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'State of UFC heavyweight division isn't great' - Aspinall

Tom Aspinall flexes his muscles before the camera
Tom Aspinall has just three losses in 17 fights, one of them to Curtis Blaydes two years ago [Getty Images]

Tom Aspinall says Curtis Blaydes is the "ideal fight" for him if he cannot face UFC heavyweight champion Jon Jones.

The Englishman meets American Blaydes in a rematch of their July 2022 encounter which saw Aspinall suffer a serious knee injury after just 15 seconds.

Aspinall, 31, returned from that setback to become interim champion last November in the absence of the injured reigning champion, Jones.

"I feel like if I'm not fighting Jon Jones, this is the ideal fight for me," Aspinall told BBC Sport.

"It almost puts all that to bed for me after I win this one.

"Even though I feel like I've moved on already. I've gone on to recover, win fights, win a title since then but I feel like it's something I want to put behind me once and for all."

Aspinall needed an entire year to recover from the knee injury.

He made short work of Marcin Tybura in his comeback before stepping in at two weeks' notice to fight Sergei Pavlovich for the interim belt.

The Manchester native has been campaigning for a fight with Jones since then, but the American champion, 36, has repeatedly dismissed the possibility and says he will fight Stipe Miocic on his return from injury later this year.

French former interim champion Ciryl Gane also reportedly turned down the opportunity to fight Aspinall.

"The state of the heavyweight division isn't great," said the Briton. "I think that's pretty obvious. I'm here to fight people.

"Jon Jones, most people think he's one of the best guys to ever do it. So obviously I want my chance to test myself against him.

"He, on the other hand, isn't too keen on it, but I'm going to keep pushing for it until I either get that fight or he vacates the title and I get the full version of the title."

What time is UFC Manchester on 27 July?

Aspinall-Blaydes will be co-main event at UFC 304. Birmingham's Leon Edwards will headline against American Belal Muhammad in third defence of his welterweight title.

The UFC have decided to make the event overnight for UK fans as the fight night is on pay-per-view and the MMA promotion do not want to miss out on the American audience.

Michael Bisping's world title defence in Manchester against Dan Henderson in 2016 was a similar arrangement, with the main event then beginning after 05:00 BST.

Aspinall confirmed he would be fighting no earlier than 04:00 at Manchester's Co-op Live arena, with Edwards v Muhammad around 05:30.

"It's going to be a weird one," admitted Edwards.

"I've got enough time to adjust my sleep schedule, moving my body clock forward an hour each day to get my body used to performing at those early hours of the morning.

"If I'm the best in the world I should be able to perform at 5am or 6pm."