Tom Aspinall defeated Sergei Pavlovich to become the first British heavyweight to win a UFC title, while Alex Pereira used a series of elbows to Jiri Prochazka’s head to win the vacant light heavyweight championship in the UFC 295 title fight at Madison Square Garden.
Aspinall knocked out Pavlovich in the first round of the interim heavyweight championship 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 canceled due to Jones tearing a pectoral tendon during training.
While UFC awaits Jones’ return, it is now Aspinall who holds the gold medal.
“It’s been a crazy two and a half weeks,” Aspinall said.
His tearful celebration lasted longer than the fight. Aspinall needed just 69 seconds to earn his 11th career knockout win – he has only made it to the second round once in his eight UFC fights – and then burst into tears on the canvas.
Aspinall had secured several 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 more scared in my life than I was fighting this guy. But I also have a lot of strength and believe in myself.”
Aspinall draped himself against the cage as fans cheered for the new champion.
Pereira was crowned light heavyweight champion
In the co-main event, Pereira won his second UFC championship in just his seventh fight for the promotion.
Brazilian Pereira, who defeated Israel Adesanya on November 12 last year to retain the middleweight belt before losing it in a rematch in April, had some early success with some vicious leg kicks, but Prochazka’s precise punches posed a problem.
Prochazka had won 13 consecutive mixed martial arts (MMA) fights, including his first three in the UFC.
The 31-year-old Czech continued to switch stances and push forward, but his aggressiveness was finally punished when he was overtaken by some precise counter-punches from Pereira, which paved the way for the Brazilian to win and the fight was stopped after 4:08 of the second round.
Pereira became the ninth fighter in UFC history to win championships in two weight classes.
Pereira then used his post-fight interview to urge Adesanya to move up to light heavyweight and fight him in a third title fight, saying: “Adesanya, come to daddy.”
The light heavyweight division has not had a champion since Jamahal Hill vacated the title in July after being injured in a basketball game. Hill was in the garden watching the fighting.
He wasn’t the only name in the house.
Trump and musician Kid Rock were greeted with cheers and “USA!” USA!” chants as they walked to their cage seats before the start of the main card. UFC President Dana White accompanied Trump and Kid Rock and watched the fights with them. Trump clapped his hands for his fans and mingled with the attendees.
Former UFC 115-pound champion Jessica Andrade ended a three-fight losing streak with a TKO victory over MacKenzie Dern at 3:15 of the second round. Andrade became the first woman in UFC history to record four defeats in a single fight and tied with Amanda Nunes for the most wins in UFC women’s history with 16.
Since New York legalized MMA in time for its debut in 2016, the UFC has hosted a major card at Madison Square Garden every November (except 2020). Conor McGregor, Georges St-Pierre and Daniel Cormier all headlined the pay-per-views at MSG and this promised to be perhaps the biggest main event yet – Jones defending his heavyweight title against Miocic.
Jones, who is on the shortlist of great MMA fighters, tore a tendon during training last month and was forced to retire. White believed at the time that an interim championship fight was inappropriate for a fighter of Miocic’s caliber. Two-time heavyweight champion Miocic has not fought since March 2021.
The fight could be postponed until next summer depending on Jones’ health.
“This is the fight they want, this is the fight that makes sense, this is the fight that should happen,” White said.
Even without the expected fight, the company had reason to celebrate with 19,039 fans and a ticket price of $12.4 million at MSG. UFC now holds the top three spots for the highest gate at the Garden. Sunday also marks the 30th anniversary of 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 beginning for Endeavor’s multibillion-dollar company, which is now the global leader in MMA.
UFC was built on both personalities and 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 knockout since 2017 when he defeated 2016 Olympic silver medalist wrestler Mark Madsen in a preliminary bout. Gordon has been open about his drug problems, overdoses and difficulty staying clean while pursuing a brutal MMA career. He had a new reason to appreciate fighting in New York.
“I shot heroin under this building in Penn Station,” he said. “Now I fight in it and knock the guys out.”