This Saturday, Sergei Pavlovich takes on the biggest fight of his career against UK MMA’s promised one in Tom Aspinall. Both men took the fight on three weeks’ notice after Jon Jones tore his pectoral muscle in preparation for his bout against Stipe Miocic.
The Russian is the first Russian heavyweight to earn a UFC title shot, interim or otherwise. The Rostov-on-don product looks to make his mark on the MMA world, one that has been lacking a Russian influence in the heavier weight classes when Fedor Emilianenko stepped away from the sport. If he can pick up a win in the most challenging fight of his career, he is well on his way to making a legacy of his own.
Sergei Pavlovich Carries the Torch
Russian mixed martial arts has taken off after the fall of the Soviet Union and the creation of sambo. No one has advanced the sport as much as former Bellator stalwart and PRIDE champion Fedor Emilianenko. There has not been a Russian heavyweight as influential since his retirement. However, Pavlovich has the most potential out of any of his counterparts. After losing his debut to Alistair Overeem, Pavlovich has won six straight fights.
Pavlovich sports wins over Derrick Lewis, Maurice Green, Tai Tuivasa, and Shamil Abdurakhimov, all in the first round. He trained with former UFC champions Daniel Cormier and Cain Velasquez at American Kickboxing Academy. This training turned a formidable Greco-Roman base into one of the better strikers in the heavyweight division. He possesses explosive movement which complements his powerful striking, and he believes he has the tools to get it done against another formidable heavyweight.
Sergei Pavlovich believes that all that matters is the title fight, and it is his duty to bring back the belt back to Rostov-on-don. He sports the third-shortest average fight time in the UFC right now at 2:23. Not a single one of his fights have gone out of the first round. A win over Aspinall would get him one step closer to cementing his legacy as one of the greatest Russian heavyweights of all time. Pavlovich is already well on his way at 31 years of age.
Russian mixed martial arts needs a breath of fresh air outside of the Nurmagomedov coaching tree, and it appears that Pavlovich can provide it. The Rostov Oblast native is an explosive man for a heavyweight. He has also developed a refreshing perspective on his career so far. He understands that he came from little, so he is prepared to fight for every bit of success. Even so, he recognizes how far he’s come and is grateful for it.
“We grew up in the kind of place where you constantly had to fight for yourself, fight for your rights,” Pavlovich told Yahoo Sports. “You had to be able to be strong. You had to be a strong person in order to survive there. So fighting was pretty much in my soul and in my spirit when I was growing up.”
Pavlovich isn’t a misanthropic person by any means, but he knows what he needs to do to look out for himself. For him, that has included street fights, as well as ventures in handball and basketball. However, this has brought him to wrestling and now mixed martial arts, and the Russian has taken it all in stride.
Sergei Pavlovich has only had three weeks to gear up for the biggest fight of his life. He stares across the cage towards a formidable opponent in Aspinall, and he has to have a concrete plan of action if he wants to walk away with the belt.
He is one of the quickest and most powerful heavyweights out there, and he has to use that to his advantage. His opponent is coming off a significant knee injury, and while Aspinall did win the fight after it, the question of his health remains. A significant MCL injury as well as some ACL damage does not ever fully recover, resulting in early-onset arthritis and range of movement issues. Unfortunately for him, Pavlovich will need to exploit that weakness in the leg.
Pavlovich needs to be constantly moving laterally to put pressure on Aspinall to move with him, and test his confidence in his leg. A big part of recovering from leg injuries is a psychological aspect- people tend to favor the other leg, and Pavlovich has to take advantage of that.
He must stay on his feet at all costs, as Aspinall is a fantastic grappler. The longer he can avoid going to the ground, the more he can press the issue of Aspinall’s mobility and striking prowess. Circling away from his power hand will not only keep Pavlovich away from the knockout shot, but will also force Aspinall to lean on the better leg. He has to avoid letting Aspinall get his hands locked. If Aspinall can get to the fence and lock his hands for a double leg, he will be able to maintain control all the way to the mat. Aspinall will be able to rain down heavy shots and finish the fight early if he gains top control.
This also calls into question Pavlovich’s submission defense, which will need to hold up for the Russian to have success can he not stay on the feet.
If Pavlovich has the range, he needs to chop down Aspinall’s better leg with kicks. Not only does that mean Aspinall has to rely on a leg with MCL injuries, but it can help Sergei Pavlovich bank points with the judges on the feet. Leg kicks do damage over time, and can drastically change the outcome of the fight.
Regardless, this fight is going to shape the future of the heavyweight division. If Pavlovich brings home the interim title, all of Russia will be behind him, and they will have their new Emperor.