to clash with Miocic sometime in late 2024. That leaves interim champion Aspinall as the odd man out, and with Blaydes sitting as the only loss on Aspinall’s UFC résumé, a rematch appears to be in order.

No matter the circumstances or story surrounding a potential rematch, Blaydes still can’t say with any certainty that he’ll get the Aspinall fight.

“It makes all the sense in the world, but that don’t mean it’s going to happen,” Blaydes said. “A lot of times other matchups have made more sense. Like me and my homie were just talking about when [Dan Henderson], he came out of retirement and he got a title shot [against Michael Bisping]. That makes no sense but it happens.

“Would I be shocked if the UFC hit up Brock Lesnar and was like, ‘Do you want to go to England? Do you want to make a lot of money?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’ I would not be shocked if they brought in Brock Lesnar. I would be upset, but I wouldn’t be surprised.”

Perhaps a healthy dose of skepticism keeps Blaydes grounded, but he hopes that the call comes in soon offering him the Aspinall fight, especially the UFC’s return to England now official for July.

England was the site where Blaydes fought Aspinall the first time around and he has no problem going back, even if it might get a little hot under the collar.

“I don’t know why people make it a big deal,” Blaydes said. “Because once you’re in the octagon, the venue doesn’t have an impact. The boos? I don’t give a damn about boos. I don’t give a damn about no boos. I’ll do it anywhere.

“If it has to be in England, that’s fine. I liked England besides the lack of air conditioning. They don’t have air conditioning, I don’t know why. It’s weird. I don’t get it, but that’s a thing out there.”

All jokes aside, Blaydes seems like the perfect candidate for Aspinall’s first title defense, but Ciryl Gane is also floating around out there off a September 2023 win. Gane has engaged in three title fights since joining the UFC roster and boasts a 1-2 record in those bouts, including losses in both previous attempts to become undisputed champion.

Blaydes already shot down Gane as a potential opponent for him because he claims the French heavyweight passed on two previous offers to face him in the past. If anything, Blaydes believes Gane needs to face off against a heavyweight who poses a bigger threat in grappling, which has been his most glaring deficiency in his two UFC losses.

While Gane focuses on wrestling and staying out of submissions, Blaydes welcomes the chance to face Aspinall in July with the interim belt going up for grabs.

“You should give him the worst matchup possible,” Blaydes said of Gane. “Because when he has the leverage — a few years ago before the [Francis] Ngannou fight, he had all the leverage, he had all the hype, he was turning down everybody. He turned down me twice. He turned down Aspinall I heard also. So now you don’t have the leverage. I have leverage. I don’t have a lot of leverage but I have more than he does.

“I’m not going to give him shit. I’m not giving him shit. July would be great [for me]. That gives me a solid few months to get ready for a five-rounder.”

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