Tom Aspinall asked UFC to move 304 start time: ‘It did not go down well’

Tom Aspinall has admitted he asked the UFC to change the start time of July’s pay-per-view event in Manchester, amid continued criticism from fans.

UFC 304, scheduled for 27 July at the Co-op Live arena, is due to begin at 11pm BST and finish around 6am on 28 July – with Aspinall fighting at approximately 4.30am. The move caters for a US audience and has angered UK fans.

In the co-main event, Aspinall will defend the interim heavyweight title against Curtis Blaydes, to whom the Wigan heavyweight suffered his sole UFC loss. The defeat came under unfortunate circumstances in 2022, with Aspinall sustaining a knee injury after 15 seconds.

In the main event, Leon Edwards will also defend a title in a rematch. The Jamaican-born Briton will put the welterweight belt on the line against Belal Muhammad, whom he fought to a No Contest in 2021 – when Edwards’s eye pokes halted the bout.

In April, Aspinall said the UFC 304 start time is “absolutely terrible” for fans, and he has now delved deeper into the issue. He said to The Mac Life on Thursday (23 May): “5am scraps in Manchester, what do you think about that? Bit s*** for the UK fans, isn’t it?

“I tried to ask the UFC brass: ‘Can we change the times?’ Didn’t go down well, mate. They were just like: ‘Nope.’ There weren’t even any negotiations.

“I don’t know [how I’ll prepare on fight week]. My dad said, ‘Just get up and fight, it’ll be fine,’ but I was reading some stuff online about cognitive delay when you’re tired. And I want my cognitive to not be delayed!

“So I guess, for a couple of weeks before, I’ll start getting up at 1am or 2am – stay up for a couple of hours, train a little bit. I’ve got a few people to speak to about it. I’ll probably speak to [Michael] Bisping about it, probably speak to Leon about it, probably speak to a lot of people much smarter than I am – about the right thing to do.

Aspinall will defend the interim heavyweight title against Curtis Blaydes (Getty Images)
Aspinall will defend the interim heavyweight title against Curtis Blaydes (Getty Images)

“But right now, it’s still like 10 weeks away nearly, so I’ll figure it out closer to the time.”

The retired Bisping, Britain’s first UFC champion, headlined UFC 204 in Manchester in 2016. That event also took place overnight in the UK. Since Bisping’s run as middleweight champion, Edwards and Aspinall are the only British fighters to have won UFC titles.

Edwards’s fight with Muhammad will be the champion’s third title defence, following wins over Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington in 2023. Edwards won the belt from Usman in 2022, while Aspinall claimed the interim heavyweight title against Sergei Pavlovich last November.

“Couldn’t care less [that I’m not the main event],” Aspinall said about UFC 304. “Couldn’t care less. I’m just happy and honoured to be fighting in Manchester for a heavyweight title. I think that’s pretty f***ing cool.”

In April, Aspinall said: “As a fan who wants to watch it live, I think [the UFC 304 start time] is absolutely terrible. I think... yeah, it’s just not fair on the fans, not fair on the UK fans.

Aspinall knocked out Sergei Pavlovich in round one in November (Getty Images)
Aspinall knocked out Sergei Pavlovich in round one in November (Getty Images)

“Obviously, predominantly, it’s an American audience, so I understand that they want to sell to them. But why can’t they sell to them in the afternoon, which is our evening time? Why can’t the Americans watch it in the afternoon? And the UK fans, the Manchester fans, the European fans can all fly to this event [and] sell out this new arena.

“I mean, it’s going to sell out regardless, mate. We’re very, very, very, very lucky to have a pay-per-view event in Manchester. Very lucky. But UK MMA... let’s put it on UK time.

“As an athlete, as a fighter, in all honesty it doesn’t make that much difference. Probably for a couple of weeks before, I’ll have to wake up and train at that time – or stay up or whatever. I’ve flown across the world multiple times and fought on different time zones, so it’s not as bad as that.”