New PFL signing, Rob Wilkinson is ready to show off his much improved striking this year as he competes for the Light Heavyweight title. Photo: @razorrobwilkinson/Instagram

After being released by the UFC in early 2018, Rob Wilkinson has worked his way back to a major MMA promotion, signing with the PFL as part of their 2022 Light Heavyweight roster.

After being released by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in early 2018, Tasmania’s Rob Wilkinson (13-2) has fought his way back to another opportunity with one of the worlds leading MMA promotions, signing with the Professional Fighters League (PFL) as part of their 2022 Light Heavyweight roster.

Wilkinson will gain automatic entry into the PFL’s regular season and avoid the Challenger Series, where fighters must fight to prove themselves to gain entry into the PFL’s league structure.

The PFL’s structure works differently from the traditional format of promotions such as the UFC, Bellator and ONE, rather adopting a league structure with a regular season followed by playoffs. The winner of these playoffs for each weight class is then crowned that year’s champion.  

After 13 years in the sport, the 29 year old has worked incredibly hard to get another chance to perform in a big promotion. As such, Wilkinson earned the respect of the PFL and will be placed into the regular season, rather than needing to fight his way into league through the Challenger Series.

The show of faith is something he is incredibly grateful for.

“It’s nice to be recognised for the skill I have and the work I’ve done. I fought in the UFC, I fought against Israel (Adesanya), one of the best fighters in the world,” Wilkinson told The Inner Sanctum.

“I know what kind of level I am at and I have gone and trained with those guys and high level guys since then and definitely knowing what I need to work on from when I was in the UFC, I was only 25 when I had my two fights in the UFC.

“So, it’s been a while and I have definitely improved a lot and know what I need to be doing and knowing I need to step up and improve to fight at the highest level.”

The uniqueness of the PFL’s structure is something that excites Wilkinson, added to the fact that his fighting style is well suited to the promotions points system. Through Wilkinson’s 13 career wins in MMA, he has finished all his opponents, with 11 of those finishes coming in the first round.

“I like that if you win you progress and you can be fighting for the title, it doesn’t matter if you are a big social media presence or talk a lot of s**t or anything like that. It’s just how you perform and you win, you move on,” Wilkinson said.

In the PFL fighters earn points based on their performances. A win is worth three points, with bonus points then awarded for finishing bouts through knockout or submission in certain rounds. A fighter who finishes a fight in the first round receives an extra three points, while only one extra point for a third round finish. Gaining those extra points will be important for Wilkinson to help book his spot in the playoffs.

As for opponents, Wilkinson wants to just take it as it comes, but does admit there are some fights that do intrigue him.

“The guy who won it last year (Antonio Carlos Jr), has really good Jiu-Jitsu, high-level grappler. The guys at my gym say I have anti Jiu-Jitsu and joke around saying Jiu-Jitsu doesn’t work, so I would like to test my skills against him maybe in the finals or semi-finals,” Wilkinson told.

“I know another guy (Alexander Poppeck) who is in the Challenger Series that I have actually fought before, so it will be interesting to see if he goes through and I could potentially have my first rematch.

“I already beat him, that was just before I went to the UFC but I have never fought the same opponent twice so that would also be interesting.”

Since his release from the UFC, Wilkinson has been fighting on the local scene in Australia, taking MMA, kickboxing and boxing fights. He has competed for Tasmanian Fighting Championship in Kickboxing and both Australian FC and Hex Fight Series in MMA.

“I have had three kickboxing fights, three MMA fights and I have had a pro boxing fight as well, four of those fights were all for titles. I won all of those fights,” Wilkinson explained.

“I have been working a lot on my striking and working a lot to get back with one of the big promotions. It’s just been hard to get consistent MMA fights in Australia due to the lack of competition or lack of people willing to step up and fight me in MMA.

“That’s why I have had quite a few other fights like kickboxing and boxing and then COVID shut down a few of those sort of options. So it’s just exciting to be on a show with a big promotion with fights that are going to go ahead and fighting some of the best guys in the world.

“MMA has always been where my heart’s at, I was just doing the other ones kind of for fun, but it was nice to have those options.”

As many combat sports athletes have, Wilkinson has experienced some difficult times over the past few years with the effects of COVID slowing and limiting potential career opportunities.

“It’s been extremely hard, just like keeping that motivation. I am about to turn 30 so I’ve been training for 13 years now and knowing all the effort and work I’ve been putting into it and then not being able to do what you love and not being able to do what your job is which is actually compete and fight has been really difficult,” Wilkinson said.

“Having my last MMA fight in April last year I was probably the most excited I have ever been to fight.

“In the locker room when warming up and everything, I was just so happy that it was actually happening and I was about to fight and go out there and nothing cancelled, nothing went wrong and just being able to do what I love to do and perform in the cage.”

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While the last few years have been difficult for Wilkinson, they have also served as a time for him to reflect on his career and where he needs to improve. He now feels he is a much more well-rounded fighter since his UFC stint, having made striking a specific focus.

“When I got to the UFC, I had moved to Sydney at that time and I had only really been working with a proper striking for about a year. Before that, I was heavily into my wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu,” said Wilkinson

“That’s how I was winning the majority of my fights. I’ve definitely realised that was the hole in my game and I have spent a lot of time working on my striking.

“I feel very confident that I don’t need to rush any fights and try and take them down anymore and get it to the ground to win,

“I feel like I can win a fight anywhere and that’s shown in my last two MMA fights, against high level guys I ended making both those guys shot on me from using my striking, beating them in the stand up game and making them try and engage in the grappling.”

The man known as ‘Razor’ is also now no longer draining himself through intense weight cuts, making the move from Middleweight to Light Heavyweight.

“I was doing some pretty big cuts to Middleweight and looking back on it, it was pretty stupid. I didn’t even have high professional help doing those cuts, like any nutritionist, any experts in the field I was just it from what I had learnt along the way,” Wilkinson exampled.

“Now performing at Light Heavyweight it’s taken that away from it. That was what I used to dread the most when I had a fight, just trying to think about making weight before even thinking about the fight.

“Since then, I have had three kickboxing fights, they were all at Light Heavyweight, I have had a Heavyweight boxing fight and two Light Heavyweight MMA fights, so I am very comfortable at my new weight class and feel much better not doing the big weight cuts.”

As for what MMA fans can expect in 2022, Wilkinson believes there will be plenty of high entertainment, action packed fights in his pursuit of the PFL Light Heavyweight Champion.  

“I’m going to be looking to get some first round finishes and make sure I am in the playoffs and accomplish the goal I set out to when I first started fighting, which was to become a World champion. That’s only four fights away for me right now so it’s extremely exciting,” he concluded.

Wilkinson is set to make his PFL debut in April. Australian MMA fans can catch all the action from the PFL live on Stan Sport from February 19th.

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