When Australia’s ‘Razor’ Rob Wilkinson (16-2) returned to the international stage in April to make his Professional Fighting League debut, not many picked him to win the Light Heavyweight belt.
While others may have doubted his chances of becoming a world champion, the 30-year-old knew he was destined for greatness.
Having put in the hard yards for the past two years back in his home state of Tasmania training at Hype Training Centre, Wilkinson had manifested that 2022 would be the year he achieves his dream of being a world champion.
Fast forward to now, and Wilkinson is exactly where he expected himself to be: set to fight for the PFL Light Heavyweight title and the chance to win $1 million in prize money.
Set to take place at Madison Square Garden on November 25, in order for Wilkinson to win the title he will need to defeat Russia’s Omari Akhmedov (24-7-1), a fighter who presents a new challenge for the Aussie.
Akhmedov will be the most experienced fighter Wilkinson will have faced in the PFL, having fought in 32 contests with 15 being in the UFC against the world’s elite.
“Akhmedov is a great opponent, he’s super experienced, he’s had a lot of fights in the UFC so I’m really looking forward to fighting him,” Wilkinson told The Inner Sanctum.
“He’s a good grappler, good wrestler and I think he’d be trying to use his wrestling over me more than striking.
“I’m a fair bit taller and bigger than him, I’ve got a bigger range.
“I think he’d be trying to close a distance and probably take me down but I welcome that, I’m happy to grapple as much as I am to strike.”
The PFL Light Heavyweight title fight will be a five round fight, a new experience for Wilkinson. Due to his high stoppage win rate throughout his MMA career, he has only made it to the third round twice.
Nevertheless, the battle-tested Aussie seems unphased by this, knowing he is putting in the work to be ready to go all five rounds if needed.
“I feel very fit, I’ve trained very hard and at the moment I am the fittest I’ve been and I’ve still got another four weeks to go,” Wilkinson said.
“Training in attitude up here in Denver, then going back down to sea level that’s going to be a big advantage for me, so I’ll have that in my back pocket as well.
“I’ve added a little bit of extra cardio sessions and assault bike interval work, I just added that in to help prepare for five rounds compared to three rounds.”
On his PFL run, Wilkinson has outclassed all three of his opponents thus far, dispatching them in quick and dominant fashion.
Wilkinson opened his promotional run with a second round knockout victory over Bruce Souto. He followed this up with another knockout victory over Viktor Pesta, which saw finish on top of the Light Heavyweight standings and booking his spot in the PFL Playoffs.
To earn his chance of fighting for the title fight, the Australian defeated Delan Monte with a brutal walk off knockout following a vicious knee in the first round, with his skills and composure proving the difference.
“Definitely my last two fights I felt very composed, controlled and calm in there,” Wilkinson said.
“My first fight was a bit more hectic because I hadn’t fought MMA for over a year and then fighting on a big promotion again in a huge international show, I had a bit more nerves.
“Having then fought back to back I feel like I’ve really settled in now.”
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Wilkinson’s journey to this spot was one of perseverance, having won the first 11 fights of his pro MMA career before making it to the UFC in 2017. Following two straight knockout defeats, Wilkinson found himself out of the UFC and back fighting regionally in Australia.
Over the next three years, the 30-year-old had some boxing, kickboxing and MMA contests back in Australia, able to win them all. However, not since his final UFC fight against now Middleweight Champion, Israel Adesanya has he competed against the world’s elite.
Wilkinson learnt from his fellow competitor’s approach to competing at the highest level and endeavoured to improve his own skill set.
“I think one huge thing that I actually learned was after fighting Israel and going and training with him was they turned down the UFC for a couple of years before they accepted it,” Wilkinson said.
“His goal was to be ready to go straight to the top.
“After I was released from the UFC, I wasn’t super active, I had a few kickboxing fights and two MMA fights.
“What Israel did stuck with me that it was fine, I was just going to keep training, keep improving until I was ready to be one of the best fighters in the world when I got that chance again.”
Now getting his chance this year, Wilkinson reflected on what it means to him to finally get the opportunity to do what he set out to do when he started in the sport – become a world champion.
“It means the world to me – fighting for a world title and becoming a world champion was my goal when I started 13 years ago,” he said.
“It’s been a long road, but that’s kind of expected.
“I obviously lost two fights and was released from the UFC and that was super hard for me but it’s definitely built me into the fighter I am now and made me stronger.
“I learned from those losses and I learnt what I need to improve on and what I needed to do to get to the next level.”
While he is full of confidence ahead of the biggest fight of his life, the 30-year-old has kept his composure and not let the occasion impact his preparation.
“I’ve had a few interviews lately and people have asked about training for a world title and it hadn’t sunk in then,” Wilkinson said.
“I think now it’s getting kind of close, it’s kind of starting to sink in but obviously I’m just staying focused.
“It’s a huge fight for me, but at the end of the day it’s just another fighter, I just need to stay focused and do what I do best.”
Having spent the past eight months in the United States training while on his journey to PFL gold, the chance to win the belt in Madison Square Garden and bring it back to Australia has not been lost on Wilkinson.
“Being the first PFL champion from Australia and first world champion in MMA from Tasmania is going to be very exciting,” he said.
“It’s a storybook ending fighting at Madison Square Garden for a world championship and million dollars – it’s perfect.”
Watch Rob Wilkinson attempt to make history on November 26 on Stan Sport, with the card beginning at 9:30am AEDT.
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